Here is our newsletter from June 2010. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this Newsletter, or you can reach us via the contact page on the Shetland.org website.
Lerwick is set to be the location for the UK's most northerly data centre, thanks to Shetland's cool climate and stable temperatures. Large computing installations – the kind that hold massive amounts of data for government agencies or financial institutions – generate heat and need to be kept cool. In a warm climate, it's expensive to provide adequate air conditioning. It's now been realised that Shetland is an ideal place in which to locate large computing systems, or "server farms" as they are sometimes called. Alchemy Plus, a technology firm based in Dingwall, near Inverness, has unveiled plans to build a state-of-the-art computing facility in the islands. It will be powered entirely by renewable energy and will use Shetland's high-speed fibre optic telecommunication link. The centre, occupying a 10,000 square foot building in Lerwick, will help the company's clients reduce their carbon footprint as well as their air conditioning bills.
What's more, it's intended that the heat generated by the centre will be fed into the existing Lerwick district heating scheme, which already warms homes and businesses by generating heat from waste. Several jobs will be created by the £12m centre, but more could follow as other firms learn of the advantages of a Shetland location. These include not only temperature but security, since the islands are remote from large population centres and access by sea and air is easily monitored.
In June, eight young people from Shetland achieved a Duke of Edinburgh Award. In the islands, as in other parts of Britain, gaining one of these awards is a milestone in the lives of many young people. Every participant in the scheme must complete a programme that involves volunteering, skills development, physical recreation and an expedition. It offers a personal challenge and the chance to serve the community.
Among this year's entrants, some had volunteered with the emergency services, sports coaching or youth groups. In the Skill section, some had been reading literature and improving musical skills and physical recreation involved badminton, fitness training and athletics. The expeditions included hill walking and camping, intended to help young people develop communication, teamwork, leadership and problem solving skills. Three secondary schools in Shetland participate in the scheme and two more are joining it. More information can be found at the scheme's website.
Sound Primary School, one of the two primary schools in Lerwick, has come out well after a visit by government inspectors. They pointed to high standards in English and Maths and a strong focus on developing literacy and numeracy. There was said to be high quality support for children with learning difficulties. There was praise, too, for the teamwork and commitment of staff and the outstanding leadership of the Head Teacher in pursuing high achievement. There was a strong partnership between the school, parents and the community.
Only two areas for improvement were mentioned: it was recommended that the Curriculum for Excellence should continue to be developed and that there should be greater use of self-evaluation in the nursery.
Shetland Islands Council's Spokesperson for Education and Young People, Councillor Bill Manson, congratulated the Head Teacher and staff on their "tremendous achievements" and added that, "once more, this is evidence that schools in Shetland deliver consistently high quality education".
As part of Power of Place, a year-long design festival organised by Shetland architects, several local homes were thrown open to the public during June. Some were the architects" own houses, which they'd either designed from scratch or extended. Others were recently-completed clients" properties. Some were in the islands" capital, Lerwick, whilst others were in rural areas, in one case remote from any services.
All of the developments incorporate state-of-the art design aimed at minimising environmental impact. Photographs and fuller details of all the featured homes can be found on the Power of Place website.
The Scottish Government has appointed Gwilym Gibbons, Director of the Shetland Arts Development Agency, to the Board of Creative Scotland, the new Scottish agency that replaces the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. He is one of nine members making up the board, including the Chair, Sir Sandy Crombie.
Gwilym Gibbons has been with Shetland Arts – as it is usually known – since late 2006. Before moving to Shetland, he was involved in street theatre and later in the management of venues, festivals and arts or health partnerships in areas as diverse as Milton Keynes, West Wiltshire, Kintyre and Oban. His current tasks include ensuring the success of Shetland's new £12.2m arts centre, Mareel, which is due to open early in 2011.
As part of the preparations for the opening of the Mareel centre, work has been going on to develop an installation for the building. It will draw on Shetland's fine lace tradition, combining beautiful new lace work with carefully-designed lighting.
This weekend, another milestone in the project is reached with the staging of an exhibition featuring Shetland lace by 21 Shetland knitters. The project website provides a preview of the kinds of work that will be on display.
During June, as approaching 1,000 people with Shetland connections arrived in the islands from all around the world for the Hamefarin (Homecoming), another new book was added to Shetland's ever-lengthening bookshelf. As well as commemorating Shetland Hamefarin 2010, Bright Pebbles celebrates the richness and variety of Shetland dialect and culture. It includes stories, poems, prose and recollections, a number of which reflect the changes that have taken place in the islands since the arrival of the oil industry in the early 1970s.
The book is beautifully illustrated with artwork and photographs and it comes with a CD including readings and music. The rich mixture of contrasting Shetland voices, with songs and music from award-winning musicians, makes for wonderful listening. A treasury for local residents, it also provides a perfect introduction to Shetland literature for anyone moving to the islands.
Bright Pebbles (ISBN 978-0-905924-87-8) is edited by Mary Blance and Laureen Johnson and published by Shetland Islands Council at £14.99; it can be ordered through any bookseller, from the Shetland Times Bookshop or from the Shetland Museum and Archives.
Shetland offers clubs, facilities and events that cater for most interests but, come the endless days of the northern summer, there's a veritable feast of activities on offer. Among the long-established pursuits, there are sailing regattas throughout the islands, with one (and sometimes two) being held most weekends. These always feature a variety of sailing craft, but the tradition of sailing the double-ended "Shetland model" is particularly cherished. Rowing races are usually held too, competitive rowing being a sport that has developed rapidly in the islands over the last decade or so.
