September 2013 Move Shetland Newsletter
Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the September 2013 issue of our monthly newsletter.
August brought both success and sadness in Shetland. As I explain, our education system continues to perform well. One of our beaches was hailed as a great, if chilly, place to swim. The Viking Congress was said to be one of the best ever; it demonstrated just how effectively a small community can pull together in organising such events.
That same ability was also, sadly, called upon following the recent helicopter ditching. The loss of four lives was tragic, but the toll would surely have been worse had it not been for the swift and comprehensive response by the islands" emergency services. We suffered another loss, too, with the untimely passing of Lise Sinclair, an outstanding poet and musician from Fair Isle: our blog this month, from Fair Isle, has links to many tributes.
September's events are already well under way. The literary festival, WordPlay, and the film festival, ScreenPlay, present superb programmes. Later in the month, the Shetland Blues Festival will be raising the roof at venues around the islands. September ends with a concert by Kris Kristofferson, but it's much too late to buy a ticket: back in May, all 1,000 sold out in an hour. Looking farther ahead, and particularly if you're considering a "recce" visit, October's calendar is very appealing. Mareel will be presenting a string of concerts featuring the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, Rod Clements, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Seth Lakeman, Big Country and Karine Polwart, and there's more music in the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival. Meanwhile, many will make their way north for a fascinating Shetland Wool Week, which runs from 7 to 13 October.
If you're planning a visit, don't forget that our companion website has loads of information about how to get here, where to stay and what to see. My colleague Abby writes a monthly roundup that's packed with ideas to make the trip really special and she's also now launched another great newsletter to keep everyone in touch with what's happening on Shetland's lively creative scene – and there's a lot!
Pre-School Education Impresses Inspectors
Lerwick Pre-School Group, which caters for children aged between three and five, has been rated “Very Good” by government inspectors.
The inspection said that the children were confident and enthusiastic and were progressing very well in learning. There was a high level of care and welfare for all children. They enjoyed "high quality experiences" and opportunities for learning outdoors and in the local area. The staff were said to be motivated and committed, working very effectively together to support children.
Councillor Vaila Wishart, who chairs the Council's Education and Families Committee, said: "This very good report demonstrates that our partner providers are offering a very high standard of pre school provision."
School Exam Results Well Above National Average
Shetland's school pupils have again done well in the national examinations, maintaining an above-average performance and, in one sector, improving greatly on previous years.
622 school pupils in Shetland received their exam results on 6 August), by text, email or post. An initial analysis of the results shows another high performance, with the biggest improvement in passes at Advanced Higher, in which there was a 7% improvement.
The percentage of Standard Grade Credit grades (Grade 1 or 2) remained at the very high level of last year, down only very slightly from 61.8% to 61.4%, which is more than 12% above the national average. At Higher level, the percentage of passes (A-C grade) in at least one subject held steady, at 77.9%, slightly above the Scottish average.
The number of candidates sitting SQA qualifications in Shetland rose from 609 in 2012 to 622 in 2013.
This was the last year of Standard Grade exams and Chair of the Education and Families Committee, Councillor Vaila Wishart, said that Shetland's record of achievement in Standard Grade over the last twenty-nine years was something to be proud of. "My congratulations to all of this year's candidates on their results and my thanks to the teachers who have helped them do so well.. I have no doubt that we will see a similar performance in the new qualifications within the Curriculum for Excellence."
Viking Congress Returns To Shetland After 63 Years
A gathering of specialists in Viking and Norse history has returned to Shetland for the first time since the inaugural Viking Congress was held in the islands in 1950.
In the decades following the original Shetland event, the congress – which tends to meet every three to four years - visited many parts of the former Norse world.
The Viking Congresses are multinational, interdisciplinary conferences. They create a common forum for the sharing of current research and theory, building links between leading scholars across geographical and disciplinary borders. Those gathered in Lerwick included archaeologists, historians, geographers and those with special interests in a wide range of topics including place-names, coinage and runes.
There were many fascinating insights into, for example, the way in which Viking settlement could be traced through analysis of plant pollen or the ways in which wealth was held in Viking times. Unsurprisingly, some of the talks focused on Shetland's Viking past and there were excellent accounts of recent archaeological work.
The Shetland congress broke with convention by enabling the general public to attend one day of talks; however, anyone with an interest was able to see and hear all the conference sessions, which were streamed live on the internet by Promote Shetland.
In order to accommodate the congress, the organisers used both Mareel, the islands" new arts centre, and the adjacent Shetland Museum and Archives. Mareel was also hosting parts of the Fiddle Frenzy event, which meant that some smart scene-shifting was necessary in the auditorium at the end of each day of the congress. The arrangements worked extremely well and the experience bodes well for future, similar events.
