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Husband and wife Rick and Nicola Stephens had barely taken up their roles as Parking Enforcement Officers and moved in to their new home in Fort William, when the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown meant not writing out parking tickets but instead, the addresses of people in need of assistance right across Lochaber.
With the advantage of not having to maintain a two metre distance from each other, as other employees would have to, the couple have been using their council van to pick up and deliver groceries and medicines to people who do not have any other means of getting them.
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Rick, 53, has been in the job for three years patrolling the streets of Inverness, with occasional visits to Fort William, while Nic, 47, took up her post only in January.
Even in the short period until lockdown the pair were already becoming known in the town for their friendly, understanding and helpful attitude to motorists.
Rick said: ‘Our role is not to catch people out, but parking regulations and restrictions exist for a reason and have to be upheld within the legal requirements and that is our job. However within that we always try to be as helpful as possible by explaining things to people and helping them to understand what is actually wrong with parking where they have.
‘As individuals we want to be very much be part of the community we live in and will do our very best to help people. In return I must say that so far everyone has also been very friendly back.’
In preparation for the influx of tourists, Rick and Nic had picked up a number of maps from the tourist office, which they often find helpful in showing visitors where they can park and how to reach them (often as well as giving advice on local attractions). Now they are using maps in a different way as they take vital items to people across Lochaber, often covering over 100 miles a day visiting housebound people in need of urgent supplies.
They, like many other local council employees, are working as part of Highland Council’s overall coronavirus resilience strategy, responding to public need which came into play immediately after the lockdown, working with community groups to ensure no-one, especially those in high-risk categories, is left without access to food and medicines.
‘This is a very difficult time for everyone,’ said Nic: ‘We are delighted to have a role in looking after the needs of people and will carry on as long as is necessary – as one lady we delivered to said when she recognised us – ‘you’re just the ticket!’