March 2015 Move Shetland Newsletter

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

February was eventful for Shetland, in some unusual ways. We've news this month of two young Shetlanders" successes, Lisa Ward on BBC1's The Voice and Paul Thompson at London Fashion Week; and they are by no means the only ones. For example, Helen Nisbet, who hails, like Paul, from Yell, has just run another of her very successful Shetland Nights In London, where guests enjoy Shetland food, music and dancing.

As I also explain, it was great to hear the foghorn at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse brought back into action after a silence of around 30 years. In an earlier life, in the Council's Planning Department, I was anxious that enough of the equipment should survive the automation of the lighthouse to ensure that it could indeed be sounded again. We reached agreement with the Northern Lighthouse Board to that effect – but on the understanding that on no account must the foghorn be sounded when it was foggy! Otherwise, of course, future mariners relying on charts indicating no foghorn would be very confused.

There's lots coming up in March, too. The Shetland Community Orchestra offers a concert featuring a blend of classical and contemporary works on the 7th. Two more in a very long line of visiting comedians will appear at Mareel; Dylan Moran's sharp humour is on show on the 5th whilst, on the 25th, Mark Steel will bring his quizzical perspective – the BBC's Mark Steel's In Town – to our shores. What will he make of Shetland?

There will be more comedy – but some more challenging themes, too – in the annual drama festival, which runs from the 9th to the 12th. We also have the last couple of fire festivals in this year's season; the South Mainland one is on 13 March and the Delting event is on the 20th. A new exhibition of landscapes by Chris Rigby has opened at the Bonhoga Gallery and runs until 12 April. Mareel has, as usual, a full cinema programme; and if further diversions are needed, there are all sorts of options, including a superb seafood buffet, a traditional Shetland night with words and music, and events for Mothers" Day.

Moving to Shetland offers the chance to get involved in such things; the orchestra (and other bands), drama groups, sports clubs and every other organisation are always keen to hear from potential new recruits. Community life in the islands takes many forms and really does draw in anyone who wants to take part, whether in playing viola, treading theatre boards, kicking for touch or setting a Viking galley alight.

Tom Jones Will Coach Lisa in 'The Voice'

Singer-songwriter Lisa Ward, who lives in Burra Isle, has beaten off competition from around 40,000 hopefuls to win a place in Tom Jones" team in BBC1's The Voice.

Lisa, 26, has been writing, playing and singing for many years and regularly performs in Shetland, either as one of the lead vocalists in a local indie band, Deathstar Canteen, or in singer-songwriter sessions. She was one of 23 Shetland musicians who performed for a BBC talent scout at Mareel in May 2014 and she subsequently attended auditions in Glasgow, eventually making it onto the final shortlist.

Lisa chose a Skunk Anansie number, Weak, for her audition in front of Tom Jones and fellow judges Ricky Wilson, Will.i.am and Rita Ora. It was a bold choice in the context of the show, in which contestants more often sing better-known classic mainstream ballads. However, Lisa's work ranges across musical styles and you can sample something different on this track, Secret Faces, from her new EP, Liminal, which was recorded at Mareel. The judges were intrigued that she'd come all the way from the islands to Manchester and Lisa has vowed to improve their knowledge of Shetland.

The Voice attracts a weekly audience of around 8 million and her many Shetland fans hope that she'll make it through successive stages in the series. We wish her well!

General Election Count Will Take Place In Lerwick

For the first time, the counting of votes for the election in the UK Parliamentary Constituency of Orkney and Shetland will be held in Shetland.

The Returning Officer, Orkney Islands Council's Chief Executive Alastair Buchan, said that the time had come for a break with tradition. He said, “It's an opportunity to refresh the process and ensure wider accountability across the constituency, as well as recognition of the electorate in Shetland. It also allows election agents and invited guests in Shetland the opportunity to view the process, which they were perhaps unable to do before, due to the cost and time involved in travelling to Orkney.”

Mr Buchan added, “Our election teams in both Orkney and Shetland have built up a breadth of experience around the running of elections. We regard this as an opportune time to share and develop that experience. It may also result in slightly quicker result being declared, which I'm sure we will all welcome in the early hours of 8 May”.

