March 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Here is the Move.Shetland.org newsletter from March 2011, which we hope you find of interest. As usual, we highlight what's happening in Shetland and try to paint a picture of island life. If you're tempted to make the move, we have lots of down-to-earth information on our website and you can contact our team for advice.

Shetland is a special place. For example, not many people in Britain find that their trip to the supermarket includes great views of seals or indeed, as in this video of wild otters from local photographer Austin Taylor. Here, such encounters aren't unusual. There's a remarkably strong and diverse community life, one element of which is a season of fire festivals between January and March. In this article about Northmavine Up Helly Aa in The Herald, Chris Cope captures the atmosphere at one of these events.

Creativity is valued here, with a great deal happening not only in music, film or writing but also in new technologies. Now, as the days lengthen, people are turning to outdoor pursuits, with the trout fishing season about to get under way, gardeners doing their Spring tidying and golfers returning to the islands' courses.

If you'd like to explore our islands and experience what they offer at first hand, we can help with that too: our Shetland.org site has all the information you might need.

Lerwick Youth Hostel Is Best In Europe

One place that comes highly recommended as a place to stay, whether on a recce trip or a holiday, is the youth hostel in Lerwick. According to a leading hostelling website, the Islesburgh House hostel was the best in Europe in 2010. It was also second equal in the world, its 96% customer satisfaction rating being beaten only by the Baan Dinso hostel in Bangkok, Thailand, with a 97 per cent rating. The other hostel scoring 96% was the Hyannis hostel on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The next European contender, the Reykjavik Downtown Hostel, scored 93 per cent.

The HiHostel website describes Islesburgh as 'a beautiful 5 star hostel' offering 'the perfect base from which to explore the Shetland Islands'. It praises the 'excellent facilities and many en-suite rooms' and its proximity to restaurants, local amenities, historical sites and wildlife centres.

Councillor Florence Grains, Shetland Islands Council spokeswoman for culture and recreation, welcomed the award. 'There have always been good reports about the Islesburgh Hostel', she said, 'but this really is very flattering. It shows not only how good the facilities are, but how friendly, approachable and welcoming Shetland can be to its visitors.'

In fact, the friendliness of the Islesburgh staff gained a massive 98 per cent rating from visitors. Annalies from the Netherlands commented on the 'helpful and friendly staff that show a genuine pro-active interest in the guests. The building is beautiful and well maintained and kept very clean.' John, from England, said: 'This was my first experience of a Youth Hostel and I thought it excellent. We had to stay one night in a hotel in another part of the island but the hostel was much better in all respects.'

Dale Smith of Islesburgh said the result was 'staggering'. 'This is a fantastic result for us, and the comments on the website show just how impressed individual customers were.'

Wave And Tidal Energy Prospects Look Good

Shetland is gearing up to play a significant role in the development of marine energy. A new study of the islands' potential as a source of wave and tidal power will be used to promote Shetland as a centre for such developments. Potential developers will be able to identify the best sites for generating electricity using resource maps that indicate where the most energy is to be found. For example, the strong tidal flows through Yell Sound (between the mainland and the island of Yell) and Bluemull Sound (between Yell and Unst) show up very clearly. The open Atlantic is also a superb energy source, with a steady Atlantic swell even in calmer weather; our picture was taken on the coast of West Burra Isle.

'Shetland has a huge untapped marine energy resource', said Josie Simpson, Chairman of the Shetland Islands Development Committee and former local fishing skipper. 'Finding ways to exploit this resource sustainably is very important for Shetland's future prosperity.'

The data and mapping will be included in a marine atlas that's part of the Shetland Islands Marine Spatial Plan, one of four pilot projects initiated by the Scottish Government to help frame future marine policy. The atlas and plan will help guide planning decisions in the seas around Shetland.

Shetland House Prices Buck National Trend

House prices in Shetland have risen slightly over the last three years, in marked contrast to the picture in Scotland. According to a Bank of Scotland study, homes in the islands gained 5.1% in value between 2007 and 2010, whereas the Scottish trend was downwards, with a drop of 15.2% over the same period.

