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Highland reporter makes it onto '30 under 30' list

By Philip Murray

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Iona MacDonald.
Iona MacDonald.

Highland journalist Iona MacDonald is one of five Highlands and Islands women to have made a prestigious Scottish '30 under 30' list.

Iona (17) was included on the Young Women’s Movement list of inspiring young women and non-binary people in Scotland, which was announced this week.

Iona has been working as a trainee community reporter at the Strathy's parent company Highland News and Media since she was 16, and is set to qualify as a fully-trained journalist before her 18th birthday.

Related: Reporter's Vape-Free Youth campaign up for national award

In her time with the company she was trusted to curate the TikTok content at sister newspaper title the Inverness Courier’s SNP leadership debate earlier this year. This was followed by their A9 Crisis Summit, where she sat on the front row beside Scottish Government representatives, capturing content - which amassed hundreds of thousands of views.

With a passion for investigative journalism, Iona put forward the idea to test how easy it is to buy vapes underage. She did extensive research, contacted the police and Trading Standards, pulled together a team including an editor and photographer, and went into shops herself to see if she could buy vapes underage. Her investigation went viral, being retweeted by prominent journalists including the head of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. As a result, she was invited to a Scottish Parliament round table meeting to discuss the subject with politicians, health campaigners, and environmental activists.

Most recently, she won an NCTJ award for Best Campaign, for her coverage of the closure of Mo Dhachaidh care home in Ullapool, which continues to impact families across the Highlands amidst the care home crisis.

Iona is one of five women from the Highlands and Islands to make the 30-strong list.

Fellow Highland mover and shaker Rebecca Wymer also made the prestigious list.

Rebecca Wymer.
Rebecca Wymer.

The 30-year-old, who is a career baker and has run a deli/bakery with her mum for the past seven years, is also a leading advocate for women's health.

She, along with two friends, set up the North Highland Women's Wellbeing Hub, and she is currently training to be a nutrition coach specialising in women's health.

Rebecca has severe endometriosis and polycystic ovaries and am scheduled for my fourth major surgery in the last five years very soon.

And, living in the Highlands, she said she had experienced the extreme lack of healthcare access that her and many others have faced, with many basic services centralised to Inverness.

Her experiences prompted her move to set up the North Highland Women's Wellbeing Hub, with her and her friends aiming to provide support to women in the Highlands and fight for improved access to care.

The hub is voluntarily run by women with lived experience, helping other women feel less alone in their journey and empowering them with knowledge.

Other figures to make the list include 26-year-old Inverness-based artist Srija Shrestha who came to the UK from Nepal in 2021 to pursue MA Illustration and graduated from Teesside University in 2022.

Srija Shrestha.
Srija Shrestha.

The themes in her art include mental health, and emotional well-being combined with personal and community experiences of home, belonging and identity.

In her work she has collaborated on projects with a wide range of organisations both in Nepal and the UK, including the British Council, YUWA Nepal, UNICEF South Asia and Student Minds UK. She was also recognised as the Artist in Residence programme organised by People of Colour Creative, Shutterstock and Clear Channel for her illustration on mental health in South Asian communities.

Elsewhere on the list is 29-year-old mountaineer and rock climbing instructor Kirsty Pallas.

Kirsty Pallas. Picture: Morag Skelton.
Kirsty Pallas. Picture: Morag Skelton.

The 29-year-old works at Mountaineering Scotland and has volunteered with Oban Mountain Rescue for more than 10 years, where she is the training officer and one of the team's call-out managers.

Kirsty, who comes from a mixed heritage background, has worked to increase diversity and inclusivity within the outdoors through her her organisation Our Shared Outdoors as well as her job with Mountaineering Scotland.

She also gives talks on ways clubs and organisations can be more inclusive.

The fifth Highlands and Islands figure to make the list is Shetland woman Jessica Carlyle.

The 25-year-old, who has a passion for helping young people and hopes to become a qualified councillor, began volunteering as a peer educator with OPEN in 2016 before later becoming a peer mentor with them and beginning to work with them in a part-time role in 2019,

Jessica Carlyle.
Jessica Carlyle.

Two years ago she became organisation development lead, which has seen her work with young people aged 16–29 to turn the organisation into an independent, youth-governed charity.

And in April this year she also started a new role as the young survivors practitioner with the Compass Centre (formerly Shetland Rape Crisis), where she has been carrying out research to better understand the needs of young people in Shetland when it comes to receiving support from the area's services. After this has been completed, she plans to go on to provide support for survivors.

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