July 2009 Newsletter

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

Shetland Wildlife Celebrated In Annual Festival

The next of Shetland's annual festivals kicks off on 3 July and runs for nine days. Launched by "Springwatch" presenter Simon King – who is currently undertaking an extended filming project in Shetland – the event is a celebration of the wonderful wildlife that the islands host. Highlights will include the annual open day on the island of Noss, a National Nature Reserve; guided visits to outstanding sites such as Mousa and Hermaness; talks by local and visiting experts and screenings of Hugh Miles" celebrated film, Track of the Wild Otter. And, of course, everyone will be on the lookout for otters, seals, minke whales, and orcas. The outlook for seabirds seems to have improved this year, with more food available; substantial numbers of sandeels have been attracting large flocks of seabirds around the islands.

Sustainable Cosmetics Boost Shetland Firm's Prospects

Böd Ayre Products Ltd is a Shetland company, operated by an organic farming family, which produces natural and organically certified gardening & animal feed supplement products from the natural seaweed that thrives in the nutrient-rich, clean waters around Shetland. The company has just received grant funding from The Technology Strategy Board for a research project to develop new ways of extracting natural compounds from British seaweed varieties for use in skin and hair care. Böd Ayre, based in Lunnaness in the north-east of the Shetland mainland, are leading the project in collaboration with natural products researchers Dr. Richard Blackburn and Prof. Chris Rayner at Leeds University. Others involved in the project include a number of specialist firms and The Body Shop.

Margaret Blance of Böd Ayre says that the wonderful variety of seaweeds to be found around Shetland could allow them to develop several different products for a range of applications. She adds that the project could bring commercial and job opportunities to Shetland. The 2-year project is worth just over £500,000.

Shetland Museum And Archives Nominated In Lottery Awards

Shetland Museum and Archives has been short-listed for a National Lottery Award in the Best Heritage Project Category. It's the only Scottish project out of the ten to make it through to the semi-finals in that category. The awards involve an annual search to find the UK's favourite Lottery-funded projects. The winning projects will receive national recognition on a special programme on BBC 1 later this year, together with a £2,000 cash prize to spend on the project.

Since opening in June 2007, Shetland Museum and Archives has created a new hub for Shetland's heritage and culture, acting as a gateway to the islands and telling Shetland's story. It offers a changing programme of events and exhibitions. Lottery funding helped develop the stunning new building and restore the surrounding dockland area. As reported previously, the wider waterfront regeneration project, for which the Museum and Archives development was a catalyst, won the top Scottish planning award earlier this year. Jimmy Moncrieff of Shetland Museum and Archives said: "It's a fantastic achievement to have reached the semi-final of The National Lottery Awards. Without Lottery funding Shetland Museum and Archives wouldn't exist, so it's great for us to be recognised in this way. Now we need all our supporters to get behind us and vote!"

If you'd like to support the Shetland entry, call 0844 686 8390 or log on to www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards.

Sparkling Performances, Fascinating Talks And Sunny Days Feature In Johnsmas Foy

As we reported last month, this year's Johnsmas Foy looked at Shetland in the Viking World and many of the events were linked directly to that theme. Prof. Gisli Sigurdsson, from the University of Iceland, put the Viking age in context with a spellbinding exploration of the sagas and, in particular, the way in which the lesser-known Icelandic family sagas portray the British Isles. He has been able to devise "mental maps" that illustrate the perceptions of Icelandic travellers that were part of oral history and were later recorded by 12th and 13th century saga authors.

Based, as they are, on memories handed down over several generations, the recollections are not, of course, intended to be understood as literal truth, but they do throw some light on the things that were felt to be important in those times. There are sailing directions and other pieces of navigational advice: fog was a frequently-mentioned hazard. Some of the many geographical references are more easily interpreted than others and some are no doubt fanciful.

It seems that England was seen as a friendly place, where trade links could be relatively easy to establish, but that Scotland and Ireland were seen as riskier destinations. This was at least partly because the Gaelic-speaking areas presented a linguistic barrier that proved very hard to overcome. In Viking times, Shetland's proximity to Norway – no more than two days" sailing time away - meant that it became a vital staging post in Viking expansion and there are numerous, detailed references to the islands in these sagas. Large audiences in both the island of Unst and in Lerwick were fascinated by Prof. Sigurdsson's account.

Alongside the sagas, this year's Foy also featured Viking and medieval music, captured or reconstructed by Finnish musician Marianne Maans and by the group Strengleikr, consisting of Kåre A Lie, Tove G Lie, Maja Marcussen and Idun Sweeny (Maja's nine-year old daughter). 'Strengleikr' means "having fun with strings" and the music was performed on authentic, ancient, acoustic instruments, such as gut-strung medieval harp, wire strung early clarsach, psalter, medieval fiddle and esse key fiddle. Marianne Maans" bowed lyre, strung with horsehair, proved a particular favourite with audiences.

In complete contrast, there was an evening of more recent music played by Neil Georgeson (piano) and David Worswick (violin). Their programme included favourites like Bach's Partita no. 3 for violin and Ravel's Jeux d'eau, but also encompassed Arvo Pärt's Fratres and, most unconventional of all, the remarkable second sonata by Alfred Schnittke, Quasi una sonata, which reflects anger and frustration at the constraints of the former Soviet regime and concludes with a hundred repeated piano chords, played forte by Neil Georgeson on Lerwick Town Hall's concert Steinway.