Following the close of polls at 10pm on 7 May, Orkney's ballot boxes will be flown to Shetland. They should arrive at the count in Clickimin Leisure Centre at around 1am and the declaration is expected at around 4am.

The Orkney and Shetland seat has been held for many years by Liberal or Liberal Democrat politicians, including Jo Grimond, Jim Wallace (now Lord Wallace) and Alistair Carmichael, who is at present Secretary of State for Scotland in the coalition government. Mr Carmichael was re-elected in 2010 with a 62% share of the vote and a majority of 9,928. Labour, SNP and Conservative candidates each won a little more than 2,000 votes and the UKIP candidate gained just over 1,200.

Shetland Arts Launches New Monthly Guide

Keeping pace with events in Shetland has become easier, now that Shetland Arts" new guide has become available.

Shetland hosts a range of events that's remarkable for a community of just 22,000 people, so the new showcase for Mareel, the Garrison Theatre and the Bonhoga Gallery will be welcomed by many. It highlights, month by month, the variety of music, film, drama and visual art that's on offer in these venues. However, it also draws attention to other opportunities, for example the music courses up to degree level that are offered in conjunction with Shetland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The first edition, in February, tempted patrons with attractions ranging from Dylan Moran's comedy to a relay of the National Theatre's production of The Crucible, not to mention screenings of the most-tipped Oscar nominations and all the regular events at Mareel, including the hugely popular monthly film quiz.

Youth Theatre's 'Remote' Is Part Of National Festival

The latest production by Shetland Youth Theatre is part of the largest youth theatre festival in the world, organised by the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Remote, by Stef Smith, is a play about protest, power and protecting yourself. A girl steps out of her front door, throws her phone on the ground and stamps on it. She then climbs the tallest tree in the park, not wanting to be found by anyone. In the unfolding story, seven teenagers" lives intertwine over the course of a single evening as they make their way through the park on a seemingly normal Autumn night.

Director John Haswell of Shetland Arts, who has led many innovative and challenging productions, said that the style of this drama was a new departure for most members of the company. However, “they are tackling it with all their usual flair and enthusiasm.”

NT Connections is the biggest youth theatre festival in the world and features over 250 youth groups from across the UK and beyond. Each year, the National Theatre commissions ten leading playwrights to create a new piece of work especially for youth groups to perform, and participating companies select one of the scripts to be presented in their home location. Remote was Shetland Youth Theatre's choice.

Archaeology Collection Gains National Recognition

The archaeology collection cared for by Shetland Amenity Trust has become a Recognised Collection of National Significance.

Shetland is exceptionally rich in archaeology and the collection contains between 300,000 and 400,000 items, representing all aspects of life in Shetland from 4000BC to the 17th Century. It's a valuable part of the archaeological record of Scotland, the UK and Europe.

Among the items are many from excavated prehistoric settlements, including a huge range of locally made tools, early agricultural implements, vessels for food preparation, and artefacts used in textile production. A rich assemblage of animal bone deposits offers an insight into the diet of neolithic communities. There's also evidence of funerary traditions.

Later material testifies to the extensive trade connections between Shetland and Europe from Viking times to the late mediaeval period. The collection has been widely praised and highlighted by academics globally as “by far the most complete record of the Viking/Norse presence within the British Isles”.

The Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, explained that the Recognition Scheme serves to highlight Scotland's most important national and international collections containing some of the nation's most important, best quality, historic artefacts and artworks. “This very significant archaeology collection absolutely falls into that category”, she said. “The award of Recognised status is fully deserved and will help Shetland Amenity Trust in bringing the collection into the public eye”.

Dr Ian Tait, the Curator of Shetland Museum and Archives said: “We're honoured to be receiving this prestigious award. It is testament to the dedication of our staff, the status of the collection, and the importance of it as a source of research.” Joanne Orr, Chief Executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, which awarded recognition, said that she was delighted to welcome the collection into the "recognition family", saying: “This award of Recognition Status to the collection at Shetland Museum and Archives will give them a boost in funding and the recognition it deserves.”

Viking Wind Farm Passes Legal Test

Proposals for a large wind farm in Shetland have been given a green light by the Supreme Court in London.