However, an earlier study, also by the Bank of Scotland, noted that house prices in Shetland in 2008 were 24% lower than the Scottish average. That study also identified Shetland as having the highest quality of life in Scotland, one factor being the favourable ratio of house prices to average earnings. Overall, then, Shetland house prices have simply moved closer to the Scottish average. Certainly, properties in the islands appear to offer good value. A substantial Victorian town house in Lerwick is currently on the market for offers over £215,000 and good-quality three or four bedroom properties within commuting distance of the town are available for between £150,000 and £200,000.

It may seem strange that prices should be relatively modest despite the islands' buoyant economy. Part of the reason lies in the low price of housing land, which probably stems from policies that allow house-builders more choice of site than is usually the case elsewhere. Generously-sized house sites within half an hour of Lerwick typically change hands for between £15,000 and £40,000, whereas, in the Highlands of Scotland, a similar building plot is likely to cost between £50,000 and £100,000.

The Shetland.org website has more information about buying property in the islands on its housing page.

Hot Competition For Scottish Youth Parliament Seats

Four young people from Shetland have decided to stand in the election for Shetland's two seats in the Scottish Youth Parliament. Young people aged 14 to 25 are now studying the election manifestos prepared by Barry Meheut, Nicole Mouat, Emily Shaw and Cameron Stevenson. Polling takes place on Thursday 24 March.

The Shetland Islands Council organises the election and its Spokesperson for Education, Children and Young People, Councillor Bill Manson, praised those who had put their names forward. He continued: 'It is good to see enough candidates to have a real contest without so many that the vote is fragmented. Let the hustings begin.'

In fact, Shetland is hosting the first Scottish Youth Parliament Election Debate at the Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday 9th March from 7pm. The results of the election will be announced on the afternoon of Monday 28th March.

Shetland Swimmers Continue To Find Winning Form

Shetland has produced a number of fine swimmers in recent years, all of whom have no doubt been greatly encouraged by the excellent facilities available in the islands operated by the Shetland Recreational Trust. There are eight modern swimming pools in local communities from Unst in the north to Sandwick in the south. Lerwick's, at Clickimin, is the largest and there are pictures of the pool here.

Andrea Strachan, from Lerwick, recently won a silver medal in Sheffield, where she competed in the British University Championships. Her 50-metre backstroke time was 33.36 seconds, which also qualified her for the British Swimming Championships in Manchester this month.

Shetland swimmers have also been doing very well at events in Scotland. Felix Gifford, from Brae High School, took a gold for his 200m butterfly in Glasgow, making him Scottish champion; he also picked up a silver medal in the 100m butterfly. Calum MacColl, also from Brae, struck gold and became national champion in the 200m freestyle. Calum also secured a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle.

Also in Glasgow, but at a different event, Amy Harper won silver in the 100m freestyle. She also took gold for her performance in the 800m freestyle in Glenrothes.

There's more news and information about Shetland swimming on the Shetland Swimming Association website.

Encouraging Progress By Athlete And Gymnasts

A Shetland athlete, Eilidh Peterson, has done very well in the triple jump at the Scottish National Senior Indoor Track and Field Championships. These were held in Glasgow in late February. Eilidh managed a new personal best of 10.62m, which gained her the silver medal.

Again, athletics disciplines are well supported in Shetland. The Shetland Recreational Trust operates superb facilities at the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick and there is an active Shetland Amateur Athletic Association.

Excellent coaching is available in sporting disciplines and the Shetland Recreational Trust also brings coaches to Shetland when the opportunity arises. During February, local gymnasts - of whom there are well over 150 - were treated to a visit by Olympic finalist and former European champion, Dariya Zgoba, who recently retired from competition at the age of 21. The five days she spent in Shetland were hugely appreciated. Many of her performances can be found on the internet, for example in this video from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

More On-line Booking For Events

Tickets for many events in Shetland can now be bought on-line from the Shetland Box Office. Shetland Arts and Shetland Islands Council obtained Scottish Government funds to introduce a system that would help reduce the barriers that rural communities face in buying tickets for events. The chosen system, Tessitura, is particularly flexible and can cope with all kinds of sales and membership requirements. It was originally developed for New York's Metropolitan Opera and is now used by many organisations including, in Britain, the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne and the Sage, Gateshead.

