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By Promote ShetlandApril 17th 2013

Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the December issue of our monthly newsletter.

Many of you will already be preparing for the festive season. The historic centre of Shetland's capital, Lerwick, always looks the part at this time of year and it's especially appealing if we have a heavy fall of snow. This year, for the first time, there are dozens of small Christmas trees along the main shopping street and the effect is very pleasing. They're one of the first fruits of the new Business Improvement District that was established recently to enhance the town centre.

Christmas in Shetland these days may have a lot in common with Christmas elsewhere, but Shetland does feels that bit different, partly because of the strong Scandinavian connection. So, I was interested to read - in a recent Observer article - about the extent to which the British Christmas is taking on a Scandinavian flavour. Certainly, the Shetland Christmas used to be a distinctive affair, wrapped in superstition and much concerned with resisting the influence of the trows (the equivalent of trolls). On our website, you can read our account of Shetland Christmas past, or rather Yule.

In the past few weeks, several more awards have come to Shetland. In their different ways, they reflect the passion and commitment of many people, fostered and supported by the community at large. The investments that the islands have made over many years in facilities and in education have clearly borne fruit.

The islands have also featured in a couple of recent magazine articles. In the December issue of the Scottish Field, Merryn Somerset-Webb explains how she and her family divide their time between Edinburgh and the island of Vementry in Shetland. In the November edition of 25 Beautiful Homes, there was a feature about the house recently built not far from where I live by Wendy and Maurice Inkster; Wendy is well known for her Burra Bears.

Also during November, there was the much-anticipated premiere of the BBC's new crime drama, Shetland, now apparently to be shown early in 2013 and not, as I had previously heard, before Christmas. The audience appeared highly impressed.

This being the last newsletter for 2012, all of us on the team at Promote Shetland send our very warmest good wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Shetland named European Community of Sport 2013

Thanks to record levels of participation in sport and first-class leisure facilities, with enthusiastic and expert staff, Shetland is European Community of Sport 2013.

Representatives of Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT), which runs eight leisure centres for just 22,000 people, and Shetland Islands Council (SIC) were in Brussels to receive the award from the European Capitals of Sport, known as ACES. Shetland's sports facilities are a legacy of the money received from the oil industry after the construction of the Sullom Voe oil terminal in the late 1970s to handle North Sea oil. A team of four inspectors from ACES visited Shetland in August to assess the provision of sporting facilities in the isles.

James Johnston, general manager of SRT, who attended the presentation at the European Parliament with trust chairman Joe Irvine and SIC political leader Gary Robinson, said: "We are honoured to have been chosen from among thousands of communities around Europe for this award.

Mr Robinson paid tribute to the Council officials, John Nicolson and the late Rob Anderson, whose "vision and hard work all those years ago ultimately led us to this accolade." He added that he hoped to see a Shetland sportsperson competing at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games."

John Swanson, vice president of ACES, said there were three key reasons why Shetland had been chosen as European Community of Sport 2013.

The first was the exemplary quality of the leisure facilities operated by Shetland Recreational Trust, not only in Lerwick but in the communities of Unst, Yell, Whalsay, Brae, Aith, Scalloway and Sandwick. Second was the high level of participation in sport; there were 729,489 admissions to the eight centres in the year to March 2012. Third was the dedicated staff with wide-ranging expertise.

"The network of centres allows access to everyone without anybody having to make a 10 or 20 mile journey to participate in sport. And they are accessible to everyone from early to old age," he said.

"The number of people taking part in sport, and not only at the leisure centres, is very high in European terms.

"As for staff, it is all very well having strategy documents gathering dust on a shelf but you need enthusiastic, hard-working staff who know what they are doing putting those strategies into practice, and Shetland has that."

The European Capital of Sport 2013 is the Belgian city of Antwerp.

Shetland Athlete's Achievements Recognised Locally and Nationally

Meanwhile, a Shetland triathlete now dominates the Scottish rankings. Lynsey Henderson has become top senior woman and is rated second overall.

Lynsey's success is based on sustained commitment and hard work, leading to the award of points for each of her wins in a number of events. This time, when the points tally was calculated, she emerged as the worthy winner.

An 'amazed' Lynsey was honoured with a standing ovation when she appeared at the Shetland Sport Awards to pick up the title of Shetland Sportsperson of the Year. She received a further round of applause when she announced that she hoped to enter the European Championships and next year's island games, which open in Bermuda on 13 July 2013.