There has been talk of constructing a large wind farm in Shetland for more than ten years, the preferred area for such development being an area of hill and moorland in the central and northern mainland. The approved scheme has been jointly developed by Shetland Charitable Trust and Scottish and Southern Energy and the approved plan allows for 103 turbines generating up to 457 megawatts, which would make it the third-largest wind farm in Scotland. However, the output would depend on the kind of turbines used; for example, using 3.6 megawatt turbines would produce 371 megawatts. The involvement of the Shetland Charitable Trust is intended to ensure that the community gains more than the usual level of financial benefit from the development.

Controversy around the project has focused partly on the visual impact of the turbines, which will be 145m high, and the quarries needed for construction aggregate; partly on the effect on peatlands and the area's wildlife; and partly on the concerns of local people about proximity to homes, noise, shadow flicker from blades and health impacts. The opposition to the project has been led by a voluntary group, Sustainable Shetland. 2,772 individual objections were lodged, with 1,109 expressions of support. In the absence of a public inquiry, it has pursued its case through the courts over the past two years.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled in the developers" favour, the project must still cross a number of hurdles before it can go ahead. Firstly, Shetland is not connected to the UK national grid and interconnector cables will be needed. Secondly, the viability of the wind farm depends on the financial regime in which it will operate, including the framework of borrowing costs, energy prices and subsidies. Even if all goes according to plan, it is likely to be another five to six years before it begins to feed energy to the grid.

Sumburgh Leads Scottish Airport Growth

Sumburgh in Shetland is Scotland's fastest growing airport, posting an 18.2% increase in passenger traffic last year.

Shetland's main airport lies at the southern tip of Shetland's mainland. Opened in June 1936 by Captain E E Fresson, the pioneer of aviation in the Highlands and Islands, it was further developed by the RAF during the Second World War. There was rapid expansion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, spurred by the need to provide air support for North Sea oil exploration. In 1978, Sumburgh handled more than a quarter of a million passengers and a new, much larger terminal was opened in 1979.

Changes in oil industry practice subsequently saw a reduction in numbers but, more recently, there has been steady growth resulting from the return of oil traffic and a substantial increase in scheduled passenger flights, so that, in 2014, Sumburgh handled 319,597 passengers. The Scottish Government has agreed to support redevelopment of the airport, including a major refurbishment of the 1979 passenger terminal.

Sumburgh's schedule offers a choice of direct flights by Flybe to Kirkwall, Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with excellent onward connections through Flybe partners. For example, the British Airways website offers a choice of up to 16 daily services to London, with one stop en route. Many more options are available using Flybe or combinations of airlines. Shetland passengers often choose to fly with the world-wide Emirates network from Glasgow or take transatlantic services from Glasgow or Edinburgh. There is also a year-round direct flight to Bergen in Norway and an additional summer service.

Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited, said that he was delighted to see the airport's success, though he recognised that the oil-related component of its traffic would be affected by changing prospects in that industry. He said:

“Our focus for the future is to ensure that Sumburgh remains the airport of choice for the energy sector while seeking out new business opportunities. That is why the recent decision by the Scottish Government to redevelop the airport is such good news for Sumburgh Airport and the local community.”

Young Shetland Designer Makes Headlines At London Fashion Week

The work of Paul Thompson, a designer from Shetland, has been praised at London Fashion Week.

Paul has been named by Fashionista magazine as one of the designers to watch in the years to come.

Fashionista writer Ailsa Miller wrote that the Shetland influence was “clearly visible in his graduate collection.” She continued:

“Wool was looped and sewn tightly together, varying textures to resemble patches of heather or moss. His final piece was especially striking, an oversized coat that served as showcase of each of his knitwear techniques, melded seamlessly together to look like shearling at first glance.”

Local wool company Jamieson and Smith has sponsored the wool used in his collection.

Paul grew up on the island of Yell and was a pupil at Lerwick's Anderson High School. He went on to study at Glasgow School of Art before pursuing his current course at Central Saint Martin's in London, where he's clearly making his mark. We look forward to hearing more about his work and wish him every success.

Sumburgh Head Foghorn Sounds Again

The foghorn at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, which has been out of use for nearly 30 years, has been sounded for the first time since 1987.

The foghorn was constructed in 1905 and was first used the following year. To sound the foghorn, air is compressed and stored in large tanks called air receivers. The compressors and the diesel engines that drive them are housed in an engine room that forms part of the lighthouse complex. Kelvin engines replaced the original Crosleys in 1952.

