April 2009 Newsletter

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Here is our newsletter from April 2009. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.

Shetland Salmon On Menu At Last Night's G20 Dinner

At the dinner in Downing Street for the G20 leaders, chef Jamie Oliver chose organic salmon from Skerries, Shetland, for the starter. It was served with samphire and sea kale, vegetables from Sussex, Surrey and Kent and Irish soda bread. The main course featured Welsh lamb, with a vegetarian option of lovage and potato dumplings, and the dessert was Bakewell tart and custard. This latest accolade will be welcomed by Shetland producers, whose reputation for quality is steadily spreading. Organic salmon, mussels and lamb are particularly favoured. If you'd like to learn more about the range of food available from Shetland, there's an online Shetland Food Directory to stimulate the taste buds.

Shetland wins Scotland's top planning award

Shetland has carried off the top award in the annual Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning, organised by the Scottish Government. The Shetland entry related to a regeneration project in the islands' capital, Lerwick, that began in the 1980s and is still under way.

The town's waterfront was the scene of bustling activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the hub of a very prosperous fishing industry based particularly on herring. During the 20th century, though, the need for deeper water for larger vessels forced a move to new facilities in the northern part of the harbour. The old fishing stations fell into decay and redevelopment was inhibited by the very poor vehicular access to the area. A

bold approach was needed and, over the past 25 years, the area has been transformed. A new access road came first, followed by the development of a modern business park and the award-winning Shetland Museum and Archives. Work starts shortly on a new arts centre, Mareel, that will provide two cinemas, a music venue and high quality video and audio studios that will support the islands' creative industries. In the awards, the Shetland project faced competition from a number of successful schemes elsewhere. The judges were impressed, however, by the quality of what had been achieved and the way in which funding had been drawn in from a wide range of sources. There's more about the awards at the Scottish Government's Planning website, where they'll be posting a video of the waterfront project in the near future.

New Body Will Promote Shetland

Following talks between Shetland Islands Council and the Scottish Government, a new local body will take over some of the work previously done in Shetland by VisitScotland, the national tourism organisation. There's been concern in Shetland that the promotion of the islands hasn't always reflected the differences that exist between Shetland and Scotland. In particular, Shetland observers say that much Scottish promotion is built around tartan, shortbread and whisky, while Shetland offers an altogether different Scandinavian dimension. The new body, known simply as Promote Shetland, will help not only to attract visitors but also to strengthen the promotion of other things that Shetland has to offer, for example distinctive textiles and excellent food.

"Bards In The Bog" – First Poems Appear

As we reported a couple of months ago, Shetland Arts and the Shetland Library have launched a poetry competition that will result in new poetry gracing Shetland's public toilets. Entries came from all over the world and Shetland-based poet Jen Hadfield, who recently won the TS Eliot Prize, has now judged them. Ms Hadfield said:

“Settling on six poems out of the 130 or so sent in was very, very difficult. The folder included poems that were hilarious, weighty, experimental, formal, satiric, playful. I set myself to choose great poems that also demonstrated the stylistic variety of the submissions. There should be something for everyone.”

The selected entries can be seen on the Shetland Library website. Anyone wishing to try their hand will have another two opportunities later this year.

Bird Observatory Among European Cash Recipients

Several Shetland projects are to benefit from European funding. The biggest grant has gone to the bird observatory on the island of Fair Isle, which lies about 25 miles south of the Shetland mainland. The charitable trust that runs the observatory is raising funds to replace the building and they have warmly welcomed the award of £550,000. Further support has come from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has offered £400,000. These grants augment the £1.15m already secured from Shetland Islands Council and have moved the Observatory much closer to its £4m target. Fair Isle is an outstanding place for bird-watching and boasts a very long list of rare species that have appeared there either during regular migration or when blown thousands of miles off course. For more on the Observatory and the appeal, please go to its website.

Other small communities have good reason to celebrate. The island of Fetlar will get its first proper pier, thanks to a £300,000 European grant, opening up new fishing and leisure opportunities. The pier at Walls, in the west of Shetland's mainland, is to be replaced too.

Other grants will support for better broadband access in remoter areas, improved video links between Shetland and Aberdeen hospitals, a community transport service and the establishment of a café that will offer employment and training to people with special needs on the island of Whalsay. The last of these is an extension of projects already operating in Lerwick that involve people with disabilities in catering, horticulture and soap-making.

