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Midlothian warms up for some festive family fun this winter Midlothian is the place to be this winter, with a jam-packed programme of festive fun on offer for the county’s first ever Winter Festival! The programme has been put together by Midlothian Tourism Forum and Midlothian Council, in a bid to help boost local businesses and visitor attractions and to encourage more visitors to the area. From November through to February, you’ll find a range of entertaining events and activities which are sure to suit every age and interest.

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Major funding packages totalling £3.4 million have been secured to revitalise the centre of Gorebridge and turn a disused building at Newtongrange railway station into a community space and bistro. The Borders Railway Blueprint Programme, set up to maximise the economic opportunities of the line supported by £10 million of Scottish Government money, agreed match funding of £1,038,000 for ‘Gorebridge Connected’ and a further £191,000 for the Newtongrange, Track2Train initiative. The Blueprint commitments bring the total amount to be invested in both projects from various sources to £3.437 million....

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The number of young people taking up modern apprenticeships in the Borders rose by 22% last financial year, the Scottish Parliament has been told. That news was conveyed to Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton by Jamie Hepburn, Scottish Government minister for training and employability. In her Southern Reporter column last week, Mrs Hamilton, a Conservative, criticised the Scottish National Party government’s spending record on apprenticeships, claiming the less than 5% of spending devoted to its skills fund was “simply not enough”. She also called on the Scottish Government to incentivise sectors of industry to offer more apprenticeships. In a written parliamentary question, Mrs Hamilton wanted to know what action the Government is taking to increase the number of apprenticeships in the Borders.

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Leading industrial and environmental services business, NWH Group has reported a 23 per cent growth in turnover to reach £25.5 million at its year end 2016. The business, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is now on track to deliver £31m at year end 2017. Growth has been achieved through a mix of organic growth and acquisitions in line with the business’ strategy to expand in to new geographical locations and diversify its range of services, including the acquisition of DJ Laing’s waste management operations in Dundee. Complementing the financial growth, employee numbers have risen accordingly from 211 at year end 2015 to 240 at year end 2016. The group currently employs 310 staff.

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A five-year housing plan for the Borders could see up to 1,177 affordable homes being built. The Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP) covers the period from 2018 to 2023 and looks at local need. The estimate of more than 1,000 homes is based on anticipated funding and assumes "all land and infrastructure challenges" can be resolved. Mark Rowley, of Scottish Borders Council, said the "ambitious plan" could help meet local housing needs. "Clearly house-building of this scale would also have a very positive impact on the local construction sector, and in turn on jobs and the wider economy," he said. "The end result would provide local people with homes in Borders communities, enabling them to live and work locally.

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The award-winning brewery uses barley grown in the fields surrounding it on the 1,800-acre Chesters Estate to produce beers such as Foxy Blonde, Game Bird, Holy Cow, Dark Horse, Flower of Scotland and Gold Dust. At the moment, though, it has to send its beer south of the border to Cockermouth in Cumbria for bottling, flying in the face of its commitment to use local ingredients and services as much as it can, what it bills as a plough-to-pint ethos. “Up until now, we’ve had to outsource our bottling, which always went against our aim of keeping everything in-house,” said owner John Henderson. “The arrival of the new bottling line signals a step-change in our ambitions and lets us keep every part of the process in the Teviot Valley, where we are based.”

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Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce’s new president Archie Paterson has pledged to continue to grow the organisation. Mr Paterson, who is also the centre manager of the Midlothian Innovation Centre, takes over from East Lothian-based Keith Barbour. The former banker said: “The chamber has developed over the last number of years to try and grow and support the businesse in Midlothian and East Lothian. “The economic conditions have been difficult but there is a real opportunity now to grasp the nettle and the chamber is here to help businesses increase their profitability. By networking we can help find other opportunities to buyfrom and sell to. My aim is to develop this further and to grow the membership of the chamber to the benefit of all its members.”

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Six of the best from Tweedbank’s Tempest Brewing Co picked up prizes at this year’s Scottish Beer Awards. The Borders brewery followed up its haul of seven trophies at last year’s inaugural awards with a further half-dozen second time round. It took home three golds from the ceremony at Edinburgh Corn Exchange, sponsored by supermarket chain Aldi and organised by Edinburgh event management firm KD Media – for Modern Helles for best lager class, for In the Dark We Live: Dark Fruits Edit in the amplified beer category and for Soma India Pale Ale, named as best IPA – plus three silvers.

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Jobseekers are being offered free rail journeys in an effort to remove one of the "barriers" to getting back into the workforce. ScotRail Alliance said people seeking employment would be eligible for two free return journeys a month, for travel to and from an interview. The firm will also provide travel tickets for the first month of a new job.

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The Borders Railway has got the write stuff, according to the judges of a national competition. The Edinburgh-Tweedbank track has landed another tourism award to add to its growing collection, this latest one having been handed out by the British Guild of Travel Writers....