The project promoters say that the key to success was the development of a working partnership between all the organisations that could benefit. Those arrangements were put in place before the system went on-line and, in that first phase, 59 promoters sold more than 95,000 tickets for 827 performances throughout Shetland.

Now that the Box Office has gone 'live', the website enables users to view full details of all forthcoming events. Registered users can buy tickets by credit or debit card and either collect them or, for a small charge, have them posted. In Lerwick's Garrison Theatre, the system allows seat selection. Unlike many ticket-selling organisations elsewhere, the Shetland Box Office doesn't charge a booking fee.

Gwilym Gibbons, Director of Shetland Arts, said: 'The option for Shetland customers to buy tickets online and browse what's on information across many different promoters, venues and organisations is a great step forward. For visitors to Shetland it provides for the first time, information in one place that shows the vast offering of arts activity in Shetland; and best of all allows them to buy their tickets 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. Shetland is at its best when organisations share resources and come together for the benefit of all. It's not always the path of least resistance but more often than not, given time, it does lead to the greatest return on investment'.

On-line Booking For Accommodation, Too

Shetland Amenity Trust has introduced a new website with online booking facilities for Shetland Lighthouse Holidays self catering accommodation. The website has been developed by local company NB Communication and incorporates the Bookassist online booking system. The site allows visitors to check availability for all three lighthouses and book the accommodation of their choice.

Shetland Amenity Trust Marketing Officer Emma Miller said: 'More and more people are now booking their holidays online and I'm really pleased that we are able to offer our customers this service. The website is very easy to use and has great pictures and details of the facilities, the properties and the areas the lighthouses are in. Many people are looking for something a little bit different when booking a holiday, and what could be better than staying at one of the famous Stevenson lighthouses?'

Musical Treats In Store

Shetland offers music of all kinds and of course is especially well known for its traditional music and for the eclectic Shetland Folk Festival, the line-up for which is now available on the festival website.

However, there's much more to enjoy. Young people have an unusual opportunity in early March, when a unique jazz and cartoon film project will take place in the islands. The Stu Brown Sextet from Glasgow have exclusive rights to play the music of Raymond Scott, whose hyper-animated jazz has been used in cartoon films from Bugs Bunny to The Simpsons for decades. Those involved in the project will get the chance to make a cartoon film and have the frantic Looney Tunes music played as live accompaniment at a special concert by the sextet. The animation sessions will be led by experienced animators who have been associated with the Stu Brown Raymond Scott Project since its inception. Two films will probably be made, one with the younger participants and the other with the older ones.

On 9 March, folk-rock band, Mumford & Sons, who've just won a Brit Award for Album of the Year, play the Whiteness Hall. In this case, it was a case of first-come, first served, and some local fans queued overnight for 15 hours in order to pick up one of the 400 tickets on offer, all of which sold out in twenty minutes. Also appearing will be the up-and-coming Scottish singer-songriter, Rachel Sermanni.

From 14 to 17 March, more than 700 young folk are set to take part in the annual Shetland Schools Music Festival. A packed programme of musical performances, classes and workshops, plus the junior and senior Young Musician of the Year competitions, will involve individuals, groups, duets and choirs in 33 different categories. There are 236 formal entries, with this year's festival focusing on secondary pupils. In addition, more than 200 primary pupils will take part in music workshops based on two very different musical styles, beatboxing and samba. This busy festival is made possible by funding from Creative Scotland's Youth Music Initiative.

