Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the September 2014 issue of our monthly newsletter.
As always, August brought the annual round of agricultural shows, with the three largest of these attracting thousands of locals and visitors. Apart from the pleasure of seeing some of Shetland's best produce and finest sheep, cattle, goats and pigs, these events are always a great opportunity to catch up with old friends over some excellent home baking and a cup of tea.
For those who'd prefer something just a little stronger, August saw the launch of another new beer from the Lerwick Brewery. "Tushkar" (the Shetland name for the special spade used to cut peats) is an oatmeal stout and it joins the company's award winning lager, 60° North, and their pale ale, Skippers Ticket. There's more about the brewery here.
The second weekend in August was remarkable for some unusual weather when nature made up for a dry and warm July with more than 80mm of rain falling in one day across Shetland, causing localised flooding and some minor landslides. Fair Isle received an astonishing 128mm, or five and a half inches. Other diversions during the month included a weekend festival for rock and heavy metal fans and a showing on the big screen at Mareel of the first episode of the BBC's new Dr Who series, starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.
As autumn approaches, coastal explorations may become a little more bracing, but it's always a pleasure to get out and about, whether for some purposeful beachcombing or some good exercise. As the nights lengthen, our chances of seeing a spectacular display of the aurora borealis steadily improve; indeed, there's already been one sighting, in late August. Indoors, there's no lack of things to do and the diary includes appearances by comedian Ross Noble and Irish singer-songwriter Sharon Shannon.
However, the main event for many during September will be the referendum to determine Scotland's future constitutional status, to be held on the 18th. It's been a lively debate so far, with those for and against independence promoting their cases across the islands. As well as a flying visit by Prime Minister David Cameron, there have been numerous discussion meetings or personal appearances featuring politicians such as Shetland's Liberal Democrat MSP, Tavish Scott; SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon; and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Non-politicians, such as author and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and political commentator Iain McWhirter, have also drawn large audiences. And, of course, there have been many thousands of thoughtful conversations in homes, workplaces, schools, buses, ferries, cafés and bars across the islands.
Film Festival Programme Features 95 Events
Shetland Arts" annual film festival, ScreenPlay, is once again curated by Mark Kermode, Linda Ruth Williams, and Kathy Hubbard, and welcomes film fans to 95 events.
In the eight years since it was founded, ScreenPlay has grown in scale and range. These days, it also benefits from being able to use two of Britain's most modern cinemas in Mareel, Shetland's new arts centre. Between 29 August and 7 September, this year's programme includes twenty feature films, eleven Q&A sessions, six documentary screenings, six education screenings, three workshops, two film quizzes, two outreach events, a lecture, and a host of local and short film showings, not to mention parties.
Festival Director Kathy Hubbard says:
“There are hundreds of film festivals every year and we want to establish our own unique place on the "festival landscape". To this end, we have received a significant grant from Regional Screen Scotland to help us develop the festival, and we are, perhaps naturally, looking north. As the UK's most northerly film festival we will be seeking out partnerships with other festivals that are "most northerly" along the North Atlantic Rim over the next couple of years and celebrating with them the similarities and the differences in our respective screen cultures.
The guest list for this year's festival includes actors Brian Cox and the islands" own Steven Robertson, seen in Shetland, the television adaptation of Ann Cleeves" crime novels. Others appearing include Gruff Rhys, formerly of Super Furry Animals, who will be showing his film, American Interior and talking about it in a Q&A.
Evening And Day Class Programme Offers New Horizons
The release of Shetland's programme of adult learning opportunities is always eagerly awaited by those who fancy learning a new skill - and this year's doesn't disappoint.
The list of evening and day classes is extensive and some new ones are on offer this year, including climate and climate change, samba drumming and an introduction to historical research. Alongside these, many old favourites return, including yoga, Fair Isle knitting, fiddle-playing, woodwork and scrapbooking.
Classes are offered in many parts of Shetland. For example, residents of the island of Yell might want to try printing and embellishing on textiles, offered by Andy Ross. There's an introduction to German in the northern village of Brae and Matthew Lawrence is offering ballet classes in the north and central mainland. Over in the west mainland, Hazel Tindall will be teaching crochet and, in the south mainland, the interests covered range from astronomy to baking and Reiki. There's a huge choice of classes in Lerwick; topics include archaeology, web-page design, short film-making techniques and Latin American dance. You can download the booklet in pdf format from the link at www.learnshetland.com.
District Of The Month: Scalloway
Every district in Shetland has its particular appeal and, from now on, we'll take a monthly look at what each part of our islands can offer for new residents. We begin with the village of Scalloway.
