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Moving to Yell: A catch up with the Cook family

by Promote Shetland -

The Cook family, mum Gen, dad Alain and daughters Freya and Olivia, recently appeared on Channel 5’s A Country Life for Half the Price with Kate Humble.

Seven months ago, they relocated from Exeter in Devon to Yell in the north of Shetland. We caught up with Gen to find out more about their decision to swap urban life for rural island life and to find out more about how they’re getting on.

What made you choose Shetland as a place to relocate?

The house was the starting point. We were looking to move out of the city as we really wanted, and needed, more space. We started looking and found this house. We'd often thought of moving to Scotland because we have family and friends here and have spent quite a lot of time here, including visiting family who live at the most northerly point in Strathy. Individually, and as a couple, we both knew that living in the far north wasn't going to be out of the realms of possibility. What brought us to Yell, was definitely the house.

What attracted you to Shetland over other rural places?

Affordability and there was just a feeling when we visited – like we could really breath again. For Alain, it was escaping the rat race and getting back to a sense of what is important in life, and for me, the idea of living on an island.

What did you particularly like about Yell?

The ferry ride over was beautiful and we like the feeling of being on a smaller island. While spacious, the proximity of the school, leisure centre – the hub of the island, I suppose – is all within walking distance from the house, so no traffic jams. It felt right to us and everyone really was, and is, so friendly and helpful. We also liked the idea of the girls being at school together again. We visited the Junior High School and it was very welcoming and friendly and perfect for our girls.

What was the move to Shetland like?

We saw the house online just before Christmas 2018, decided to visit in February 2019 and then fell in love with Yell, and Shetland. That was it then, we were full steam ahead; failure was not an option. We put our house on the market in May 2019, completed on Thursday 15th August and put the offer in on the Monday. We moved up here at the beginning of September still not having completed on the house. We were homeless and living in our horse box, the four of us and our cat. We stayed in that for eight days and nights, rising and going to bed with the sun.

In terms of planning, that was relatively easy. The time-critical stage was between moving out of our house and completing on the house in Shetland. We had no jobs to move to at this stage. The mental fortitude to make the move happen was quite exhausting and very challenging as we didn't give ourselves very long to complete the process. It took all our strength and resolve together to keep the momentum going. Initially, we were still both working full time, trying to keep the house tidy for viewings, getting the applications done for the girls to move schools and pack up our belongings. We sold and gave a lot of stuff to charity. We made a conscious decision to downsize our lives and belongings to start our new chapter in Shetland.

How have you found the transition from city to rural life?

Very easy. The pace of life suits us much better. People work very hard up here but also seem to know how to relax and enjoy life. For Alain, it's like coming home as he grew up in a rural village.

How easy has it been to integrate into the local community?

Generally, most people knew that we'd arrived – it is such a small community and we did arrive in a big red horse box! But they gave us the space and time to bring ourselves into the community. Once we put ourselves forward, everyone has been very welcoming and helpful.

Not long after we first arrived in Yell, we got the horse box stranded on the hill and one of our neighbours very kindly helped tow us back to the house and helped us fix the issue. We wanted to live somewhere where community and helping out neighbours when needed was still a thing. We're there for our neighbours if they need us, too.

Have you managed to find work or set up your own business?

Alain is working at the local care home part time. We intend to continue converting the horse box into a holiday let and we’re also planning to create a studio space that can be used for writers’ retreats for some peace and inspiration. We want to help with local tourism and the accommodation will be available throughout the year, so people can make the most of the views, our spectacular scenery and, of course, the vast creative culture here in the north, from crafts to music and everything in between.

How are Freya and Olivia settling in?

Our daughters are settling in very well, they've made good friends and are enjoying school and the spaces around them. They now have their own bedrooms too, which they didn't before; a space of their own.

What do they make of the school?

The smaller class sizes are a definite bonus, with the teachers and children all getting to know each other much more than in big schools but also all the children get to know each other throughout the age groups, which we think can be really helpful and much more fun. The school is definitely a great community; the girls are happy and we're really impressed with it and have even found ourselves on the parent council already!

What have been the highlights of Shetland so far?

The space, the ever-changing sky and light. Being so very welcomed into the community events – the Mid Yell variety show and our New Year’s fireworks and community bonfire. Being welcomed and part of the activities that happen here. For me, learning to make jewellery and crafts with Helen Robertson, learning to bake, meeting new friends and joining the choir. For Alain, the day he spent with Brydon Thomason [Shetland wildlife guide] was inspirational. Seeing and hearing the curlews daily, whaaping, seeing the otters and seals with quite some regularity, the sighting of his first merlin. For the girls, having space to breathe and make new friends, having a view out of their windows, ponies in the fields beyond, independence and being more in control of their time. Also, the opportunity to join new clubs and camp in the garden.

What advice would you give to others thinking of moving to Shetland?

Having stayed at an Airbnb on Yell when we first visited, which was very peaceful, we found returning to Lerwick very busy and, as a family, decided we preferred the North Isles' life. We would suggest that, due to the diversity of Shetland, you do your research to see which community would suit you best.

If you live here, it's beneficial if you can plan ahead – shopping twice a month or less for a big shop. Organisation is key.

There is no bad weather! There is generally always a breeze of some description and often all seasons in one day, which keeps life exciting. We've learnt to embrace 'the nice day between weathers’.

Talk to the locals. They have great knowledge, which will help make living here even more enjoyable. Shetlanders know how to live here!

Kids are very adaptable and flourish when given the environment to do it in.

Is there anything you’d wished you’d known about Shetland before making the move?

That Ikea didn't delivery easily! Seriously though, not really. It's not that remote, you can get anything you require but it may cost a bit more. Delivery to Shetland can be expensive but it’s cheaper than going back to mainland to get it.

The cost of fuel is greater. Heating your home with oil can be more expensive as you will likely have it on for longer. Open fire fuel is usually peat or coal, which does burn differently to wood. We're used to a wood burner.

How are you finding being in lockdown?

We're so grateful to be experiencing lockdown in Shetland and not in a city. It's still not easy as there are items that we can't get and we go a bit stir crazy not seeing friends, but we can still get outside. We still get supplies as our local island shops are very organised, well stocked and have adapted to ensure the community is well looked after while maintaining all safety protocols. Alain is still required at work as he's one of our island’s key workers. The girls and I, like everyone, are trying to find a new rhythm at home with school work and life in general.

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to people considering making Shetland their home?

The purpose of our move was to give ourselves more time together as a family. We would recommend it to everyone. If you have a dream and think it will never happen, just reframe the idea, work on the actions needed to make it happen and see where it takes you. Tell your friends and family, dreams can snowball when they go from an idea to an action... Shetland is a really special place that we feel incredibly happy to call home.

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