February 2015 Newsletter

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Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the February 2015 issue of our monthly newsletter.

Needless to say, the highlight of January for many local people and hundreds of visitors has been the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, largest of the islands" fire festivals; there's more about that below, along with links to more information and photographs. I certainly enjoyed the day's events and, as I write, a hint of smoke still lingers on hat, scarf and gloves!

But life goes on away from the galley-burnings and there's some fine traditional (though eclectic) music to look forward to during February, with two concerts featuring Edinburgh-based Blue Rose Code, Orcadian legend Ivan Drever and Shetland's own Hom Bru, who are longstanding favourites. Shetland Youth Theatre's players are appearing in Remote, presented as part of National Theatre Connections, in the middle of the month. As always, there's also a good choice of films at Mareel.

We had a chilly blast at the end of January, after a reasonably mild month, and there may yet be more of winter to come. However, now that the days are lengthening, the better days will see more people getting out and about, whether it's for cycling, walking, beachcombing, bird-watching or maybe tackling the first of the year's jobs in the garden.

As I suggest below, if you'd like to check out Shetland as a place to live, one of the local fire festivals would be a good way to sample what we have to offer in winter.

Shetland Chippy Is Britain's Best

Frankie's, in the village of Brae in Shetland's north mainland, has been named as the best fish and chip shop in the UK for 2015.

The team at Frankie's won the title at the annual National Fish & Chip Awards in London. The most northerly chippy in the country also scooped the Good Catch Award, which rewards fish and chip shops that use sustainably caught and harvested stocks of seafood. These accolades follow a string of other awards: late last year, Frankie's was named best in Scotland for the second year running and emerged as best eatery in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.

“We're thrilled to have been selected as the top shop in the UK,” said Frankie's manager John Gold, who was presented with the award along with owner Valerie Johnson and shift manager Carlyn Kearney in front of 650 guests at an event hosted by the BBC food and drink presenter Nigel Barden at the Lancaster London Hotel. “It's great recognition for all the hard work our staff put in to make sure our customers get top-quality fish and chips every time they come in. And it's fabulous for Shetland, where fishing has been a way of life for centuries and which has some of the finest seafood in the world.”

Frankie's biggest selling product is traditional haddock and chips, but they also offer crab, mussels and scallops harvested from the cold, clear waters around Shetland. All of the seafood sold by Frankie's is accredited as sustainably caught or harvested by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The firm employs seven full-time and 15 part-time staff and opened just over six years ago. Frankie's staff visit schools in Shetland to run the Frankie's Fish Course, a fun but educational programme aimed at primary school children, helping them to understand the importance of sustainability and learning about different types of fish.

The National Fish & Chip Awards are organised by Seafish and the judges assess product quality, sustainable sourcing policies, marketing initiatives and customer service. Frankie's have produced a short video retrospective on their work in 2014 and you can watch it online.

Sparks Fly On A Great Night For Lerwick's Up Helly Aa

Neil Robertson, this year's Guizer Jarl, enjoyed a much better night than weather forecasters had predicted for his outing as head of this year's festivities.

The forecast – strong winds and heavy rain – really didn't look good, but of course the spirit of Shetland's hardy Norsemen wouldn't be dampened by such trivialities. The festival programme famously guarantees that "there will be no postponement for weather". Although the morning was a little damp, the evening was dry, with a lively breeze that freed sparks from over eight hundred torches and fanned the flames in which a beautifully-constructed galley was quite quickly reduced to ashes. Afterwards, paraffin-scented guizers made their way around the eleven halls in which invited guests watched them perform right through until eight o'clock the following morning.

This year, the procession was watched by several thousand locals and visitors, who packed four or five deep around the burning site and scrambled onto walls and even the odd lamp-post to get the best view.

More people than ever before watched Promote Shetland's live stream: there were 21,495 'unique visitors' from 91 different countries and, since many of these devices were probably being watched by two or more people, the number who actually saw the coverage would have been considerably higher. Most users (14,789) were in the United Kingdom, but there were 1,302 in the USA; 411 in Canada; between 200 and 300 in Australia, Germany and Norway and between 100 and 200 in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden and France. The procession will be seen by millions when the BBC screens a new series on the Vikings, presented by Dan Snow; a film crew recorded the action.

Lerwick's Up Helly Aa is just one of the fire festivals that punctuate Shetland's winter calendar but it's much the largest of them all. There are six more across Shetland in February, on the 6th, 13th, 20th, 21st and 27th – Bressay and Cullivoe share that last date. The last two take place in March, on the 13th and 20th: there are more details and links at the bottom of our Up Helly Aa page. Any of them would be an ideal diversion during a winter "recce" and would offer a glimpse of community life. However, for next year's Lerwick event, which will be on Tuesday 26 January, it's best to start planning a bit in advance, as flights, ferries and accommodation all begin to fill up remarkably quickly. An unforgettable experience is guaranteed.

