July 2014 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the July 2014 issue of our monthly newsletter.

Perhaps it's those endless days, but June in Shetland is a time of hyperactivity and this year was no exception. It helped that the weather was – as it usually is in June – mainly dry. Indeed, I found myself having to water the plant-pots by my front door more or less daily. We did have a certain amount of mist, which is caused by warm air meeting the colder North Sea or North Atlantic, but it's usually possible to escape to sunshine on the lee side of the hills.

In an action-packed month, one of the highlights was the Shetland Race, an annual sailing competition starting in Bergen, Norway, which is just 200 miles to the east. Dozens of impressive yachts pack into Lerwick's harbour and they always make a particularly fine sight as they set off on the return leg.

Other visitors came on motorcycles and in a remarkable collection of historic vehicles. The motorcyclists were participating in the annual Simmer Dim Rally, an annual pilgrimage to Shetland joined by enthusiasts from all over the UK. We also had the Shetland Classic Motor Show, which occurs every second year and is in danger of outgrowing the two large halls and extensive car parks at Lerwick's Clickimin Centre. There was an extraordinary range of exhibits, with more than 150 classic cars, more than 130 historic motorcycles, stationary engines in infinite variety and all manner of commercial vehicles. I particularly enjoy watching the progress of painstaking restoration projects, such as the 1923 Bean car which, when first shown, consisted of a chassis, an engine, four wheels and a box of parts; it now boasts some bodywork. Both events featured several days of touring, swapping of travellers" tales and a certain amount of partying.

And really, those events were just the tip of the iceberg: we also had the annual midsummer carnival, the opening of Sumburgh Lighthouse by HRH The Princess Royal, a particularly glorious day for the Queen's Baton Relay, some great music from, among others, Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes and the first of the local regattas.

July is looking just as full. There's more music from Eddi Reader, the Levellers and Declan O'Rourke, plus an amateur production of the musical Cats; Britain's most northerly annual community festival – UnstFest – in Unst; the Shetland Nature Festival; and a sea kayak symposium. There's lots more sailing and rowing, too, with many local events but also, at the end of the month, the European Fireball Championships 2014.

Shetland may be a relatively small community, but our 22,000 people come from diverse backgrounds and pursue an extraordinary range of interests. Finding something to do is never a problem.

Treeless? That's Changing...

Shetland is often described as being "treeless" but, as we realise at this time of year, that description is gradually becoming less accurate.

There was certainly a time when Shetland was almost devoid of trees. Old photographs from the early 1900s show a strikingly stark, bare landscape, even in and around settlements.

Whilst it's true that large tracts of the islands lack tree cover to this day, there's no doubt that things are changing. In part, this is because of a concerted effort by public bodies to plant more trees over recent decades. Since the mid-1980s, the Shetland Amenity Trust has operated a woodlands unit which has carried out extensive planting, backed by research into the most appropriate species. Council and Housing Association estates have also benefitted from the introduction of many trees and shrubs.

However, crofters, farmers and private householders have also played a major part. There are numerous shelter belts around the islands and many gardens have a good selection of trees and shrubs. At Tresta, in the west mainland, a remarkable botanic garden has been created by Rosa Steppanova and there are other, smaller community gardens around the islands.

The largest area of tree cover is in Weisdale, about twenty minutes" drive to the north-west of Lerwick, where a landowner established substantial plantations in the early 20th century. In the 1950s, these were supplemented by an experimental Forestry Commission plot which now boasts Sitka spruce trees more than 20m in height. Further extensions to these plantations have been undertaken over recent years.

Weisdale, a sheltered valley that's about as far from the open sea as it's possible to be in Shetland, is certainly a favourable location for tree growth, but even in much more exposed coastal areas it's possible to find thriving examples of species such as willow and whitebeam. One garden in Burra Isle – where wind-driven salt spray is especially common in winter – even boasts horse chestnut and copper beech.

Archaeological investigations have revealed that Shetland once enjoyed extensive tree and shrub cover, with species such as willow, downy birch, hazel and alder appearing in the pollen record. The real reasons for the lack of trees are to do with clearance for firewood and the presence of sheep, which have prevented natural regeneration. Where sheep are excluded, trees grow with little or no shelter.

