December 2009 Newsletter
Here is our newsletter from December 2009. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this Newsletter or via the contact page on the website. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.
There's increasing interest in Shetland as a place to make films and television drama. As we've previously reported, this year has seen an episode of a Norwegian series filmed in and around Lerwick; it's also looking likely that the crime novels of Ann Cleeves will come to the screen before long. Now, another film production company, Aberdeen-based b4 films, has announced plans to make a feature film on the island of Fetlar, in the north-east of the Shetland archipelago. The film tells the story of how the people of a small island, realising that it's in decline, set about attracting new blood. The other ingredients of the tale are said to be a love story and tensions over a golf course that a very wealthy American wants to build. The script is to be written by Ron McMillan, whose recent book, "Between Weathers", is an account of his travels in Shetland. Hopes are high that funding for the project will be found and that the film may be screened at the opening of "Mareel", Shetland's new cinema and music venue, in 2011. The first reactions from the people of Fetlar have been positive.
It's appropriate that the film should be set in Fetlar, because the island has, in the past, made efforts to attract new settlers. Nor is it the only Shetland island to have done so. In the mid-1970s, the smaller island of Papa Stour, off Shetland's north-west coast, increased its population substantially after the local postmaster advertised for people looking for a new way of life. Several of those who moved north then are still living either on the island or elsewhere in Shetland.
It's hoped that other film projects may be attracted to Shetland in the future, for the islands have many extraordinary stories to tell.
Once again the annual Shetland Environmental Awards, organised by Shetland Amenity Trust, have acknowledged environmental innovation, best practice and sustainability at an award ceremony held at the Shetland Museum and Archives. The awards were handed over by Keep Scotland Beautiful Director, John Summers OBE, and were sponsored by a number of local and national organisations.
The range of entries was as wide as ever. The winning submissions included two building projects of very different scales. A small fishworkers" hut on the beach at Skeld, in the west of Shetland, has been rescued from certain ruin by a beautifully executed restoration project. Meanwhile, in Lerwick, the "listed" Harbour House, a prominent whitewashed building on the waterfront, has been carefully refurbished and sensitively-designed public toilets have been constructed alongside.
A number of the projects focused on the natural environment. The primary school on the remote island of Foula won its award for organising a series of activities to learn about and promote biodiversity in the island as part of Scottish Biodiversity Week. There were field trips, geology studies and pond dipping, and the local community were also encouraged to join in by helping to create planted areas within the school grounds and taking part in a biodiversity photography competition and treasure hunt. In the north of the Shetland mainland, Jan and Pete Bevington won an award for their efforts, over 30 years, to rescue injured seals and otters at their Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary. Another couple who have created something very special are Ruby and Alan Inkster. Over nearly two decades, they've transformed croft land into an inspirational and highly valued series of linked gardens at Sand, in the west mainland. Their site includes a woodland with more than 30,000 trees, wildflower meadows, original grassland, native planting, southern hemisphere collections, freshwater ponds and shelter belts, all of which are open to the public via fully accessible paths.
Recycling was the theme of two projects. The Initiative at the Edge (North Isles) produced a brochure which encourages recycling and re-use in the northern islands of Unst, Yell and Fetlar. It gives details on how to recycle, re-use or safely dispose of white goods, scrap vehicles, batteries, bulky household items, glass, cans, oil, plastics, scrap metal, paper and redundant agricultural equipment. In Lerwick, Neil Hamilton and Christopher Sinclair from Anderson High School ASN Department have undertaken a sustainable recycling campaign which has developed into a major project. Paper, glass, plastic, metal, stamps and Christmas cards are just some of the recyclables now collected throughout the school and from homes for recycling. Also in Lerwick, a local partnership has created the first dedicated path to a Shetland beach that can be used by those in wheelchairs. The path is made from special matting which allows the grass to grow but provides a firm route.
Finally, local printing firm Shetland Litho won an award for their environmental management. The measures they've taken include using less water, energy and chemicals. They've also cut waste and introduced re-use and recycling of materials. A market has been created for recycled products relating to print media.
To round the ceremony off, Keep Scotland Beautiful Director John Summers OBE made a special presentation to the community of Unst for their pioneering work regarding Da Voar Redd Up, Shetland's annual spring clean. It was Unst Community Council who started the initiative more than 25 years ago. Their work inspired Shetland Amenity Trust to organise a Shetland wide event which now attracts over 4,000 annual volunteers – the highest participation rate per head of population anywhere in the UK.