Fiddle Frenzy Booking Opens

Packages for the annual Fiddle Frenzy, which offers a tempting blend of concerts, fiddle tuition and the chance to see Shetland, have gone on sale.

Indeed, if time doesn't allow a winter "recce" right now, and you're a fiddle enthusiast, a trip to Shetland from 2 – 9 August could be just the ticket. The packages went on sale on Monday 2 February.

The fiddle tutors for this year have also been confirmed and it's an outstanding roster. They are: Jenna and Bethany Reid (who are also curators of the festival), Claire White, Gemma Donald, Eunice Henderson, Jenny Keldie, Cathy Geldard, Kirsten Hendry, Alan Gifford and Andrew Gifford.

For those who don't wish to take part in music classes, there are, as usual, Creative Fringe classes, which offer a full programme of creative activities. These will be led by Amy Fisher and Ana Arnett; and if you simply want to hear some great fiddle music without attending any of the tuition on offer, tickets for the concerts are available to the general public.

Lisa Ward, speaking for Shetland Arts, said: “Fiddle Frenzy is a fantastic opportunity to learn the secrets of Shetland fiddle from a range of experienced tutors, explore the thriving musical traditions of our beautiful islands, or simply be part of our Festival Week which is packed with a range of Frenzy Fringe options and evening concerts. The festival attracts all ages and people from all over the world, from as far afield as the USA, Canada and Australia, and demand for packages is always high. We recommend early booking to avoid disappointment.”

Two package options are offered: The Full Frenzy gives access to all classes, optional sight-seeing tours, and tickets to all evening concerts and events; the Half Frenzy includes access to all classes and optional sight-seeing tours.

Packages for Fiddle Frenzy cost £400/£300 (for the Full Frenzy) or £325/£250 (for the Half Frenzy). You can book over the phone on 01595 745 555, or online at shetlandboxoffice.org or mareel.org. There's more information at shetlandarts.org/fiddlefrenzy.

Projects Gain From Coastal Community Awards

Textiles, boat-building and tourism will benefit from funding made available under the Coastal Communities Awards.

The boost to the textile industry in Shetland comes in the form of a grant of £95,000 for GlobalYell Ltd, a social enterprise in Yell. The money will buy new equipment, create employment and support marketing activity.

Andy Ross, Creative Director of GlobalYell, says: “It is a very exciting opportunity and time for us. This funding represents a vote of confidence in GlobalYell, giving the charity more opportunities to work with contemporary craft and design in the islands. It is hugely significant especially in the view of recent meetings we have had with representatives from Scotland, London and as far afield as Japan, all of whom have been impressed with the quality and design of our woven products. Now we will have a chance to take up opportunities like these.”

Coastal Communities funding will provide one new job in Yell in 2015 as well as supporting the existing Creative Director post at GlobalYell, as the organisation moves on with its project. It will allow GlobalYell to purchase a new production loom from the United States to complement the existing looms at the studio. There will be new equipment to go with the loom and the grant will support further employment opportunities in the future. It will also give GlobalYell an opportunity to attend trade fairs to show its fabrics.

Andy adds that GlobalYell aims not only to make cloth to its own designs but also to work with others to produce short lengths of fabric, a facility which he says is lacking in the UK. GlobalYell is interested to speak to manufacturers, designers, makers and creators about the project, and Andy can be contacted on globalyell@btconnect.com.

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Another craft skill, boatbuilding, will also benefit from the awards. Shetland Amenity Trust have been awarded £105,000 in grant funding from the Coastal Communities Fund to develop an SQA accredited customised award in the construction of traditional Shetland wooden boats. The training will equip future generations with the skills necessary to build, repair and maintain the traditional Shetland wooden boats that are such a distinctive feature of the islands.

The course will be centred on the boat sheds at Hay's Dock, which form part of the Shetland Museum and Archives, and the new workshop and boat store under construction at Staney Hill on the outskirts of Lerwick. The Trust will be appointing a course coordinator to develop the course framework and units, after which the opportunity to apply for the apprenticeship will be announced.

The Trust has already undertaken the building and repair of traditional Shetland boats at Hay's Dock. It was from that boatyard that Shetland's preserved sail-fishing vessel, the Swan, took to the water in 1900.

The third of the Coastal Communities Awards has gone to Unst, Britain's most northerly inhabited island. The Unst Partnership is keen to foster tourism and they will use the grant – £63,098 – to employ a tourism development officer.

The island has much that appeals to visitors. There are two National Nature Reserves offering outstanding bird life and unique geology and botany. Two local museums provide an insight into island life in general and boats in particular; and there's a wealth of archaeological remains, particularly from the Viking period. Less traditionally, the island is also known for a fully-furnished bus shelter, scene of many a "selfie" in recent years. But it's also a great place to explore on foot, with miles of coastal and hill walks.