A number of other prominent Shetland sportspeople were presented with awards on the night, including one of the prime movers behind Shetland football, Jim Peterson, for a lifetime of sporting achievement. The event was addressed by the Chief Executive of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, David Grevemberg, who warmly praised the level of sporting activity in the islands.

Maggie Triumphs Again In Glenfiddich Awards

Maggie Adamson has once again won the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship, the top Scottish award for fiddle-playing.

Maggie (20) had to overcome a strong challenge from the two runners-up, Erin Smith and Ronald Jappy, who are based in the north-east of Scotland. The Championship has been held annually since 1989 with the aim of encouraging, stimulating and perpetuating the art of fiddle playing throughout the country. It's held in the impressive surroundings of Blair Castle in Perthshire.

Maggie first competed in 2010, coming second, and returned in 2011 to claim the trophy. She is classically trained and is equally at home in orchestral, jazz or traditional settings. She tours regularly with guitarist Brian Nicholson (guitar) and you can hear them on their MySpace page: to gain a sense of the breadth of their work, I suggest 'Mason's Apron' and 'Csardas'.

Youth Hostel and Shetland Museum Retain Five Stars

Recent inspections by VisitScotland have resulted in Lerwick's Youth Hostel and the Shetland Museum and Archives retaining their five-star ratings.

At Islesburgh House Youth Hostel, the inspector was particularly impressed with the external condition of the buildings and grounds, and the high standard of internal cleanliness, scoring both at 100 per cent.

Team Leader Dale Smith said: "This is great news and confirms the high standards we consistently seek to maintain and deliver. Huge congratulations go to all staff for the excellent level of service they provide, which - all wrapped up in a beautiful building - also saw us become best hostel in the world last year."

Shetland Museum and Archives has had a five star grading since the building opened in 2007. Inspection reports particularly mention the quality of displays and customer experience.

This year, the assessor had particular praise for the excellent facilities for children, and the Gayer-Anderson cat currently on display in the foyer area as a result of the successful partnership with the British Museum. To date, school visits have resulted in 530 children from 10 schools having the opportunity to study this iconic artefact.

Shetland Museum and Archives is an active cultural hub for Shetland, which is well used by all sectors of the community. Regular events and activities, along with interactive displays, changing exhibitions and high quality facilities, contribute to making this Shetland's number one visitor attraction, which is again on course to welcome over 83,000 visitors this year.

Jimmy Moncrieff, General Manager at Shetland Amenity Trust said "We are committed to providing the best possible museum and archives service to the Shetland community, and visitors to our islands. That Visit Scotland have reaffirmed the five star status of the service is a real testament to the on-going dedication and passion of the staff, who provide an excellent visitor service every day."

Shetland Amenity Trust Website Launched

The Shetland Amenity Trust, which - as well as running the museum - undertakes a wide range of work in natural and cultural heritage, has launched a new and much-improved website.

The site, www.shetlandamenity.org outlines the vast range of services provided by the Trust throughout Shetland, from archaeological assessments to environmental services. Details of individual projects undertaken by the Architectural Heritage team illustrate the work the Trust does to preserve ancient and historical buildings and monuments.

The new site also includes interactive services to help members of the public. For example, online forms are now available to arrange the collection of end of life vehicles, and agricultural scrap. The Biological Records Centre pages include online recording forms for sightings of individual species. A news page is regularly updated and an events page includes details of activities planned by individual departments.

A mailing list sign-up form is available for the Trust generally, or for specific subjects such as the Unkans newsletter, or the Dunna Chuck Bruck Campaign. Regular email updates are distributed.

Shetland Food Goes Down Well In London

Last month, I reported that Shetlander Helen Nisbet was in the final stages of preparing a Shetland night in London, with not only Shetland food but also some Shetland music and dancing.

Well, the evening went extremely well. Helen told me:

"The first Shetland Night in London was a huge success. We sold out really quickly and ended up with almost 50 guests, some from Shetland, some with Shetland relatives, and some who had never heard of Shetland. Amongst them were food writers, critics, chefs and even a sommelier, but it was mainly the Shetlanders who danced the Boston two-step to the fiddles at the end of the night.

