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February 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter


Here is the newsletter from February 2011, which we hope you find of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

Folk Festival Highly Rated

Shetland's annual Folk Festival, one of the leading events of its kind in Britain, has received a resounding vote of confidence from those who attended in 2010. An audience survey has shown that an impressive 97% found the quality of experience to be good to excellent. When asked to say what they liked best, people most frequently said "visiting artistes", "overall quality of the experience" or "Overall event value for money".

The research has also shown that 2,453 individuals attended the regular ticketed events last year, the 30th in the festival's history. However, that figure doesn't include the hundreds of local volunteers and those who attended free events or the family concert. Organisers estimate that 4,158 people actually participated in the festival in some way. More than a fifth of them were visitors to Shetland, 90% of whom said that the festival was their main reason for visiting. Most of them attended concerts on all four days. It's clear that the event draws a significant number of people to Shetland out of the main holiday season.

The festival's reputation draws people from all over the world and it's notable that 70% of those from outside Shetland had been once before and 39% twice or more. There's loyal local support, too. It's calculated that the festival generates almost a quarter of a million pounds in the Shetland economy, more than half of that from visitors to the islands.

This year's event, running from 28 April to 1 May, promises to be as welcoming, eclectic and enjoyable as ever. There are full details on the Shetland Folk Festival website.

Work Under Way On Advanced Telecommunications Project

An exciting new project that will result in first-class telecommunications for Shetland is making good progress. A fibre-optic link connecting the Faroe Islands, Shetland and Scotland has already been laid under the Atlantic and North Sea. The next step is to create a fibre-optic network in Shetland.

That task got under way during January and the technology being used is as advanced as the cable itself. A slot to carry the cable - nineteen miles long, but just 100mm deep and 20mm wide - is being cut in the main A970 road that connects the main town of Lerwick with Sandwick in the south mainland, where the connection to the international cable will be made. The machine being used to do the job, called the Ditch Witch, has never previously been used in the UK. You can see the Ditch Witch in action here.

Once that stage is complete, a second connection will be made by laying another cable under the sea, linking the village of Scalloway and the west of Shetland to the cable. As the project develops, businesses, Council offices and private subscribers will be able to benefit from super-fast broadband, a huge asset for all islanders and a particular boon to the creative sector that is now flourishing.

Shetland Islands Councillor Alistair Cooper said the project was hugely important for the economic future of the islands:

"Innovative technology is crucial to the future economic health and wellbeing of Shetland. It's gratifying that we are the first community to look to the future in this way. I believe the future lies in the provision of high speed data links. I think our community initiative will complement the telecom companies' commercial work, in that we can provide a final high speed link to consumers in places where they would find no commercial justification to do so."

Electric Vehicle Charging Points On The Way

Owning an electric car or van will become a more practical proposition in Shetland once the islands' transport authority, Zet-trans, has completed a pilot project to provide electric vehicle (EV) charging points. It's hoped that the scheme will encourage motorists to consider buying an electric car or van. Although the capital costs are higher, it's much cheaper to charge the battery than fill a fuel tank.

Meanwhile, two public authorities are to go electric. The Shetland Islands Council has said that it will start using an electric van in March. The Council's inter-office courier service links a number of offices in Lerwick and it's an ideal candidate for an electric vehicle. Scottish Natural Heritage is also to replace a diesel vehicle with an electric one; its Greening Development officer, Ann Johnson, has estimated that around 90% of the journeys made by SNH staff in Shetland would be within the range of an electric car.

Shetland Colleges Incorporated In Latest University

Britain's newest university, which has two of its colleges in Shetland, was formally inaugurated on 2 February. The University of the Highlands and Islands has been many years in the making. The colleges in Lerwick and Scalloway have meantime worked with their partners elsewhere in the Highlands and Islands under the banner of the UHI Millennium Institute.

The fully-fledged university comprises thirteen colleges, specialist institutions and research centres spread across the region, an area twice the size of Wales. It uses information technologies to link students and staff, bringing higher education to dispersed communities. The achievement of the university title is the realisation of a long-time ambition for the area to have its own university to support economic development and to help sustain rural and island communities.

Announcing the achievement, Professor Matthew MacIver CBE, chair of the UHI Court, said: "This is a defining moment in the history of the Highlands and Islands. For centuries we have been exporting intellectual talent to all corners of the globe. We are now at a point where that flow can be reversed. The new University of the Highlands and Islands will be a powerhouse for the economic, social and cultural development of the region."

