January 2012 Newsletter

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Hello! I'm Alastair and, in welcoming you to our January edition, I'd like to wish you a happy, peaceful and successful new year on behalf of all of us at Promote Shetland.

In the islands, as elsewhere, Christmas preparations were, of course, very much in mind during December. On Christmas Day itself, there were the usual church services and families across the islands gathered for dinners, traditional or otherwise. However - as we report below - the afternoon of the 25th will also be remembered for some exceptionally wild weather.

For those more accustomed to city life, one of the striking things about the run-up to Christmas in Shetland is that shopping is a real pleasure. Interesting places to find that special present included the very appealing annual Christmas show at the Bonhoga Gallery and a beautifully-conceived pop-up gallery in a house that's awaiting renovation, organised by local artists Ruth Brownlee and Mary Fraser. The shops did good business, but staff still had time to stop and chat, or to offer some ideas or advice. It was quick and easy to get around. All this is very different from the jostling crowds, the traffic congestion and the endless search for parking spaces or seats on overcrowded trains that mark Christmas shopping in larger places.

2012 promises to be another exciting year in Shetland. We're looking forward very much to the opening of Mareel, the new, £12m cinema and music venue that's nearing completion in Lerwick. We'll also be reporting on the making of the feature film, Between Weathers, that starts shooting in Shetland in spring or early summer. There will also be all the usual festivals and other events, including some with an Olympic theme. We'll enjoy, as always, the wonderful wildlife that surrounds us. Over the next couple of months, we have a series of fire festivals to look forward to, among which the huge Lerwick Up Helly Aa is the best known. It's always held on the last Tuesday in January. The season kicks off with the Scalloway Fire Festival on 13 January.

If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, as many others have done, we hope this newsletter offers a flavour of the life you could enjoy in the islands. We have a large amount of essential information about Shetland on our website but we also recommend that you make a couple of reconnaissance trips to experience island life, ideally at different seasons. You might also like to take a look at the Shetland 2012 visitor brochure , which is packed with all you need to know when planning your visit.

This short report from French television channel TF1 may also be of interest, whether or not you speak French, because it has some good pictures of the islands' winter landscape. They recently did a series of these reports on L'hiver ailleurs (winter elsewhere) and 'magical' Shetland was one of the places they chose to visit. I think it will be available to watch until mid-January.

If we can help in any way, please don't hesitate to contact our team!

Shetland Tops Quality Of Life Table

Shetland offers the best quality of life in Scotland. That's the verdict from the latest annual survey undertaken by the Bank of Scotland. Local authority areas throughout the country were scored on a number of indicators including the proportion of people in employment, their average earnings, health, life expectancy and educational attainment. Other factors, including the affordability of housing and the local crime rate, were also applied.

Shetland scored well across all these criteria. 84% of adults are in employment, the highest proportion in Scotland and the second highest in the UK. Their weekly earnings of £605, though not the highest, are £30 higher than the Scottish average. With lower than average prices for property, housing is relatively affordable. Shetland's bank customers maintain an average savings balance of £9,451, which puts them in sixth place in the UK, just ahead of Richmond-on-Thames; they're the only savers in Scotland to feature in the UK top twenty. Shetland's people have a life expectancy of more than 77 years and 93% believe that they're in good health. School results are well above average and the crime rate and traffic flows are well below average.

One of the few criteria on which Shetland doesn't score quite so well is sunshine, since the islands enjoy about three hours less of it each week than the Scottish average. Locals would probably say, though, that the experience of virtually endless daylight around midsummer goes a long way to make up for that.

Nitesh Patel, economist at the Bank of Scotland, said:

"This year the Shetland Islands tops the Bank of Scotland Quality of Life Survey. The Islands score highly relative to the average for Scotland on several indicators, such as health, life expectancy, employment, average earnings, school results and low crime rates. Even average house prices are relatively low in relation to earnings, highlighting that a high standard of living does not always come at a price."

Lerwick's Youth Hostel Is Best In The World

The youth hostel in Islesburgh House, Lerwick, has been voted the best in the world by Hostelling International. Those who have stayed in it have given it even higher ratings than they did last year. The announcement was made at a ceremony in Vienna, where Islesburgh manager Dale Smith was present to accept the award.

The award is given to the hostel with the highest overall customer rating on the Hostelling International website. The site features 4,000 hostels from 90 different countries, from Shetland to Sudan, Shanghai to Sweden.