Looking further ahead, Brighton band, The Levellers, will play in Shetland on Friday 22 July during the celebrations being held for the Tall Ships Races. Renowned as a great live festival act, they had chart success in the 1990s and their 2011 tour marks the twentieth anniversary of their album, Levelling the Land. Appearing the following night will be Björn Again, one of the world's best-known tribute shows, with their hugely popular celebration of Abba's hits. However, there will be a more traditional flavour, too; Phil Cunningham and Shetland's own Aly Bain will be playing, as will another well-known Shetland performer, Catriona MacDonald. Many other bands will also feature and an excellent party is guaranteed. Tickets go on general sale at the beginning of March.

International Photographic Exhibition Featured At Bonhoga Gallery

The Bonhoga Gallery's 2011 exhibition programme is off to a flying start with the Royal Photographic Society's 153rd International Print Exhibition. From 29th January to 20th March, every floor of the gallery including the café is occupied by over 120 prints by photographers from all over the world.

The exhibition offers a huge variety of styles and genres, from abstract to documentary, from portraiture to natural history. Innovative, cutting edge work can be seen alongside traditional prints and this, the organisers say, is what makes this exhibition so unique within the photographic world. The annual event has been running for over 150 years, making it the longest standing exhibition of its kind. It has acted as a springboard for many aspiring photographers to launch their careers and achieve recognition.

Photographs for the exhibition were selected from over 3,000 submissions by both professionals and amateurs and were chosen by leading photographers including Joe Cornish and Edmund Clark.

Joe Cornish said: 'We were all drawn to images that exhibited fine print quality and what might broadly be described as timeless photographic values: atmosphere, a feeling of connection, clarity and simplicity, wit, intelligence and above all, a strong narrative. Our winning images had these qualities in abundance.'

Record Number of Tidy Businesses

Seventy-four local businesses in Shetland have received a Tidy Business Standards Award, thirty-three of them at Gold level. For the award, administered by Keep Scotland Beautiful, businesses must look at how they manage their waste, from how it is contained to what they are doing to reduce, reuse and recycle, as well as the cleanliness of their shop front. This year businesses from across the isles, from Unst in the north to Sumburgh in the south, representing a wide range of industries and services, gained recognition for their hard work with the environmental accreditation.

Shetland Islands Council's Environment Spokesperson, Councillor Jim Henry, said he was very encouraged to see so many companies achieving an award, which underlined their commitment to reducing environmental impact.

Christchurch Loss Felt In Shetland

Last month, we mentioned the journey being undertaken by students from Shetland and elsewhere as part of the Learning School, part of the Global Classroom project which has its roots in Shetland. After spending some time in the United States, the group moved on to New Zealand to work with colleagues at Shirley Boys' High School in Christchurch. They were outside, in the school grounds, when the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city at lunchtime on 22 February; mercifully, none of the group was harmed. On their blog page, Jenny Fraser describes what happened and recounts the group's feelings.

Shetland has very strong links with New Zealand. Many Shetlanders emigrated there when times were hard, for example during the 1950s and early 1960s, and in parts of the country there are strong Shetland communities. Shetland Islands Council's Convener, Mr Sandy Cluness, sent a message of support and condolence to the people of New Zealand. He added: "We were all relieved to hear that our five young folk are safe and well. Their presence in New Zealand at this terrible time is a sign of the strong and close connections which have always existed between the two island groups, and will continue to do so.'

The New Zealand flag has been flown at half-mast at Lerwick's Town Hall, the Council's headquarters.

Blog Of The Month

For this month's blog, we head south. Administratively part of Shetland, Fair Isle is in fact Britain's most remote inhabited island, lying between Sumburgh Head in Shetland and North Ronaldsay in Orkney and about 25 miles from both. It has a thriving community of about seventy people and is of course the home of real Fair Isle knitting. It also attracts an extraordinary number of rare birds and the new and much improved Bird Observatory has recently opened for business. The Warden, Deryck Shaw, writes a regular blog about birding and about other aspects of life on the islands. There's lots more information about the island on the excellent Fair Isle website.