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By Toby SkinnerOctober 2nd 2020

Shetland isn’t just about freedom, nature and community. The islands are home to world-class schools and infrastructure, with the opportunity of life-changing career opportunities. Here are some compelling reasons to make the leap.

1. Because you’ll get a warm welcome

The Shetland welcome is famous, especially for newcomers to the islands. “I thought it might be difficult for me,” says Bronwyn Smith, who moved from her native New Zealand with her Shetland-born husband Ross and their young daughters in 2011. “But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was this instant welcome, and everyone was so keen to help us and the children settle in.” According to Yell mussel farmer Christopher Thomason: “The work is here, and we want more people to come, especially young families. You’ll be welcomed with open arms.”

2. To be closer to the sea

On any of Shetland’s 16 inhabited islands, you’re never more than four miles from the sea. It crashes and caresses, shaping the dramatic stacks at Eshaness or the sandy tombolo leading to the fantastical St Ninian’s Island. It’ll often be just you, the seals and the otters on Shetland’s beautiful beaches: like Yell’s Breckon, an improbable crescent of white sand and turquoise sea, or the surf-ready Quendale, in the South Mainland. There are dramatic cliffs screeching with birdlife across the islands, including on epic walks to Uyea or Deepdale on the Mainland, or the Middle Earth cliffs of Unst’s Hermaness, leading to Britain’s northernmost point.

3. To ignite your career

Moving to Shetland can be a major boost to your career as well as your quality of life. The island is home to thriving fishing, aquaculture, renewable energy and marine engineering industries, as well as a strong public sector, with jobs regularly available in areas like local government and health. Fast WiFi, quality infrastructure and the availability of funding also makes this a better place than many to start a new business. For advanced nursing practitioner Vicky Schofield, it was the job that encouraged her to move from Chester in 2014: “My career has progressed more quickly up here than it would down south,” she says. “And, with more time with patients, it’s allowed me to reconnect with the reasons I first got into nursing.”

4. Because it’s more connected than you think

Shetland’s wide open spaces shouldn’t be confused with isolation. Shetland is a place of community and connectedness. Regular flights from Sumburgh mean that you can be in Edinburgh or Glasgow for a business meeting within a few hours of leaving home (Many parts of Scotland’s Highlands and islands may be geographically closer to major cities, but take much more time). And with remote working on the rise, and Shetland’s fast WiFi, new businesses can set up easily up here.

5. Because commutes just aren’t that stressful

Many Shetland commutes feature show-stopping scenery, and more wildlife than cars. Many Shetlanders report that their drive to work is actually a pleasure – like knitwear designer Joanna Hunter, whose commute from West Burra is a distinctly pleasant one.

6. Because the community will reach out

If there’s a single word that sums up Shetland life, it is this one. ‘Community’ means sports clubs, volunteer-run festivals, impromptu jams, funding for local businesses and so much more. It is the reason that so many events are for charity. But, really, it’s about something more fundamental: the fact that people in Shetland look out for each other, whether they’ve lived here for generations or have just come off the ferry in a car crammed with Ikea bags. “There are communities on all levels,” says musician, producer and sound engineer Tim Matthew, who moved in 2014. “For me, I very quickly became part of the music community, the crofting community and the more general island-wide community. I’ve just felt enfolded by it all.”

7. For a chance to get creative

Shetland has always had a vibrant creative scene, with more than its share of artists, makers and craftspeople inspired by the Shetland’s seas, skies and unique culture. The November Craft Fair is a celebration of this, while Shetland Wool Week in late September attracts people from around the world to experience an ancient and still-evolving textiles culture. There are great galleries like Shetland Arts’ Bonhoga Gallery in the old Weisdale Mill, and the independent Shetland Gallery in Sellafirth, Yell, owned by textile artist Shona Skinner and her husband Alan. Visitors can tour a Crafts Trail linking small-scale makers across the islands, while locals have plentiful ways to get involved and learn, for example with Shetland Arts’ workshops on everything from animation to life drawing and youth drama.

8. To give your children a happy childhood...

Safe, community-minded and full of wide open spaces, Shetland is a great place to bring up children. “It’s absolutely magical for kids,” says Joanna Hunter, a Shetlander who moved back from London to run her knitwear business and give her two young children the best life possible. “You can just throw them outside. They’re safe, everyone’s always looking out for them, and there are so many adventures to be had.”

9... and a top-class education

Shetland schools run the gamut from tiny village schools like North Roe Primary, with only eight pupils, to Lerwick’s Anderson High School, with more than 900 pupils and world-class facilities after a major upgrade in 2017. Anderson High has always had a reputation for quality teaching and innovation, including the Global Classroom scheme, which connects Anderson High students with students at 30 schools around the world, including in Japan, South Africa and the Czech Republic. “Being at school here expanded my horizons,” says Tom Wills, a tidal energy engineer who ran as Shetland’s SNP candidate in the Scottish elections. “Spending a term in Sweden as part of an exchange was important to me realising who I was and what I wanted to do.”