Principal and vice-chancellor, James Fraser, added: "I must pay tribute to all of our students, staff and supporters who have contributed to this marvellous achievement. A great debt is owed to those who had the vision to set off on this journey and to our many supporters who have stayed the distance with us. Our new status as a university will assist us in attracting more young people to UHI and in recruiting students from beyond the region. In research, too, the Highlands and Islands provide a unique physical and cultural laboratory that is helping us to carve a distinctive national and international niche.'

The announcement has been welcomed just as warmly by management, staff and students in Shetland. Full details of the two colleges and the courses they offer can be found on the web sites of Shetland College UHI and NAFC Marine Centre UHI.

Shetland Chippie Among Britain's Best

Fans of fish and chips know that Shetland is a great place to tuck in because the fish is so fantastically fresh. Now, a recently-opened fish and chip restaurant in the northern village of Brae has won the admiration of readers of The Independent and made it into the top 50 in Britain. It's listed at number 42 on the website and you can scroll through the slide-show at the bottom of the screen. The purpose-built chippie has a generous seating area but is also very popular for takeaways. The menu includes gluten-free meals, too.

Young Shetland Entrepreneur Picks Up Award For A 'Grand Idea'

Based a few miles north-west of Brae, in the remote and beautiful district of Eshaness, a young entrepreneur has won a Shell Livewire 'Grand Idea' award worth £1000.

Al Whitworth (26) launched his online business, Shetland Market, as recently as May 2010. He set it up to increase awareness of local products and to encourage Shetlanders to buy locally rather than shop elsewhere. The website also opens up Shetland based businesses to an international market.

Al Whitworth said: "Winning the Shell Livewire Grand Ideas Award is a massive boost for the business and for those Shetland businesses who sell their products through it. The business is still young so being able to invest £1000 in it is extremely useful and exciting. The aim is to generate more revenues for all Shetland businesses so I hope this endorsement of Shetland Market encourages others to become part of something that will bring benefits to them and the wider Shetland economy."

Al's idea for the business came onboard a business flight to Edinburgh. After reading an article in the in-flight magazine about a website that promotes small niche craft producers throughout the UK, he decided a similar format could work in a small community like Shetland.

Al explained: "The site is a new type of online shop allowing local businesses to list their products and sell through the site, only paying a small commission fee if products sell. Being part of the Shetland Market website gives access to a customer base of a large, trusted website which will be promoted in local and tourist publications. Shetland Market will also mean businesses can sell their products year round, increasing re-orders from tourists instead of relying on summer tourism and events.

"We also want to see Shetlanders who have now moved away enjoying being able to buy Shetland products online easily. Similarly, visitors to the islands will be able to find products they saw on holiday and get them delivered direct to their homes rather than having to take them back in their luggage."

James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK, said: "There is a wealth of entrepreneurial talent in the UK and I hope other young entrepreneurs will be inspired by Al to capitalise on their own ideas. We wish him every success and hope the Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award will help him to take his business all the way."

Vikings Make Their Mark - Not Just In Shetland

The early part of the year is fire festival time in Shetland. All over the islands, Viking galleys are consumed by flames in elaborate and hugely impressive ceremonies. Hundreds of torch-bearing 'guizers' (people in disguise) turn out to drag the beautifully-built ship to its final resting place, after which there are parties and dances that may go on until dawn. Each group (or 'squad' of guizers perfoms some kind of routine to entertain audiences.

Lerwick's Up Helly Aa is the biggest such event, with almost 1,000 torchbearers. TheLerwick Up Helly Aa website has lots of information about that festival, along with a comprehensive gallery of photos from previous years. There's always national or international coverage. One local photographer, Austin Taylor, has condensed most of the 2011 events into a short video and a search on YouTube will reveal many more examples from past years. One of the features of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa is that, despite its scale and all those torches, it traditionally passes off without any trouble of any kind. As usual, the police reported that there were no arrests; it had been, in the words of a spokesman, 'a pleasure to police'.

Shetland's Vikings, rather like the Scandinavian ones they emulate, range widely, occasionally taking part in events in places such as Edinburgh or York. They recently invaded the Festival Club at Celtic Connections, Glasgow's traditional music festival, and there's some video of their arrival here. The occasion was very special: the invasion was at the invitation of Fiddler's Bid, Shetland's best known band, who were giving a barnstorming performance to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. They did themselves and their audience proud; as another photographer, Donald MacLeod, puts it, the night was 'something special'. You can see his photographs here.

Shetland Readers Show Big Appetite For Local Books

Two crime authors dominated the fiction borrowed from Shetland Library during 2010. The most-borrowed book was Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves, closely followed by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The other books in Ann Cleeves' quartet of Shetland-set crime tales, along with Stieg Larsson's Swedish trilogy, took the next five places, meaning that the top seven places in the ranking were all by Cleeves or Larsson.