Wide Range Of Autumn And Winter Courses On Offer
Around now, many folk in Shetland look forward to learning a new skill over the autumn and winter months, and the new evening class programme doesn't disappoint.
All the tutors – some of them taking part for the first time – are keen to share their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm in local communities right across the islands. In the northernmost island of Unst, for example, courses range from Mindfulness Meditation to singing sessions based on the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Someone in the island of Yell may want to learn rug-making or work on advanced spreadsheets.
Variety is the key wherever courses are being offered. In the central mainland and Lerwick, options include African drumming, the BHS Horse Owner's Certificate, sound engineering or portraiture. Several languages are represented and traditional skills feature strongly, for instance drystane dyking, Fair Isle knitting and Shetland lace. The course leaders are well-qualified and some are nationally known, such as Dr Simon Clarke, who leads historical courses or Jen Hadfield, a former winner of the TS Eliot Prize, who is presenting literature and poetry sessions.
Shetland Beach Wins Swimming Accolade
One of Shetland's favourite beaches has been named by Travel magazine as a great place to swim, sharing the honour with beaches in much warmer parts of the world.
St Ninian's ayre is a wide band of sand that connects St Ninian's Isle to the Shetland mainland. It's a particularly fine example of a tombolo and its setting is magnificent. The beach is a popular destination for locals and visitors, although it has to be admitted that the water is somewhat colder than that at some of the other beaches in the survey, which included places in Australia, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. In fact, no other beach in Scotland made the top 50.
The magazine described St Ninian's as "spectacular" and observed that "if this beach was anywhere else in Europe, prefab hotels and deckchair hawkers would have ruined it long ago".
St Ninian's Isle was already famous for another reason: a hoard of Pictish silver treasure, presumed to have been hidden by priests from marauding Vikings, was discovered in the ruined chapel in1958.
Grant Award for Migration Study
A new project led hosted by Shetland Museum and Archives, which will explore the theme of migration to Shetland, has just won the support of the Leverhulme Trust.
Archives staff will work with Shetland-based writer and artist Raman Mundair. The grant of £15,000 is one of only six awarded each year to academic and artistic institutions in the United Kingdom. Raman will work with Archives staff on an interdisciplinary creative project called "Incoming". The aim is to use resources available at the Archives about earlier migration to Shetland by the Norse, the Scots and Scottish east coast fisher families to put more recent migration in historical context.
Raman will meet people who have settled here from various parts of the world, for example Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and East Europeans. She will interview them about their life journeys which have led them to Shetland, and their hopes and visions for the future. She'll create an archive of oral history, photographic and text portraits of people, to be held in the Archives. Her research will also lead to a series of new short stories focussing on the theme of "incoming" in Shetland.
Raman said: "This is an excellent opportunity to make visible Shetland's diverse and dynamic community. I am looking forward to speaking to people, and will be interested to see how the process informs my own work."
Archivist Brian Smith said: "The Shetland Museum and Archives is very pleased to be hosting the project. We will be collecting material about people who sometimes do not feature in the archival record, and we welcome that opportunity very much."
There are charity shops - and then there's Shoard!
Every high street, these days, has its share of shops raising money for every kind of good cause, but the one on the island of Whalsay offers more than most.
Whalsay lies north-east of Shetland's mainland and its charity shop has been described as the "mother-lode". The Whalsay Disability and Special Needs Support Group, set up in 1989, has been steadily expanding its operations and, as I discovered on a recent visit, their shop now occupies all three large rooms of a former school, not to mention various corridors. It's called Shoard, which means a support.
The range on offer is amazing, from furniture and bathroom suites to plants, shoes, books, luggage, golf clubs and a whole room full of clothes, some brand new. There are real bargains to be had. Hardback books in perfect condition were going for just a pound and an unused, high-end i-Pod dock was on offer at £250, half the retail price. It's another of those well-supported community enterprises that flourish in Shetland. You can read more about the history of Shoard here.
Jobs of the Month
There are several jobs on offer at NHS Shetland, including a posts for a District Nurse on the tiny Out Skerries, which lie beyond Whalsay
Posts with Shetland Islands Council include a Depute Head Teacher at the Whalsay school and an Environmental Health Officer in Lerwick.
Blog of the Month
Our blog this month comes from Fair Isle, Britain's remotest inhabited island and a thriving community. As well as giving a great insight into Fair Isle life, the blog includes tributes to Lise Sinclair.