"We ate rope-grown mussels supplied by C&A Thomason in Cullivoe; beremeal bannocks with Shetland butter; barley soup; slow cooked mutton with carrots, neeps, cabbage and tatties; and finally we had apple cake with whisky ice cream.

"It was such a big success, and I have such a long waiting list of people who couldn't get tickets, that I'm hoping to do another one early next year, and am looking into other ways of promoting Shetland produce down here."

Certainly, Shetland produces some wonderful ingredients and we congratulate Helen for her efforts to bring them to what's clearly a very appreciative audience. You can keep in touch with her future plans through the @shetlandnight Twitter feed and there are lots more photographs of the November event on Tumblr

Ocean Energy On The Horizon

Plans for Shetland's first wave power scheme are moving forward and it looks likely that a planning application will be submitted in 2015.

The project is being developed by Aegir, a joint venture between European energy company Vattenfall and Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power. The Shetland Islands Council and the Shetland Charitable Trust are taking a close interest in the proposals.

Shetland Charitable Trust chair Drew Ratter, said: "I remain keen that Shetland benefits from all the research and development benefits which offshore renewables development can bring. Once we have an interconnector to the national grid, it will be critical that offshore development in Shetland waters is well advanced."

The work planned for 2013 will include increased environmental surveys and impact assessment, alongside navigation risk assessment and fishing impact assessments. Vattenfall, Pelamis and the Shetland Islands Council will also examine the possible economic and employment benefits that could arise in the islands.

Shetland's success in European Fisheries Fund programme

Shetland Islands Council has been involved in attracting over £8.4 million funding through the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) programme since February 2009.

The funds have enabled 48 local businesses to carry out 63 projects with a total capital cost of almost £25 million. It's expected that a further £619,224 of funds will come to Shetland shortly, stimulated by £44,350 in grant funding from the local authority. The figure secured is over 44 per cent of the Scottish allocation of approximately £19 million for the Highlands and Islands area.

The EFF is targeted to assist with capital investment in the aquaculture, fishing and fish processing industries.

Executive Manager of Economic Development, Douglas Irvine, says: "I am delighted with this level of external funding being attracted to Shetland. In three years we have seen this grant funding being combined with just under £16m of businesses' own funds towards valuable fisheries projects. These investments will go a long way to ensuring the fisheries sector remains the cornerstone of our economy in the future."

Mareel Formally Opened

Shetland's new cinema and music venue, Mareel, received its formal opening during November, with a series of concerts and other events.

The new centre has been operating for around four months, but operators Shetland Arts opted for a "soft launch" to test the new facilities and ensure that everything was in order. It is a superb facility: the cinemas have properly-raked seating, unlike many chain cinemas elsewhere, and the equipment throughout the building is state-of-the -art.

The cinemas have been extraordinarily successful, pulling in, to date, close to 30,000 film fans in a little over three months, more than 70% of the annual target. For the first time, new releases such as Skyfall and the latest Twilight are opening in Shetland on the same day as in the rest of the UK and audiences have responded very enthusiastically. More - such as The Hobbit - are on the way.

Meanwhile, the music venue has hosted stars such as Cerys Matthews and a wide range of classical, jazz and folk musicians, including young local bands.

Generous Response To Children In Need Appeal

Listeners to BBC Radio Shetland have once again opened their purses and wallets to raise more than £21,000 for the BBC Children in Need Appeal. Every year, the station hosts a marathon broadcast featuring many of Shetland's musicians. There's also an on-air auction which, this year, invited bids for dozens of items including a tour of the Scottish Parliament with Tavish Scott MSP (which fetched £200), the opportunity to present one of Radio Shetland's music programmes (£215), a Burra Bear (£230) and a box of haddock (£180). Much of the money raised came from efforts by school pupils who engaged in face-painting, sales of baking, pyjama parties and long-distance walks.

60 North Winter issue is out now!

Get the kettle on, turn your phone off and put your feet up as the latest issue of Shetland's irresistible must-read is now online. Or even better - make some mulled wine and mince pies to make the experience extra special… Read the winter 2012 edition of 60 North

Blogs Of The Month

With Christmas dinner on the horizon, perhaps this is a good time to highlight a couple of blogs by Shetland food producers, one from Uradale Farm and one from Briggs Lamb and Mutton. We hope you find them appetising!