Judging by the number of trees sold by local garden centres, not to mention the continuing work of the Shetland Amenity Trust, the Shetland landscape will continue to evolve; around settlements especially, we can expect it to change as much over the next generation as it has in the last one.

Freya Wins Flying Bursary

A young woman from East Burra Isle has won a bursary from the Fresson Trust in order to help support her training as a commercial pilot.

Freya Inkster (19) is passionate about flying. Her mum is Canadian and transatlantic flights have been part of Freya's life since she was very small, but of course flying to Aberdeen or other UK destinations is routine for many Shetland youngsters.

Freya has been developing her skills at Langley in British Columbia and already has a private pilot's licence. However, gaining a commercial licence involves a major commitment to further training. In Shetland, Freya has worked and saved hard to pay for lessons, but the support from the Fresson Trust – established in memory of the pilot who first established an air link to Shetland – is obviously very welcome. She has recently been undertaking night flying, which typically involves flying around a number of small airfields, touching down briefly at each and then flying on to the next.

We wish her well in her career – or vocation!

Shetland Food And Drink Recognised In Awards

Three Shetland food and drink businesses have made it through to the finals of the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards.

The successful Shetland entrants are a brewery, a cheesemaker and a fish and chip restaurant.

The nominated beer is the Lerwick Brewery's 60° North and Alison Graham, from the Lerwick Brewery, said:

“60° North is proving really popular with drinkers right across Scotland, and its reach is growing in the rest of the UK too. Drinkers love the depth of taste coupled with the lack of artificial fizz so redolent of many mass- market lagers. It's a refreshing take on lager – as one reviewer said "how lagers should be" – and we are delighted that 60° North has been recognized by the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards. It's a fantastic accolade to be a finalist.”

Like the brewery, the Shetland Cheese Company is a young company. It was established in premises at Skeld, in the west mainland, by a couple who moved from London to Shetland for a complete change of lifestyle. Its St Ninian's soft cheese is nominated in the new product category.

Frankie's Fish and Chips hasn't been around for much longer but is already the holder of many awards. Occupying purpose-built premises in the northern village of Brae, diners can eat in with a great view over the sea, or choose a takeaway. The menu isn't limited to fish and chips; among many other options are delicious mussels, grown in the waters just a mile or so from the restaurant. The firm is nominated as best eatery.

Chair of the judges, Stephen Rankin, commented:

“It was fantastic to review such a diverse range of entries from a brilliant blend of well-established companies to youngsters and new businesses just starting out in the industry. The latter group's bravery and willingness to take on responsibility has to be admired and recognised."

The winners of all the awards, which are in 12 categories, will be announced at the Awards Dinner and Ceremony at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness on Friday, 24th October, hosted by popular presenter and comedian Fred MacAulay.

Bill Brown's Ceramics Impress And Amuse Gallery Visitors

Visitors to the Bonhoga Gallery have been enjoying an exhibition by Bill Brown, who has returned to Shetland following retirement as Head of Ceramic Design at Glasgow School of Art.

A craftsman, designer and teacher, Bill has been working full-time in ceramics since graduating from college in 1974. This exhibition illustrates the diversity of his skills and the flexibility of ceramics as a medium. Bill has specialised for a number of years in the techniques of casting and ceramic printmaking.

He explains: “Ceramics is unique as an art-form. Ceramicists are defined by the material rather than a particular kind of product and we can explore all the many different areas within it; one-off pieces, tableware, tiles, sanitary ware, sculpture – the possibilities are endless and the great thing is that, providing no-one drops them, the pieces will still look as fresh in a thousand years as they do now. Potters always have the last laugh.”

Exhibition visitors have been smiling, too, because some of the beautifully-executed exhibits play wittily on familiar icons. The cake-stand for Tunnock's Teacakes is a delight, while a visually convincing margarine tub's label reads "I can't believe it's not plastic". All the pieces impress by their delicacy and subtle use of material and colour, and the combining of ceramic and screen-printing techniques is outstanding.

Jane Matthews, Shetland Arts Exhibitions Officer said: “It has been a long time since we have staged an exhibition of ceramics at Bonhoga and it is a pleasure to be working with Bill at this important stage in his creative career as he plans to return to Voe and establish his new workshop.”