Norway Connection Promoted

Staff from VisitShetland have recently joined colleagues from other UK tourism offices to promote the islands in Oslo. Shetland will once again have a direct air connection to Bergen during summer 2009 after the link proved very popular last year. Whilst this obviously opens up opportunities for Shetland businesses, the service also offers a very direct route into continental Europe for Shetland holidaymakers, with a flight time of just an hour. In both Norway and Shetland, the link is also seen as nurturing the long-standing connections between Shetland and west Norway that go back to Viking times but, more recently, were crucial during the Second World War.

Investment In Sports Facilities Brings Rewards

Over more than two decades, Shetland has invested in sport throughout the islands. The Clickimin Centre in Lerwick offers the most extensive range of facilities, but sports centres and outdoor pitches are available in all the main settlements; the islands have no fewer than nine modern swimming pools.
Clickimin was the hub of the NatWest Island Games, held in Shetland in 2005, when more than 2,500 athletes and support staff from 24 island communities competed in 15 disciplines. Now, Shetland's athletes are in training for the 2009 games, to be held in Åland.

Encouragingly, Shetland's athletes continue to make their mark in other competitions. Bobby Bristow, from Lerwick, has been selected to compete for Scottish schools in an international tournament involving England, Wales and Ireland. This is the third year in a row in which a Shetland competitor has been selected for the event and it follows his successful outing in the Scottish Schools cross-country event at Irvine.

Wind Farm Proposals On Public Display

Over the past few years, there has been growing interest in developing a renewable energy sector in Shetland, based on wind, tidal and wave energy. The first major project to come forward is a large, 550mW wind farm in the central mainland. It is being promoted jointly by Scottish and Southern Energy and the Shetland Charitable Trust, the intention being that half the profits from the scheme would augment the Trust's resources and enable it to maintain and expand the many services it already provides to the community. Naturally, the proposals have provoked a lively debate. Supporters say that the project could play a role in tackling global warming as well as bringing financial advantages. Opponents are concerned about impacts on landscape and peat and propose a smaller project to meet Shetland, rather than export, needs. An application for consent for the project is imminent but it's likely to be some time before the Scottish Ministers come to a decision. Separate decisions will be needed about the under-sea cable – essential to export the power – and about the substantial investment involved.

Talk of tidal power generation has focused on the strong tidal streams that flow between Shetland's islands. Some experimental work has already been undertaken. Shetland also has excellent potential for wave power, particularly off the Atlantic coast.

Isles Get Ready For Folk Festival

This year's Shetland Folk Festival is as keenly anticipated as ever. The 29th of its kind, it features a typically eclectic palette of musical talent, ranging from the gritty Australian blues of Hat Fitz through bluegrass-tinged, Toronto-based Madison Violet to the Asturian bagpipes and bouzouki of Felpeyu and the Scottish "acid-croft" sound of Shooglenifty. For more on the background to the festival, see our feature article.

Guernsey Looked to Shetland in Setting Up New Tribunal

The island of Guernsey is in the process of setting up a radically different mechanism for securing welfare and justice for its children and young people. Until now, the island has relied on a juvenile court, focused on offending behaviour. Following an examination of alternatives, they have decided to adopt a model very similar to the Scottish Children's Hearing system, which operates in Shetland. Lawyers and government representatives made several visits to Shetland during the framing of their new legislation, reckoning that the issues that arose would be quite similar in the two administrations. They liked what they saw and the new Guernsey arrangements are expected to come into force later this year.


The Scottish Children's Hearing system has its origins in the 1964 report by Lord Kilbrandon, who argued that the circumstances of children who offend and those of children who suffer abuse or neglect are largely identical; indeed, they were frequently the same children. The Scottish system that he devised focuses on identifying and meeting the needs of children for care, protection, guidance and control. Decisions are made by a lay tribunal, not by a court, and are taken in the best interests of the child rather than with a view to inflicting punishment. In that sense, it is similar to systems operating in Scandinavia. There is an online version of the Kilbrandon Report, with a more recent introduction. The Chair of Shetland Children's Panel, Alastair Hamilton, is one of three Scottish Children's Panel members who have been involved in training the thirty newly-recruited members of Guernsey's Child Youth and Community Tribunal.