Shetland Products' new WildWaters Smoked Salmon Pastrami has moved ahead of strong competition to win the fish category in the 2009 Quality Food Awards, which recognise the best food and drink on sale in the UK. The pastrami, an innovative dish, was in competition with products from Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury's. Indeed, the award entries in most categories came predominantly from these supermarkets and from Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
Speaking before the awards were announced in London on 1 December, Stella Winks of Shetland Products said that she was delighted that they had been shortlisted. "What is especially gratifying is that our products have only been on the market for a very short time and yet have already gained considerable recognition." She felt that the nomination was an endorsement of the exceptional quality of the products and the firm's exciting and innovative varieties.
All the fish is farmed in the clean waters around Shetland and the new product range – which includes innovations such as Smoked Salmon Orange Pepper and Gravadlax Limoncello – has been well received by customers in the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Australia. There's more information about the awards here.
One of the newer sorts of souvenir available to visitors to Shetland is Puffin Poo, a locally-made chocolate confection that has become very popular. However, Asda reckoned that they owned the rights to the word "puffin", which they use on a range of chocolate biscuits. They objected when the Shetland Fudge Company tried to register the name. After a difficult, four-year battle, the Fudge Company's arguments prevailed and Puffin Poo will continue its steady advance. Observing that "people love it when an underdog bites back – or in this case, an underpuffin", Brian Groom, UK business and employment editor at the Financial Times, confirmed that he had bought some Puffin Poo this summer. He added: "I swear I did not confuse them with Asda's bars".
Pablo Picasso once observed that every child is an artist and an exhibition of work by Shetland school pupils aged 3 to 18 would seem to bear that out. The Shetland Schools Art Exhibition, which runs until 6 December, gives a real feel for a child's journey through school and his or her developing understanding of the world. The pieces on display range from models of Jaguars (the big cat rather than the car) to seascapes, portraits, imaginary scenes and jewellery. The art works also vary hugely in style, with work that is bold, subtle, innocent, gentle, complex and layered on display.
John Hunter, Shetland Museum and Archives Exhibitions Officer, said: “This is one of the most diverse exhibitions we have ever shown and it gives a real insight into the pupils" talent, imagination and creativity. The dedication and ingenuity of Shetland's art and design teachers also shines through, for it was they who came up with the idea of showing the pupils" work in a public space. They explained that their pupils sometimes don't realise how wonderful their art work is and they hope that seeing it displayed in public will inspire them further.”
The teachers undertook the Herculean task of curating this wide-ranging exhibition. Two years of planning and debating later, they have produced a show which highlights their pupils" talents at their best. Well over a hundred artworks are on display. Head of Schools Service Helen Budge said: “It is great to work with the Museum and Archives to exhibit our pupils" work in a professional gallery space. We are delighted with the outcome, which demonstrates the fantastic breadth of talent we have in our schools. The pupils should all be very proud of their art work.”
The exhibition, in the Shetland Museum and Archives, runs until 6th December.
Around 50 local craftspeople came together at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick during November to present a wide range of work. Not surprisingly, textiles featured prominently, demonstrating that Shetland producers are as active and innovative as ever. There was also an excellent range of photography, some exceptional furniture and superbly crafted leatherwork. Carved woodwork was another highlight. Those who have visited the show regularly over the years were agreed that the quality of both craft and presentation had reached a new level. First-time visitors were astonished by the range and depth of talent on display.
Over the years, people in Shetland have shown that they're willing to do just about anything in a good cause; now, another frontier has been crossed. People from around Shetland have been baring all to raise funds for a cancer support charity, CLAN, which provides a centre in Aberdeen to support cancer patients and their families. The CLAN appeal is well on the way to its target of £3m and in Shetland the public response has been very generous. Among many fundraising activities, the CLAN calendar is the one that has really caught the public's imagination. It features a dozen tastefully-composed photographs featuring the many Shetland men and women who accepted local photographer Ivan Hawick's invitation to pose. In some photographs, there are just one or two people, but some feature more than twenty brave souls, for example on motorbikes or enjoying a music session in Lerwick's iconic Lounge Bar. There has been praise both for the courage of the participants and for the ingenuity demonstrated by Mr Hawick in setting up scenes that look effortless but must have involved a huge amount of organisation. Not surprisingly, the calendar has been a runaway success and has sold out. There's more information about the appeal and the calendar here.