10. Because... the Shetland sky

The skies in Shetland are different. Bigger, somehow, and creating an ever-shifting light, part of the reason that Shetland attracts so many artists. “I feel like I’ve been chasing the Shetland sky for 22 years,” says Ruth Brownlee, a widely-collected Shetland artist, originally from Edinburgh, known for her paintings of dramatic skies. “Even now, it still captivates me.”

11. Because, in the depths of winter, this sometimes happens

12. To get a new hobby

Many people who move to Shetland report their lives becoming fuller than ever. There are golf courses on the Mainland and Whalsay, and world-class facilities at Lerwick’s Clickimin Leisure Centre, where competitive football and netball leagues are regularly reported in the Shetland Times. There’s pretty much every activity you’d find in a big city, from yoga to archery, tai chi and 5km runs every Saturday on the island of Bressay, across the water from Lerwick. People dirt bike, kayak, fish, race wooden yoal boats, wild swim and club together for coasteering jaunts. The islands are home to beachcombers and divers like Billy Arthur, known for his beautiful underwater photography. Not to mention craft and music meetups, choirs, brass bands, volunteer groups and so much more. If you want to be, you’ll be busy.

13. Because you can get really close to nature

In Shetland, untamed nature is all around you, and you don’t even need to look hard for encounters with wildlife. Seals loll around the Lerwick harbour and otters can often be seen frolicking as you wait for ferries. The bird life here is world-class, from the dive-bombing gannets of Noss to the rare red-necked phalaropes of Fetlar’s Loch Funzie, and sheep and Shetland ponies can be found all across the islands. But locals get most excited about bigger beasts: the orcas that often pass through (there’s a Facebook group for sightings) and the rarer humpback whales.

14. To live more sustainably

In terms of essentials, Shetland life needn’t be too different to anywhere in the UK. There’s a large Tesco in Lerwick, and most things are easily delivered. But, with more space, an ancient crofting culture and new investment in renewable energy, it’s also possible to lead a more sustainable existence on the islands. For example, overlooking the beautiful Channerwick bay on the South Mainland, council worker Emma Perring and violin-maker Ewen Thomson are almost entirely self-sustaining: rearing their own sheep, fishing from a traditional yoal boat and growing their own vegetables in Emma’s greenhouse (many Shetlanders grow vegetables in greenhouse tunnels made by Polycrub, a local company). “We can be apart from things in our own space, but at the same time it’s just a short drive to Lerwick,” says Emma. “As a balance, it’s perfect for us.”

15. To eat more locally

Shetland produce is arguably not as well-known as it should be. The plump, fresh mussels and sweet, tender lamb are world-beating; doughy bannocks and black potatoes are unique; and more fish is landed on the islands than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, including more than a third of all Scottish salmon. A good introduction to the joys of reestit mutton or beef sassermaet clatch can be found in Shetland Food and Cooking by Marian Armitage, a former cookery teacher in London who now runs the Taste of Shetland group, which supports local food producers and outlets. Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World, by Great British Bake-Off runner-up James Morton and his broadcaster father Tom, features great recipes – especially for seafood – but also essays on Shetland life, from crofting culture to pit feasting and Viking curing methods.

16. To live in your dream home

A home with an unbroken sea view is a pipe dream for many. In Shetland, property prices are still low enough that you can get a family home with a sea view for significantly less than the price of a one-bedroom flat in London. There’s also enough available land that many people build their own homes. Read our feature on Shetland dream homes.

17. Because there’s loads going on

The Shetland calendar is packed with events, including the famous Up Helly Aa fire festivals in the winter; the volunteer-run Shetland Folk Festival in April/May, which draws some of the best folk musicians from around the world as well as showcasing local talent; and the late August Screenplay Festival co-curated by Mark Kermode. But these are just a few of the big ones. There are events happening constantly across the islands, especially at Lerwick’s airily modern Mareel cultural centre, home to two cinema screens, a cafe and world-class concert and exhibition spaces.

18. Because you see these guys everywhere

19. Because it’s an adventure waiting to happen

Shetland isn’t a place of fences and signposts, but of pure wild nature, where you’re often looking at the same vistas that the Vikings did. Most of all, it’s a place of freedom, where you can park your car, roam and even camp: perhaps over Ronas Hill to the epic reddish Lang Ayre, to the turquoise waves of Deepdale, on the westside, or to swim among the otters at West Sandwick on Yell.

20. For a chance to study

Shetland is a place to learn as well as to live. The Shetland College offers an interesting range of courses to a degree-level, from Culture and Heritage to Scottish History and Politics, Criminology and Archaeological Science, with Shetland’s Viking ruins and ancient bones making it a hotspot for the latter. The highly-rated NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway specialises in vocational courses relating to the sea – from skipper’s tickets to aquaculture management courses – while the Shetland Arts runs degree-level courses in music and film-making, using the latest at technology at Lerwick’s Mareel cultural centre.

21. Because you visited and fell in love

It’s hard to get Shetland without visiting. Read 21 very good reasons why you should do just that.

Find out more from our Living and Working in Shetland Facebook group, and search for job opportunities on our LinkedIn page.