Mr Smith was thrilled to accept the honour, which he dedicated to all the staff at Islesburgh. He said:

"You can have a great building, but if you don't have great staff, you are not going to achieve anything. This award is recognition of the hard work and exceptional customer care our staff deliver day in day out, as well as the excellent facilities we have at the hostel. This is certainly a welcome Christmas present for everyone at Islesburgh".

This is not the first accolade for the 5 star hostel, which topped the 2010 Hostelling International poll in Europe for customer satisfaction, missing the overall first place worldwide by a mere 1%.

The 64 bed hostel attracts more than 4000 visitors a year from around the world and is described by HI as a "beautiful grand mansion house with fabulous views" with "friendly and efficient staff" and "excellent facilities".

Overall, Islesburgh House Hostel scored 98% for the friendliness of its staff, 96% for efficiency of service, 97% for cleanliness, 97% for security and 96% for location.

On the customer review section of the HI site, Stephen from England said of the Islesburgh hostel: "Probably one of, if not the best, hostel I have stayed in, great experience, and superb staff, thank you very much for a great stay."

Lyn from Australia said: "We loved staying in this hostel. It was perfect for our needs and the building is beautiful. Everyone was so helpful and friendly. We had a fantastic stay on the Shetlands, the weather was superb. Would definitely stay here again."

Neil Watt, Shetland Islands Council's Executive Manager for Sport and Leisure welcomed the award and the potential visitors it will bring to Shetland. He said:

"This is an amazing achievement for all the staff at Islesburgh House Hostel and just goes to show the consistently excellent service they provide to all their guests. It is wonderful to know that travellers from all over the world have such a positive experience when they stay in Shetland and this award will no doubt encourage more people to visit. Everyone at Islesburgh should be immensely proud of what they have achieved. You couldn't ask for better."

Outside the main tourist season, the hostel building forms an annexe to the nearby Islesburgh Community Centre. Its rooms are used daily for meetings of many kinds and for training events.

Glowing Report For Janet Courtney Hall Of Residence

The Janet Courtney Hall of Residence in Lerwick is "a home from home" for the teenage pupils who stay there, according to the Care Inspectorate. In Shetland, school pupils from some of the islands farthest from Lerwick live in the hall of residence during the week and go home at weekends. Those from the remotest islands, Fair Isle and Foula, go home less frequently.

The inspection report awards the residence 'very good' grades in quality of care and support and quality of environment.

Mark Causer, the inspector responsible, said the hall of residence provided 'a supportive, caring environment,' and had 'high levels of participation where residents feel they can contribute and are listened to'. The public and private accommodation was well maintained, with residents able to be 'comfortable and relaxed.'

There had been considerable improvements since the last inspection, Mr Causer said, with upgrading of accommodation and better leisure facilities such as wi-fi and a flat screen TV. All the young people had been actively involved, offering suggestions, and this was a programme of improvement which would continue.

All the residents of the hall consulted were 'extremely positive' about the care they received and felt 'safe and protected.' Mr Causer also thanked the young people 'for their welcome and their open and honest approach to the inspection. It was evident that the hostel was a home from home where they felt cared for and valued.'

Parents too were asked to fill in questionnaires, and 'again, there were very high levels of satisfaction with the service.'

The building has an interesting history and is listed, category B. It was paid for by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust and the architect was James Shearer (senior) of Dunfermline. Built in 1939, it was pressed into military service and didn't open as a school hostel until 1947. Its design has sometimes been criticised, but it's important as an example of the style of the period, grounded in the modern movement but with more than a hint of art deco.

Fascinating Exhibition Illustrates 19th Century Shetland

An exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives drew many visitors during December. It featured sketches and paintings of Shetland by Thomas Woore (1804-1878), who from 1828 commanded the Woodlark, a naval cutter which was engaged on a hydrographic survey of the islands.

Woore was born in Londonderry and had joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1819. During his time in Shetland, it seems that he found plenty of time for drawing and painting. In the course of his duties he often went ashore with his sketchbook and produced fine paintings of scenes and buildings throughout the islands.

This exhibition included 24 of Woore's best works, with vibrant colours and wonderful attention to detail. The works include the Woodlark lying in Symbister harbour on the island of Whalsay, the then new Church of Scotland in Lerwick, traditional six-oared rowing boats (known as sixerns) in St Magnus Bay, a view over Scalloway harbour and many more.

Thomas Woore emigrated to Australia shortly after his tour of duty in Shetland. He took his sketchbook with him and nobody in the islands had seen his Shetland drawings since. However, the sketchbook has survived in the hands of his descendants in Australia and Mrs Prue Heath, who owns the collection, kindly gave permission for the exhibition to take place.

