Shetland offers great sports opportunities
by Alastair Hamilton -
Whether you’re a visitor or a local, the range and quality of sporting and recreational opportunities in the islands is really impressive. The scale and number of the available facilities is astonishing in a community of our size. But equally striking is the enthusiasm with which sport is nurtured and pursued among all age groups.
The largest facilities are operated by either the Shetland Islands Council or the Shetland Recreational Trust, but private and voluntary organisations play their part too.
The Shetland Recreational Trust (originally, the Clickimin Recreational Trust) was established in 1982 and its first project was the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick, which opened in 1985. Although its huge main hall is used mostly for sports activities, it can also accommodate over 1,000 people for concerts.
Some of the largest Shetland events, for example the craft fair or the classic motor show, use all three large halls. A large indoor playing field, housed in the white building in the photo above, is the latest addition to the complex. There’s a large, 25m pool, with flumes, jacuzzi, children’s area and an outdoor extension.
Clickimin also has extensive outdoor pitches, used for a wide variety of sports, but particularly football and rugby. Shetland sports teams frequently compete outside the islands. For example, Shetland’s rugby club men’s first team plays in the Caledonia League and the women’s first team competes in the Tennent’s Women’s North league. Younger people are able to join teams appropriate to their age, from Primary 1 upwards.
Clickimin also boasts a first-class running track and facilities for field events.
Over the following 17 years, the Trust’s portfolio expanded, with the opening of another seven leisure centres around the islands, all of them built close to the islands’ junior secondary schools. The north isles of Unst, Yell and Whalsay were each provided with a good-sized sports hall and swimming pool, together with outdoor sports pitches. A similar mix of facilities was also made available at Aith, in the West Mainland.
Three of the centres, at Sandwick, Scalloway and Brae, were focused mainly on pools, with jacuzzis and steam rooms, though the Brae centre also includes a fitness suite, squash court and community room.
Users don’t have to pay a membership fee for the use of the centres: you can simply turn up, pay on the day and use any of the facilities. However, a range of annual subscription plans is available, and one subscription covers access to all of the 8 centres.
A special rural subscription is available too, so that those who mostly use the smaller local centres can benefit from a reduced rate whilst still enjoying a 50% discount when they do visit Lerwick. You can find the full list of subscription packages online. Any level of membership allows access to online booking.
Organised activities are available too. For example, Clickimin offers fitness classes and planned exercise sessions, together with lots of activities for children and young people.
For a fuller description of the Shetland Recreational Trust’s work, you can read their most recent Annual Report.
The Shetland Islands Council operates many facilities throughout the islands. The largest of these include four school and community games halls in Lerwick, Sandwick, Scalloway and Brae. These are used for a wide variety of activities ranging from football and netball to badminton and archery. These halls also offer fitness classes and can be booked for community events or festivals.
The Council also provides a large number of outdoor facilities. There are no fewer than 71 play areas for children right across Shetland, some of them illustrated below, and there are 15 multi-courts, too.
The town also has a bowling green, tennis court and golf course, again maintained by the Council. There are also sports pitches for football and other games.
The local authority is very much committed to a range of outdoor education opportunities, including coasteering, canoeing and adventure days on land. For children and young people particularly, the Active Schools Programme is the framework that guides activity. Cycling skills are developed through the Bikeability programme.
All of this is supported by a network of nine community sports hubs, which allow funding for specific equipment of activities to be allocated across the islands. For example, coaching sessions have been provided, swim flippers have been purchased, and a swimming club has benefitted from software to help with the running of trials and competitions.
All the hubs have been involved in providing various kinds of training, for example sport-specific first aid, child wellbeing and protection and equality in sport.
Leadership is an important theme. A Go Lead programme is available and Young Ambassadors from all seven secondary schools inspire their peers to become involved in sport. 39 pupils have so far completed a Sports Leaders UK course, seven of them in 2018/19.
Many other initiatives exist. School pupils can enter the John Muir Award Scheme, which aims to connect them with the landscape and natural environment. One of the more unusual projects is the Drop Box sportswear recycle scheme, which allows sportswear that isn’t being fully utilised to be distributed to those who need it.
There’s an Athlete Travel Award aimed at supporting those who need to advance their skills by participating in UK mainland events. For example, one 16 year old athlete won gold at the 2019 NatWest Island Games in Gibraltar.
For those whose contribution to Shetland sport is recognised as outstanding, the Council contributes to annual Shetland Sports Awards, held each November. For a full account of the Council’s work in sport and leisure, you can read their annual report.
Beyond the work done by the Shetland Recreational Trust and the Council, many other organisations, voluntary or commercial, are involved in creating even more opportunities across the islands. The Shetland Community Directory lists clubs related to more than 40 disciplines, each of which may involve a number of local groups. For example, eight boating clubs, three riding clubs and six swimming clubs are listed. Rowing has become very popular over recent decades.
Visitors to Shetland are more than welcome to use all the public facilities and, for anyone considering a more permanent move to the islands, it’s good to know that such an extensive range of opportunities for sport and recreation is available.
There are, of course, plenty of options when it comes to do-it-yourself exercise. There are wonderful walks, with the freedom to roam pretty much anywhere, provided you stick to the sensible guidance in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. On the more popular routes, there’s excellent provision, by the Council and Shetland Amenity Trust, of stiles and waymarking.
Certainly, there can be few other communities of around 23,000 people that can rival the quantity and quality of facilities and support that’s available here.
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