Every foghorn has a “character”, or sounding pattern, that differs from other fog signals in the area, Sumburgh's character being one seven second blast every 90 seconds. It's controlled by an air driven clockwork mechanism which operates valves in the correct sequence, and at the correct time, releasing air into a siren. The siren spins around to create the noise, which is amplified by the trumpet. The air pressure required is 25psl before the blast, dropping to 15psi during the blast.

Originally there were eight receivers, but three were removed during automation of the station. The two external receivers at the base of the foghorn tower, shown in the photograph, are unusable owing to corrosion and have been blanked out for safety. The system has been amended to operate on the remaining three receivers located in the Engine Room, which are in good order.

The foghorn at Sumburgh is of a siren diaphragm type that was once common, but the one at Sumburgh is now the only working example left in Scotland and possibly the world. Other foghorns, such as the one at North Ronaldsay, can operate but are of a different type and system.

Those present at the sounding didn't just hear the foghorn, they also felt it, because the instrument produces a hugely powerful blast. Visitors to Sumburgh Head will occasionally be treated to the experience, with sounding days publicised in advance.

District of the Month: Burra And Trondra

Every month, we look at what each district in our islands can offer for new residents. This month, we visit Burra (East and West) and Trondra.

This is a particularly beautiful part of Shetland and in fact forms part of Shetland's National Scenic Area. The islands are essentially low, rounded ridges running roughly from north to south, with sheltered waters between them; however, West Burra is exposed to the open Atlantic and its occasionally spectacular winter storms. There are several beaches and the sands at Meal and Minn are deservedly popular with locals and visitors.

The three islands lie parallel to, and a little west of, Shetland's South Mainland. At their closest, East and West Burra are separated by a channel just a few yards wide and have been connected by a bridge since the 19th century or earlier. However, it was only in 1974 that West Burra, Trondra and the mainland were connected by bridges. Before then, islanders relied on a passenger ferry that ran to Scalloway, just north of Trondra.

Historically, the main occupations on Burra and Trondra – as elsewhere in rural Shetland – were fishing, crofting agriculture and knitting or weaving. Today, these continue in various forms. Salmon and mussel farming have been added to the mix and a croft in Trondra specialises in rare Shetland breeds. Creative skills are sustained by artists and craftspeople involved in painting, jewellery, writing, poetry and conceptual art; and East Burra is also the birthplace of the adorable Burra Bears.

The new bridges brought everyone within about 20 minutes" drive from Lerwick and little more than half that from Scalloway, opening up new job opportunities for islanders. Meanwhile, many people have moved to the islands and enjoy one of the more appealing daily commutes, by car or bus, to be found anywhere. There's been a steady increase in housing, in population and the range of occupations. Roughly 800 people now live in the area.

The largest settlement in Burra and Trondra is Hamnavoe, in West Burra. It has a primary school, a general store and post office, a modern community hall, a marina and a repair garage with a filling station. Around Bridge End, where East and West Burra are linked, there are a smaller community hall, two equestrian centres, an outdoor centre and a marina, which is a popular base for kayakers. Secondary school pupils travel to Lerwick and the nearest GP practice is in Scalloway.

Why move to Burra and Trondra? For those who live there, it combines a great environment with convenience. On the one hand, there are miles of coastal walks, excellent beaches, good boating or canoeing and frequent appearances by seals and sometimes otters. On the other, there's quick and easy access to all of the shops, services and entertainment available in Scalloway and Lerwick.

Jobs of the Month

Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include vacancies for a Radiographer, a Dual Diagnosis Community Psychiatric Nurse, a Substance Misuse Recovery Worker, Healthcare Support Workers and and a number of nursing posts, including a Senor Anaesthetic/Recovery Nurse Practitioner and Operating Department Practitioner.

Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council include posts for an Executive Manager, Children and Families, who will also perform the role of Chief Social Work Officer; an Aerodrome Fire Officer at Tingwall Airport; and openings for Nursery Teachers, Youth Workers and Rehabilitation Support Workers.

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

Blog of the Month

Our blog this month comes from Frances Campbell at the Scottish Book Trust, who recently interviewed Shetland's chief librarian, Douglas Garden, about the pleasures and challenges of his job.

View Blog