Scalloway was once the capital of Shetland. Its sheltered harbour is overlooked by the castle built by Earl Patrick Stewart, who meted out justice in the islands in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. More recently, Scalloway played an essential role in the Shetland Bus operation, which supported the Norwegian resistance against Nazi occupation; the story is told in the excellent, volunteer-run, local museum.
Today, the village is home to more than 1,000 people and it has steadily expanded along the sea inlet known as the East Voe. Local employment was traditionally dominated by fishing and fish processing and these remain important. The west end of the village is dominated by the NAFC Marine Centre, a university college that offers a wide range of courses and undertakes important research. However, other businesses also thrive, including Paparwark, which makes beautiful bespoke furniture.
The village has a primary school and a health centre, together with local shops including grocers", general stores, a butcher, a fishmonger, pharmacy and post office. By common consent, the Scalloway Hotel is one of the best places to stay or to eat in Shetland. There's a modern swimming pool, too, as well as a well-used village hall. The sheltered waters in the bay and around the nearby islands are popular for yachting and sea angling, and the village has two marinas. The local football team plays at Fraser Park.
The housing available in Scalloway is either privately-owned or is rented by the Council or the Hjaltland Housing Association. Wooded gardens are very much a feature of the older part of the village; along the East Voe, many houses enjoy excellent sea views and great sunsets.
Lerwick, with its very wide range of facilities, is just ten minutes away by car and there is also a frequent bus service to the town. Scalloway thus offers the benefits of village life while being in very easy reach of all that the present capital has to offer.
Museum Exhibition Marks The Great War
A new exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives records the crucial role played by Shetland in the blockade of Germany, the longest campaign of the 1914-18 conflict.
The Allied aimed to wreck their enemies" economy. Germany used ships from neutral countries to carry goods and Britain's blockade sought to stop this trade, confiscating anything bound for its foe. The blockade meant Germany couldn't get supplies to clothe, transport, equip and feed its war machine, and Shetland was at the forefront because the blockade force's forward base was here.
The 10th Cruiser Squadron comprised converted merchant vessels which, because they were economical on coal, could cover long distances. The squadron patrolled the North Atlantic, challenging neutral ships and redirecting them to Lerwick, where the Navy searched them. They were then sent on to British ports to offload cargoes, and the government seized any contraband.
The operational base was in Shetland's north-east mainland, at Swarbacks Minn. Local firms benefited, supplying beef, bread, and beer. Fresh food was a novelty to crewmen so they bought produce from local women and fishermen sold catches. The blockaders were glad of a break ashore and sailors helped with farm work, bought knitwear, and put on sports and drama events.
The exhibition, which consists of photographs and artefacts from the blockade squadron, will be complemented by gallery talks; it runs until 12 October 2014.
Investments Seek To Attract Offshore Decommissioning
Shetland plays several roles in Britain's oil and gas exploration and production. Now, the decommissioning of oil platforms has prompted two new investments.
As well as hosting an oil and gas terminal at Sullom Voe, Shetland has, for four decades, provided a base for supporting offshore operations in the North Sea and North Atlantic. Investment continues both onshore and offshore, with the construction of a new gas plant at Sullom Voe by Total. Lerwick already offers a wide range of services to the industry and the port's capacity to handle decommissioning work will be greatly strengthened by two new investments.
Lerwick Port Authority (LPA) is undertaking an £11.95m quayside infrastructure project at Dales Voe South in order to support the development of oil and gas decommissioning in Shetland. The expansion will support around 120 permanent island jobs.
In addition, Peterson (United Kingdom) Ltd is proposing investments up to £8.64m in its "Deep Water Shetland" project to further support and expand its existing decommissioning capability. Working jointly with its partners in decommissioning, Veolia, the project could create around 67 high value jobs and add around £10m to the local economy.
The investments, which aim to create Scotland's only centre of excellence in decommissioning work, were announced by Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, who said that there was the potential for Scotland to become a "global leader" in decommissioning.
Sandra Laurenson, Lerwick Port Authority Chief Executive, noted that, at Dales Voe, the project would almost treble the quay to 130 metres and offer a load-bearing capacity of 60 tonnes per square metre, making it unique in Scotland.
Jobs of the Month
Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include posts for senior staff nurses, staff nurses and district nurses.
Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council include posts for a lecturer in early education and social care; a relief early years assistant and ASN auxiliary; and posts in the relief bank for teachers.
Blog of the Month
With the autumn bird migration getting under way, many birdwatchers will be taking the ferry or plane into Fair Isle over the next couple of months. The warden at the very welcoming bird observatory is Dave Parnaby and, whether or not you're a birder, his blog makes for an excellent read and is very well illustrated, too. Recent entries have noted the improving situation for seabirds and recorded that remarkable day of rain which, as Dave explains, was also a wedding day on the island!