Bill also took part in a "Meet your Maker" session in mid-June, which took a "behind the scenes" look at the processes involved in Bill's work, and there was also a ceramics workshop for 7 – 12 year olds.

Bill Brown is one of many artists and makers practising in Shetland these days, several of whom have moved to the islands to join a community that has always embraced craft and design.

Superb Work On Display In Degree Show

One of June's Shetland highlights is the end of year degree show by art and textiles students at Shetland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

This year's show was the first to incorporate work by an Honours year student group who have been pursuing the BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles degree. It included exhibits in print, weave and knit. The fourth year of the degree is a chance for the students to refine their skills and ideas while writing a substantial dissertation on a topic linked to their their creative practice. The three honours students have each specialised in a particular technique, drawing on different sources of inspiration.

Kathy Coull came to the college from Fair Isle, where she maintains a croft and tourism business. She always had knowledge and skills in traditional knitting techniques and she has broadened, developed and diversified into fashion knitting, making good use of the college's Textiles Facilitation Unit. Kathy said "I am delighted in my fourth year to have developed skills with the Shima Seiki fine-gauge knitting machine, with expert help from Eric Stewart, Textile Technician. It has been a unique experience to explore different possibilities on industry-standard equipment, especially because I could tie it in with my research into tradition and sustainability."

Juliette Labourne travelled to Shetland from Lincolnshire to study at the college. Although not from Shetland, Juliette has a genuine interest in the rich heritage of pattern knitting, and Shetland's history and landscape. She has reinterpreted these inspirations into contemporary weave: "My project this year has focused on Fair Isle patterns, from which I took inspiration to produce new contemporary designs in weave. I looked at the work of other designers to inform my colour palette which includes the muted tones of Jamieson and Smith Heritage Yarn and more vibrant hues. I've really enjoyed my experience at Shetland College UHI, and would particularly like to thank my weave tutor, Anne-Marie McDiarmid."

Helen Ball has discovered a flair for digital design and pattern making while studying at the college, and has made interesting connections between Shetland and Oman. Helen's work challenges the viewer to look at both locations in a fresh light. Helen explained: "For my fourth year work, I've developed a range of digitally printed and screen printed fabrics focused around the theme of Shetland and Oman, considering their unexpected shared aesthetics. The trends workshops supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been a big help to ensure that my designs and fabrics are on trend for contemporary interiors. My experience at Shetland College UHI has prepared me for a future career in design and I've enjoyed working alongside other budding designers. I'd like to thank lecturing staff and Alasdair the technician for all the help over the years."

The work of these honours students is part of the wider end-of-year exhibition at Shetland College UHI, which shows work from across the department. This year there were two floors of exhibitions, illustrating the development process as well as the finished outcomes, with a greater emphasis this year on finished garments. Particularly interesting are the sketchbooks of the Contemporary Textiles students, which display the development of themes and sources of inspiration throughout their projects. There are samples of yarns and fabrics.

A wide range of drawing, painting and sculpture by students of the National Certificate in Art & Design was displayed throughout the corridors and main drawing studio. College staff also included a vibrant display of work by school pupils on the Vocational Pathways: Contemporary Art Skills course, as courses for school pupils are a substantial growth area for the Creative Industries department. As always, a popular feature of the end of year exhibition was work by students from the Eric Gray Centre, who enthusiastically attend art classes at the college as part of their Lifeskills programme.

Angela Hunt, Senior Lecturer in Creative Industries, said: "This has been a really good academic year for the achievement of qualifications from access to degree level. We began with excellent feedback for the whole creative industries teaching team in our HMIE inspection and more recently the external verifier for SQA praised the strength of art work guided by the teaching team in the department."

Jobs of the Month

Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include posts for Community Psychiatric Nurses, a Hospital Manager and a General Practitioner.

Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council include posts for ferry engineers, bus drivers and a Criminal Justice Social Worker.

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

Blog of the Month

For our blog this month, we go north to the island of Fetlar, where naturalist Brydon Thomason writes about the making of the recent documentary, shown on ITV, featuring Alison Steadman.

View Blog