Excluding the military presence on St Kilda, Britain's remotest inhabited island is Fair Isle, which lies half way between the Orkney and Shetland groups, roughly 25 miles from each. It's a lively, thriving community of around 60, several of whom have gone to live on the island after applying to the National Trust for Scotland, which owns it. One of the longer-term residents is Dave Wheeler, a Yorkshireman whose relevant experience included a spell in the even more remote outpost of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic. As this interesting article explains, Mr Wheeler is "a jack of all trades (and master of many)", but he is probably best known in Shetland for his work as the island meteorologist and locals consult his North Isles weather website when they want the fullest and most accurate local weather forecast. The website is also a good place to begin for anyone who wants to explore other weather and climate sites. Those who visit the site during daylight hours can check the current weather on the island on the two webcams.
Back in October, we reported the enthusiastic critical reaction to the new album, All Dressed In Yellow, by Shetland band, Fiddlers" Bid. Critics praised its "sheer brilliance" and said the title track was "epic and absorbing". Now, the CD has won the award for album of the year in the Scottish Trad Music Awards, held in Dumfries on 28 November. Other Shetland musicians also featured in awards and nominations. Bodega, a young Scottish band that includes Shetland fiddler Ross Couper, topped the poll in the vote for best folk band of the year. Steven Spence, who plays and composes on the northern island of Unst, was one of the four nominees for composer of the year. In the category for up and coming artists, guitarist Brian Nicolson and fiddler Maggie Adamson, who appear as a sparkling duo, were nominated. Finally, Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson is a member of Session A9, which was among the four bands in contention for the accolade of "live act of the year. It was also a good night for Shetland music promoter and band manager Davie Gardner, whose Atlantic Edge Music Services manages both Fiddlers" Bid and Bodega.
A Shetland woman, former primary teacher Lynne Scollay, has been making an impact far from home as a member of the Hong Kong hockey team. Ms Scollay hails from Tingwall, an agricultural district a few miles north-west of Lerwick. Lynne was educated at the Anderson High School in Lerwick and then obtained her teaching qualification at Stirling University. On moving to Hong Kong ten years ago, she continued to pursue hockey. Determination and hard work have seen her make steady progress, leading to her being selected for the national team and playing in a number of international tournaments.
As we explain in our Shetland Christmas Past feature article, the celebrations that take place in Shetland around the turn of each year have their own fascinating history, even if, for the most part, the celebration of Christmas in Shetland today is little different from elsewhere in Britain. However, ancient Yule traditions survive in events such as Up Helly Aa, the fire festival that is celebrated not only in Lerwick but in other parts of Shetland in the early months of the new year. The Lerwick Up Helly Aa was established in the 19th century as a replacement for the earlier tradition of tar-barrelling, in which burning barrels of tar were rolled around the streets. That practice was seen as too risky by the nervous burghers of the town, but it survives in Burravoe, a village on the island of Yell. There, the burning tar barrel is dragged through the village, beginning from the pier and ending at the public hall, where its arrival is the cue for fireworks and for dancing and feasting long into the night. Meanwhile, as our feature article also makes clear, the island of Foula celebrates Christmas not on 25 December but on 6 January, since the islanders adhere – almost - to the old Julian calendar.
Lerwick's Christmas tree always appears at the Market Cross, in the centre of the old town, on the first day of December. In the weeks ahead, it will be the gathering point for a succession of carol singers or bands performing many old favourites and, occasionally, less familiar Christmas music from neighbouring Scandinavia. Elsewhere. there will also be Christmas concerts by the Bells Brae Primary School Choir and the Shetland Choral Society in the Shetland Museum and Archives. The Museum is also the venue for Christmas craft sessions.
Santa Claus usually makes an early appearance, sometimes arriving on the Lerwick lifeboat, in order to make the usual enquiries of children about their Christmas wishes. Meanwhile, shops have been stocking up on essentials and surprises. Many Shetland businesses are kept busy serving not only the local market but also customers farther afield. Smoked salmon from Shetland finds its way onto tables the length and breadth of Britain and beyond. Shetlanders – local or exiled – place their orders for reestit mutton, which is cured in brine and then air-dried, traditionally in the rafters above the peat fire; it makes the base for a particularly tasty potato soup that is an essential part of a Shetland Christmas or New Year celebration. Pure-bred Shetland lamb is another island delicacy. Beautifully-crafted traditional knitwear and contemporary designer textiles are also sent by mail order to many parts of the world.
Christmas Day in Shetland will begin, as usual, with watchnight services in many churches around the islands. Some people will spend part of their day performing essential duties in hospitals or other vital services, but most will enjoy the usual family gatherings and parties and perhaps eat just a little more turkey, stuffing and pudding than they intended. Wherever you are, and however you're spending the festive season, we at Shetland.org send our very best wishes and hope that you have a peaceful, refreshing and enjoyable break.
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The Team at Shetland.org
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Shetland Islands Council, Solarhus, North Ness, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0LZ, UNITED KINGDOM