July sees the third Shetland Nature Festival, an event that celebrates the islands" natural heritage. There is a full programme of events, including the long-established Open Day at the island of Noss, a National Nature Reserve just two short ferry hops from Lerwick that features dramatic seabird cliffs. It was there that Simon King placed cameras for his Shetland Diaries television series. However, the great thing about this site – as with others in Shetland – is that it's remarkably easy for anyone to get close to seabirds without special equipment.
Elsewhere, there will be guided walks, family fun days and much else. There will no doubt be continuing interest in the puffin chick that recently hatched at Sumburgh Head and which has a webcam all to itself; there's a link here.
Other forthcoming highlights include the Hnefatafl World Championships, to be held on the island of Fetlar on 31 July. Hnefatafl is an ancient Viking board game, akin to chess, in which 24 attacking pieces try to capture the king, who has 12 defenders.
Young music and arts enthusiasts have a rather less tranquil treat coming up in the annual Vunkfest. The musical programme features several young Shetland bands alongside visiting groups from Orkney, Northern Ireland, England and Holland. Rock, metal, punk, garage and grunge are among the genres represented. Vunkfest also includes short films, photography, crafts and sculpture.
There's a great deal more on offer, ranging from living history displays at archaeological sites in the South Mainland and the island of Bressay to a talk on the fascinating career and mysterious disappearance of Captain John Gray, who was master of what was, in its day, the world's largest ship, the SS Great Britain.
The first of the major summer events, Flavour of Shetland, has delighted local people and visitors alike. Held on Victoria Pier, at the heart of Lerwick's old town, it featured music, crafts and of course the best from Shetland's larder, not to mention such diversions as face-painting and clowns for a younger audience. Flavour of Shetland is always organised to coincide with the arrival of the colourful fleet of yachts competing in the annual Bergen-Shetland Race but, in 2010, they were joined by the impressive vessels competing in the Round Britain and Ireland Race, sponsored by Shetland Islands Council.
As usual, there was a great line-up of local musical talent. Shetland is most often associated with fiddle music but there were also generous helpings of rock, country, blues, jazz and drumming. The craft stalls confirmed just how much high-quality craft work is being produced in Shetland these days, with many young designers offering a contemporary take on knitwear, textiles and jewellery, not to mention glassware, furniture, leatherwork, teddy bears and photography. The food stalls, firmly focused on fresh local produce, were a treat for the tastebuds. Beautifully-presented local fish, shellfish, lamb and beef were on offer and visitors could also learn how to make traditional Shetland bannocks.
It might be thought that all of this was quite enough for one weekend; far from it. Among other events, Shetland simultaneously hosted the Simmer Dim Rally, drawing motorcyclists from all over Europe; a rugby sevens tournament, the annual Summer Carnival featuring dozens of decorated floats and the local celebrations for Armed Forces Day. But then again, midsummer is a very special time in the islands, so it's no real surprise that islanders should fill those endless days with so much energy.
The tiny island of Papa Stour, off the west coast of Shetland, is the home of a unique Sword Dance, the origins of which are thought to be Norse. In July, a sword dance group from Shetland which keeps the tradition alive will give a rare performance at the UK's largest fiddle festival in Aberdeen.
The dance, to which Sir Walter Scott referred in his novel The Pirate, was last performed by a Papa Stour based team in 1962 but has been kept alive on the Shetland mainland, thanks to the efforts of George PS Peterson, a native of Papa Stour who began teaching the dance at Brae High School when he moved to the Shetland mainland. Since then, it has been performed only occasionally on the islands and with the exception of a performance in Denmark in the 1980s and one in Norway in the 1990s, not outwith Shetland.
The Aberdeen performance will be a family occasion for the Petersons, with George's sons, Martin and Peter, and grandson Danny all performing. The sword dance is a representation of the battle between good and evil and includes words as well as dance. It is a linked sword dance comprising seven different movements. It culminates in the points of the swords being lifted together in a star to symbolise the victory of good over evil.
Scientists are probing a genetic link discovered in Shetland mice which identifies them as "Viking' mice. Dr Frank Chan of the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany is leading a study to search for genetic clues to the ancestry and migration of these mammals to Shetland over the millennia. The work follows on from the discovery by a team led by Prof Jeremy Searle of a shared genetic ancestry between Shetland's native house mouse and Norwegian mice, suggesting a common "Viking" origin. Dr Chan has appealed to Shetlanders to help widen the study by collecting as many dead mice as possible and handing them over to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Lerwick office. He said:
"Since Darwin's days, natural scientists have been drawn by the unique potential of islands creatures to tell us about how species evolve. Their very remoteness makes them ideal natural laboratories, where all kinds of fascinating biology plays out. Because house mouse adapt to all kinds of environment, we believe they represent our best chance at understanding this process."
Shetland has two species of mouse - the house mouse (Mus musculus) is brownish grey all over and usually only slightly paler underneath. The wood mouse or long-tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), known in Shetland as a hill mouse, has brown upper parts and is almost white underneath. Both species are believed to have arrived in Shetland from Scandinavia, presumably as stowaway passengers in the longboats of Norse settlers or traders.
Mice are not the only species in which differences exist between Shetland and British populations. For example, Shetland wrens are a little larger and darker in colour than their southern cousins and there is a Shetland sub-species of Red Campion.
The celebrated bus shelter at Baltasound, on Britain's most northerly island of Unst, has made news again. The shelter, an essential photo-stop on any visit to the island, has been decorated in a variety of themes over recent years, of which the World Cup is just the latest.
The latest press piece appeared in the Daily Mail and the story was also picked up by Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2.
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The Team at Shetland.org