Unst isn't difficult to reach: there are frequent ferry services from the Shetland mainland via Yell and – by UK standards – fares are excellent value.

The project, which will last for two years, will aim to attract more visitors and persuade them to stay from longer.

New Links Proposed Between Health And Social Care

With links between health services and social care provision seldom out of the news these days, agencies in Shetland have been planning a way forward.

Cecil Smith, Chair of the Shetland Islands Council's Social Services Committee said: “We are at the culmination of a great deal of work to bring the health and social care services of the Council and NHS Shetland closer together, in response to recent changes in legislation. The changes will help us to continue to develop health and care services locally to meet the needs of our community at a time when the economic pressures and the increasing demands from an ageing population pose particular challenges for both agencies.”

As a result of this integration, services will be more flexible and better co-ordinated. There will be more information for anyone accessing services and it should be easier to know whom to contact for any particular service.

The Shetland public is now being invited to comment on the outcome of the discussions and the documents containing the new proposals are, of course, also available to anyone outwith Shetland who is working in this field or who may be thinking of making a move to the islands.

District of the Month: Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale

Every month, we look at what each district in our islands can offer for new residents. This month, we visit Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale, three adjoining parts of Shetland's central mainland.

Tingwall was the site of the Norse parliament; the word is from the same root as Tynwald, today's Manx parliament. Tingwall is set in a broad, shallow valley that's open to inlets of the North Sea at its northern end and of the Atlantic at its southern end. The land is quite fertile, with a number of crofts and small farms.

There's a primary school and a modern, well-supported community hall, which is the setting for lively monthly debates on topics ranging – this season – from politics to the merits of beards. These are run by the Althing Social Group, and they're well attended, not only because of the wit and wisdom on offer but also thanks to the delicious bannocks, home-baked cakes and tea that are served before the debate is thrown open to the floor. Tingwall also boasts a 9-hole golf course, beautifully set by the Lochs of Asta and Tingwall, and there's another, 18-hole course just a mile or so to the east at Dale; there's also a garden centre.

Whiteness lies to the west of Tingwall, separated from it by a low ridge of hills, and its main feature is the long, narrow peninsula that gives the area its name. From the main road, there are spectacular views over Whiteness, Strom Ness and the islands that lie beyond. Around the Loch of Strom, it's a gentle, intimate landscape; and this is also the venue for Shetland's enthusiastic community of model yachtspeople.

Whiteness has two shops, one of them a small supermarket with a filling station, and there is also a primary school – which also serves Weisdale – and Strom Park, home to the Whitedale football team that plays in Shetland competitions.

Beyond the school, the main road continues northwards through Weisdale, another of the valleys that run north to south through the central mainland. The view is dominated to the west by the steep slopes of Weisdale Hill (260m/850"), but mellowed by lots of trees and shrubs around houses and by Shetland's largest tree plantations at Kergord, towards the north end. There, planting over the past century or so has produced a remarkable semi-wooded landscape, quite unlike any other part of Shetland. It's host to Britain's most northerly rookery, the occasional cuckoo and a woodland ecosystem, complete with bluebells and foxgloves. Although the main constraint on woodland in Shetland is not weather but grazing sheep, it helps that Weisdale is less affected than some parts of Shetland by salty gales. Local gardeners appreciate that, too.

Just south of the plantations is the old Weisdale Mill, which has been converted into an art gallery, Bonhoga. It offers exhibitions by local and visiting artists, a gift shop and a delightful conservatory café from which it's sometimes possible to spot a heron or an otter in the stream below.

All three areas have seen new house-building over recent decades, helped by the fact that almost everywhere in the district is between ten and twenty minutes from Lerwick on an excellent road. Between them, Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale offer some very attractive options as places to live, with friendly communities; beautiful landscapes and seascapes; and easy access to all other parts of Shetland. Everywhere, there are opportunities for walking, fishing or boating in sheltered voes and sounds.

Jobs of the Month

Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include vacancies for a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and several nursing posts, most in Lerwick but one on the island of Whalsay. There's also a locum appointment for a doctor in general surgery.

Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council – there were 42 available when we last checked – include posts for Teachers of Nursery, Primary, Physical Education and English; Principal Teachers of Art and Design/Music and Craft, Design and Technology; an Employability Case Management Officer; a Business Development and Training Manager; a Teacher of Home Economics; Lecturers in Health and Care and Information Technology; a Senior Social Care Worker; a Social Worker; and many posts for Clerical Workers and Cleaners.

It's also a good idea to check the job sections of the Shetland Times and Shetland News.

Blog of the Month

Each of Shetland's fire festivals offers a treat for photographers and the internet has been awash with images, as agencies and newspapers from all over the world send their staff to capture the atmosphere; there are examples here from the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

But local photographers - and we have many - do a superb job, and our blog this month comes from David Gifford, whose shots have become emblematic of the festival. He has excellent pictures of some of the smaller festivals, and of earlier years, too.

View Blog