The two top non-fiction loans were biographies, by Frankie Boyle and Dawn French. Other celebrity biographies were also popular.

Top of the children's fiction was a local book - The Grumpy Old Sailor by Janice Armstrong and Meilo So. This new publication triumphed over perennial favourites Garfield, Where's Wally, Jacqueline Wilson and the Mr Men.

The Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked

The Shetland Museum and Archives is currently hosting the most comprehensive exhibition on the Lewis chessmen for over a decade, featuring chessmen drawn from the collections of National Museums Scotland (to which we are grateful for the photograph) and the British Museum.

The Lewis Chessmen were discovered on the western shore of the Isle of Lewis in 1831, as part of a hoard of walrus ivory. The hoard includes assembled pieces from at least four chess-sets, probably made in Norway in the late 12th or early 13th century.

As the largest and finest group of early chessmen to survive, they are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland and are of major international importance. Few chessmen survive at all from the Middle Ages, and these are unparalleled in their high-quality, humour and intricacy of design. Experts have been able to work out which figures were carved by the same craftsman. Some were more skilled or more expressive than others. By the time they were lost on Lewis, the island had moved well beyond the era of Viking raids and had been Scandinavian for many centuries.

The exhibition looks at the mystery and intrigue surrounding the chessmen, explores the stories surrounding their discovery and shows how the characters reflected society at the time they were made. It draws on new research by National Museums Scotland on their craftsmanship, origins and historical context to provide us with a new perspective.

Visitors can learn how to play of ancient board games including chess, tables (a predecessor of backgammon), and hnefetafl. Finally, the exhibition looks at the popular appeal of the chessmen, who have featured in books, films and television programmes from The Saga of Noggin the Nog to Harry Potter.

The exhibition runs in Shetland until 27 March and will then transfer to Stornoway for the summer months.

Local Trust And Its Museum Strike Gold Again

Shetland Amenity Trust and one of its main services, the Shetland Museum and Archives, have both achieved Gold Standards in the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS). The Trust, which carries out a wide range of environmental and heritage work, retains the gold level award that it gained many years ago. Joining the GTBS scheme in 2008, the Museum and Archives achieved a silver grading at the first assessment and have moved up to a gold rating on this occasion. The Trust's Sita Hughson said that staff were delighted with the awards, adding that they were 'committed to sustainable practices in all our areas of work'.

Our Blog Of The Month: Shetland Education Goes Global

Stewart Hay, of the Anderson High School in Lerwick, founded the Global Classroom Partnership in 1988, an achievement that, along with his local work, was recognised in an MBE in 2009. The partnership has gone from strength to strength. One element, Learning School, is an international student-based research project, now in its twelfth year and linked to the Scottish Government's Review of Teacher Education in Scotland.

This year, Learning School is researching 'The Future of Learning, Teaching and Schools'. The group has been finding out what students and teachers in Shetland like and don't like about the current education system, and the changes they'd like to see in the future. These student and teacher visions of the future will then be tested out in each partner school with the aim of putting the research into practice.

The project offers a unique perspective as the research is carried out by an international team of young people, from schools in the partnership. This year five Shetlanders are involved - Cheryl Cluness and Lindsey Manson, who finished sixth year at the Anderson High School in June; Jenny Fraser and Lizzie Ratter, who are coordinating the research; and Greg McCarron, who is assisting with filming and recording. They are joined by students from Sweden, South Africa, Germany and New Zealand as well as working with teachers and students in partner schools.

The team spent January and the first few days of February at Ridgewood High, New Jersey before moving on to Christchurch, New Zealand. Their travels then take them to Canberra, Cape Town, Zlin in the Czech Republic, Diepholz in Germany and Ange in Sweden. You can read about the project here and we've made their blog our Blog of The Month, so that you can follow our young islanders as they explore the world. It should be a fascinating journey and will obviously be of particular interest if you're involved in education.

Raincoats Around The World

Shetland doesn't just send students around the globe. Back in October, we featured the Raincoats, engaging little characters created by Abby Faulkner, and we explained that if one of her drawings, 'Cloud Appreciation', sold in an exhibition, she'd donate the proceeds to Help for Heroes. Well, we're delighted to say that it did find a buyer and those particular Raincoats have emigrated to New Zealand. Abby chronicles the Raincoats' adventures on her own blog and she also writes a regular newsletter for our sister website,, which we commend to you if you're thinking of a reconnaissance trip to the islands or just feel like a holiday in this peaceful, beautiful and intriguing place.

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