Neil is a young Shetland pianist, composer and conductor from the village of Aith in the west mainland; now based in London, he is a Chamber Music Fellow at the Royal College of Music and has a busy performing schedule that has taken in many European venues as well as Taiwan and the USA.

He has also appeared at Glastonbury, was featured on the South Bank Show and has performed live on BBC Radio 3.

David Worswick, who has previously shared a platform with Neil in Shetland, has a particular interest in contemporary music and is leader of the London Contemporary Orchestra as well as being a founder member of the Ossian Ensemble. He has toured extensively with several orchestras but has also collaborated with Massive Attack and drum and bass artist Goldie.

The last few days of the Johnsmas Foy featured Flavour of Shetland, a showcase for local music, crafts and food that is organised annually to coincide with the two yacht races that arrive in Lerwick Harbour at this time. This year's event was blessed by day after day of warm, sunny weather and thousands of people made their way down to Victoria Pier to join in the fun.

More information about this year's Foy can still be found on the Foy website.

Shetland Athletes Compete In Åland

More than 90 Shetland Athletes will spend the first half of July on Åland, in the Baltic, which this year plays host to the Island Games, an event that visited Shetland in 2005.

Every two years, sportspeople head to the games from 25 different islands or island groups around the world, including the Falklands, St Helena, Greenland and Cayman.

Fourteen different sports are featured and Shetland will have competitors in nine of them. Local medal hopes are particularly focused on shooting and archery, but Shetland has some strong contenders in most of the disciplines.

Many will be hoping that the Shetland football team, which triumphed over Guernsey in the 2005 event, can repeat its dramatic success. In the first three of days of competition, Shetland competitors collected a gold medal for archery and three bronze medals – in archery, shooting and swimming – with hopes of more to come.

Information Sought On Emigrants

In 2010, Shetland will host a Hamefarin (homecoming), welcoming Shetlanders from all around the world back to their home islands. As part of the celebrations, Shetland Museum and Archives is developing a
special exhibition and is appealing for images and objects relating to Shetland emigrants.

The exhibition will tell the stories of islanders who emigrated from as far back as the 1500s right up to the present day, and include artefacts, documents, paintings and photographs. The Museum and Archives is especially interested in photographs or paintings of islanders in their new lives, for example at work, outside their home or sightseeing, as well as any artefacts and documents which can help to tell their story.

A very good response is expected, so items in the exhibition will be restricted to those relating to first-generation emigrants, in other words those who were born in Shetland and later emigrated. If you have any information or images, artefacts or documents related to Shetland emigrants that may be suitable for the exhibition, please contact Helen Whitham at the Shetland Museum and Archives on 01595 695057 or e-mail info@shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk.

Shetland Features In Queen's Birthday MBEs

The recent list of MBEs highlighted two noteworthy locally-based projects with international connections. Stewart Hay, who is Deputy Head Teacher at the Anderson High School, was given his award for the work he's done in developing the Global Classroom, a remarkable international grouping of secondary schools that, since its first conference in Shetland in 1989, has brought together young people from a lengthening list of countries to share experiences and learn about each others" cultures. The countries presently involved are Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Global Classroom's most recent conference was held in Shetland in June this year. Several distinct projects operate within the Global Classroom and there's more information here.

Frank Millsopp, who now works in Afghanistan for the Aga Khan Foundation, also he received an MBE. He was the driving force behind COPE, a social enterprise company in Shetland that exists to provide meaningful work for people with disabilities. COPE has a number of different facets. It's perhaps best known under the banner of the Shetland Soap Company, which produces a range of fine soaps, shampoos and cosmetics in Shetland and, more recently, at a branch in Orkney.

However, COPE is also involved in a number of other enterprises; it runs a café and outside catering firm, a coffee company, a tree and shrub nursery, a pet food shop and a scrap store. COPE has international links and was instrumental in the establishment of a soap company in an area of multiple deprivation in Poznan, Poland. There's more about COPE here.

Also receiving an MBE was Ronnie Smith, who was born in Shetland and who has been, for many years, General Secretary of the Educational Institute for Scotland, the Scottish teachers" trade union.

Shetland Mussel Firm Honoured In National Awards

Shetland-based Blueshell Mussels Ltd have scored a hat-trick at The Crown Estate Scottish Marine Aquaculture Awards 2009.

The company, which has its base in the village of Brae, carried off the awards for Best Shellfish Farm, Best Marine Aquaculture Company and the Innovation award. Businesses from as far apart as Shetland and Stranraer gathered at the event, which recognises both best practice and innovation.

Alex Adrian, Offshore Operations Manager for The Crown Estate, said: “We are delighted with the sheer diversity of businesses and activities represented at these awards. It has made the judging process extremely difficult and the winners are to be congratulated. I think we can applaud the fact that despite the tough economic climate the Scottish aquaculture industry continues to display the confidence and innovation which makes its products world-class.”

Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, gave the keynote speech while Fred Macaulay presented the awards at the ceremony at Prestonfield Hotel in Edinburgh.

Flag Day Competition Winner Announced

Shetland's Flag Day is held on 21 June each year – the longest day – and the results of this year's competition have been announced. The challenge was to submit a photograph of an unusual setting for the Shetland Flag.

New Shetlander Promotes Island Life

Someone who moved to Shetland earlier this year to enjoy the benefits of life in the islands has been blogging about her experiences, which include (among many other things) her account of the Johnsmas Foy, the use of natural dyes and a recent visit by the Young Zulu Warriors to Shetland. There are some good photographs, too. You can read the blog here.