Six Shetland Nominations For Coaching Awards

Shetland's sport coaches have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to sport in the first ever sportscotland Highlands and Islands Regional Coaching Awards. No fewer than six coaches from Shetland were nominated for the Awards, the highest number from any island group. Nominations were made by fellow coaches, parents and the Active Schools Team. Those nominated were Glenn Gilfillan (youth football); Lorraine Gifford (swimming and development); Billy Mycock's (squash); Daniel Meadow (rugby); and Kirsti Leask and Vicki Henderson (netball).

None of the Shetland nominees won national awards this time but they'll no doubt hope to gain one or more in the future. sportscotland Regional Coaching Manager, Jan Stander was delighted with the overall response in this, the first year of the awards. He said, 'We had over 30 nominations across Highlands and Islands and the response from Shetland highlights the quality of coaches working across all levels of sport in the isles'.

Work To Start On 'Essential' College Extension

A £4.6 million extension to Shetland College is to go ahead in order to safeguard the future of training and education in the isles.

The phase three development was, said Professor David Gray, college director, 'absolutely crucial', especially in the current economic conditions. He stressed the importance of local people having the opportunity to gain the skills needed in industries such as renewable energy, oilfield decommissioning, construction, creative industries and tourism.

Of the £4,622,000 cost, the European Regional Development Fund will contribute £1,809,000. The funding package also includes £2,013,000 from Shetland Islands Council, £500,000 from the Scottish Funding Council and £300,000 from Shetland College itself.

Chair of the College Board, Allan Wishart, said:

"This extension is a crucial investment in our economic future, one that must go ahead immediately to take advantage of European funding. I congratulate Professor Gray and his team on identifying ways to save money in running costs. The responsible and wise decision is to build this much needed extension."

Lerwick Broadband Speeds To Rise

BT has announced that homes and businesses served by the Lerwick telephone exchange will have access to faster broadband by next summer. The town is one of 47 Scottish communities included in the latest roll-out plans for BT's next generation broadband service delivered over copper lines. The BT investment makes available broadband speeds of up to 20 megabits per second (Mbps) - more than double the maximum speeds previously available to the majority of UK homes and businesses.

Brendan Dick, director BT Scotland, said: "BT's roll-out of faster broadband across Scotland is gathering pace. And we want to go further. We want to work with the public sector to find ways of bringing faster broadband to areas which are geographically and commercially more challenging."

Meanwhile, a project to link Shetland's telecommunications network to a cable that connects the Faroe Islands with Scotland is well advanced. The international cable passes through Shetland and connections are being made to it at Sandwick and Maywick, both in Shetland's south mainland. Fibre-optic cables have been laid under main roads between Sandwick, Lerwick and Scalloway. A final stage, a subsea link between Scalloway and Maywick, will be undertaken in the Spring.

Shetland Children Have Healthiest Teeth In Scotland

New statistics released by the National Health Service show that children in Shetland have less teeth decay than those elsewhere in the country. Nationally, the aim is to ensure that at least 60% of children in Primary 7 have no obvious tooth decay. The Scottish average is 69.4% but Shetland's children have done very much better, with 77.2% showing no decay. Encouragingly, the trend across the country is towards much better dental health.

Christmas Storm Was One To Remember

Christmas Day 2012 won't just be remembered for the new iPad or the inappropriate socks. On the afternoon of 25 December, just as most people were settling down to their turkey, a deep depression north of Shetland produced a memorable storm. There were steady wind speeds of 60-70mph, equivalent to storm force 10 or violent storm 11. Gusts of well over 90mph were recorded all around the islands and, at Sella Ness in the north of the Shetland mainland, there was one gust of 101mph, well within the range for a category 2 hurricane.

Shetland folk know all about battening down the hatches for such events and buildings are generally constructed to cope with extreme conditions. Nevertheless, across the islands, some Christmas dinners had to be adjourned while loose items in gardens were even more firmly secured. Some roofs were damaged and a large tree was blown down in the village of Scalloway, a rare and rather poignant sight given that Shetland has relatively few trees to begin with. At one point, more than 4,000 households were temporarily without electricity and it was fortunate that most of the cooking had been done before the power went off. With just a few exceptions, engineers managed to restore supplies by the following morning. Those who ventured outside were left in no doubt about the power of the storm but, on the windward side of the islands, were also rewarded with some unforgettable seascapes.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month comes from Kev, who lives in Scalloway and made the move to Shetland just over two years ago. He records his family's adventures and the blog is lavishly illustrated.