Art Exhibition Wins Acclaim

Shetland has lively arts community and several painters and sculptors live in the islands, many of them being involved in the Veer North group. Exhibitions are held frequently, mainly in the splendid new gallery in the Shetland Museum and Archives (called Da Gadderie), at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale or in Vaila Fine Art, a private gallery in Lerwick.


An exhibition by one of the members of Veer North, Paul Bloomer, has recently opened in Da Gadderie and has met with very favourable reviews. Bloomer's work is bold, colourful and often strongly-textured, with the process of painting often laid bare in rivulets of paint. His style seems particularly well-adapted to capturing the very special qualities of light that are so much a part of Shetland. The impact of the paintings really needs to be appreciated at first hand, but several of the exhibits are included in his online gallery. Paul Bloomer's work can also be seen from time to time outside Shetland and he is represented in London by the Boundary Gallery.

Another Successful Music Festival Displays Young Talent

Eric Tebbet, adjudicator at this year's music festival, has described the young talent on show as "world class". More than 260 young musicians were formally entered in the festival but around 1,000 took part in workshops across the islands. Shetland has a long tradition of offering music tuition to all children and, over the years, it's a policy that has been rewarded by an extraordinary outpouring of music of all kinds. There were solo, group, orchestral and choir performances, with instruments ranging from brass and violin to African drums. A singer, Erin Sandison, became the Senior Young Musician Of The Year. Sophie Wishart, who plays piano and violin, was Junior Young Musician Of The Year.

Viking Age Continues To Fascinate

Shetland's Viking past is, of course, very much part of the islands" heritage. Plans have just been announced for a new Up Helly A celebration, this time in the south of the Shetland mainland, an area which until now has had no winter fire festival; it will take place on 12 March 2010. Well before that, this year's Johnsmas Foy - the islands" annual midsummer festival – is to take, as this year's theme, Shetland and the Viking world. Among other attractions, there are expected to be re-enactments of Viking life and performances of Viking music by musicians from Sweden and Finland. The Foy runs from 18 to 28 June and programme details will be available later in April on the Johnsmas Foy website. The Viking world also continues to engage academics. For example, at a recent conference at Cambridge; one of the themes explored was the way in which Vikings apparently built relationships with the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and may, indeed, be seen as an early example of successful immigration. Whether this pattern was repeated everywhere is less clear; in Shetland, the presumption has been that the Vikings effectively wiped out the established Pictish culture.

Ann Cleeves" Crime Quartet Attracts Television Interest

Ann Cleeves" quartet of Shetland crime novels featuring detective Jimmy Perez may be adapted for television. The rights to the series have been secured by Plain Vanilla, a production company founded by Dominic Minghella, and the firm hopes to make a mainstream drama series based on the Perez stories. The members of Plain Vanilla have many television credits, including Robin Hood, Casualty, Life on Mars, Hamish Macbeth and Ashes to Ashes. There's more about this on Ann Cleeves" website.

Meanwhile, on 30 April, Shetlander Marnie Baxter will read a new short story by Ann Cleeves, The Soothmoothers, on BBC Radio 4. The broadcast starts at 3.30pm.

…But World War 1 Tale Is Stranger Than Fiction

A new book by Orkney writer Margaret Flaws records the extraordinary events played out in Lerwick in November 1914, when the entire staff of the town's post office was imprisoned on suspicion of tampering with confidential war communications. In Spy Fever: The Post Office Affair (published by The Shetland Times at £14.99) she tells how a nervous British admiral ordered the forty staff to be detained, resulting in their being marched up to the town's prison by troops with fixed bayonets. Although eight of the men were released the next day, it took an astonishing six days for the rest to be set free. No crime had been committed, except wrongful imprisonment.


One Life Live – We Have Winners!


The Shetland.org team spoke to hundreds of visitors at the One Life Live exhibition at London's Olympia in March. Nearly all of them signed up for our free prize draw, in which the prize was a trip to Shetland. We're now able to announce the winners: Christopher and Maureen Millward, of Preston, will be winging their way northwards later this year and we very much look forward to welcoming them.

There's a warm welcome in Shetland for everyone else, too. Whether you simply want to enjoy a break or would like to settle in the islands, we'll be delighted to see you. There's more information on visiting Shetland at the Visit.Shetland.org website.

And finally…

Lonely Planet, the guidebook publisher, have recently posted some rather nice images of Shetland on their website. Here's the link.