By Promote ShetlandJanuary 20th 2020

In January 2010 Lauren Doughton moved from the outskirts of Manchester to make a new life in Shetland. We caught up with her 10 years on to get her perspective on the process of moving to Shetland.

What prompted you to move to Shetland?

I’d actually been visiting Shetland for about four years before I decided to make the move. At the time, I was studying for a PhD in archaeology and Shetland was my area of study, so I was coming up and down from Manchester quite regularly for fieldwork, meetings or trips to the archives etc. I started to think that it might be more sensible if I based myself here for a short amount of time, to allow me to make the most of opportunities to get our surveying, and to speak to local experts. Then, one day when I was out on a field trip in Papa Stour with the local assistant archaeologist Chris Dyer, he mentioned that there was a job coming up at the Amenity Trust as part of a three-year funded project and I just thought, well why not? It was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I applied for it, and thankfully I was offered the job, so I said yes immediately!

I originally only planned to stay for the three years that the project had funding for – that took me up to the end of my period of study with the PhD, and I sort of presumed after that I would continue on in academia in some way, but by the time I had been in Shetland a year I knew there was no way I could go back any more. My partner moved up to join me after 12 months, and the rest was history – we’re both still here now and we have no intention of going anywhere at all!

How did you go about planning the move?

I was reasonably lucky in that I knew the area fairly well from my fieldwork, so I didn’t have to do too much research into the location to find out how you get here, but once I had the job offer my main concern was finding somewhere to live – particularly as I brought my dog Jack with me, so I had to be sure that anywhere I found was dog friendly! At the time, there was major construction works going on at the Shetland Gas Plant, so rental properties were quite tricky to find. I popped a couple of ads into the Shetland Times, Shetland News, and on Shetlink. Jack featured quite heavily in them so I could be sure that any prospective landlords were happy with the idea of him moving in with me, and I got a couple of offers of houses. There was one just outside Voe that suited my budget and needs perfectly. Looking back, it was quite brave of me, and I’m not sure I would do that now, but I was used to student accommodation at the time, and on student budget, so I thought it was a simpler solution than having to pay to come up for a visit to check the place out.

The house was fully furnished, so all I had to do was get myself and my possessions up. In the end, I stuffed as much as I could into the back of my Nissan Micra and we set off. Every time I went back for a visit south over the first year or two I came back with another car load, until eventually everything was moved up. Again, I’m not sure if that would work for me now – I’d probably book one of the local removals firms to deal with it all for me, but as it happens you can fit quite a bit of stuff into a Micra if you put your mind to it!

Was there anything about the move that worried you?

Not much, no. I’d only ever visited in the summer, so in my head I had decided that the winters would be much harsher than the really were. I actually moved up in a fairly cold snap and I learned fairly quickly that winter tyres were a godsend, but it turned out that, a few weeks aside, it was actually much warmer than it was down in Manchester for much of the winter.

My partner took a little more persuasion to make the move up. He’s a graphic designer and film, art and music are huge parts of his life. He was worried he was going to lose access to things like the cinema, the gigs and the shows that we regularly attended when we were south. Once he learned about the plans for Mareel, the cinema, music and arts centre in Lerwick, he was much keener. He moved up while it was still being built and was first in the queue when they started to look for new staff for it. He still works there now and absolutely loves it.

Was there anything about life in Shetland that surprised you?

How busy it is! When I started to plan the move, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to get some peace and quiet and really focus on writing my thesis on my days off. Rather naively I thought there wouldn’t be very much to do. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I actually found is that there was too much to get involved in, and I ended up being busier than I had ever been when I was south. There are so many clubs, groups and activities, and tonnes of events (Shetland has at least one festival a week – or at least it sometimes feels like that!), not to mention the fabulous walks and the general lure of the outdoors.

I’ve also been surprised how good Shetland has been for my career. I think it’s fair to say that being in Shetland has given me access to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had remained in a city environment. Because it’s a small community, you tend to be involved in a broader range of stuff, both in work and in your personal life, which helps you develop a good range of transferrable skills. And, because the recruitment pool is perhaps that little bit smaller than elsewhere, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and to secure jobs that perhaps on paper you might not look like the ideal candidate for. I certainly didn’t expect to end up in marketing, engagement and communications coming from an archaeological background, but just by being here, and being involved in different projects I’ve managed to gain a really broad range of skills and experiences. It’s taken me in some really surprising directions and has been incredibly rewarding.

I’ve also been surprised how good Shetland has been for my career. I think it’s fair to say that being in Shetland has given me access to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had remained in a city environment.

How is life different now that you’re in Shetland?

Well, for a start, I don’t spend half as much time sitting in traffic jams on the motorway or stuck in overcrowded train carriages. My daily commute used to take about three hours travel time and cost me a fortune. These days it’s about 20 minutes each way in the car, with no traffic (unless you count the inevitable jam on Up Helly Aa day when the jarl squad take to the street and disrupt everything!). We’ve bought our own little house – a ‘but and ben’-style croft house in an old fishing village – it has three bedrooms and it overlooks the sea! I can’t imagine the amount of money we would have had to fork out to get a property like that if we were on the mainland – it would have been way above our budget. I’ve bought a horse, and I keep her just five minutes from my house, so within 25 minutes of leaving the office I can be out, exploring the amazing Shetland landscape on horseback. I just can’t imagine a better way of living.

I’m also involved in a much broader range of things now, too. I sit on the board for a couple of local organisations and charities, and I’m also involved in the local committee for the British Horse Society. I’ve taken up hobbies I’d completely abandoned. I started playing music again and joined the Lerwick Brass Band within my first year after seeing them out and about at Up Helly Aa. I also attempted to learn the fiddle and took up knitting and crochet. There’s an amazing creative community here, and it has inspired me to get out and create stuff too. I have a little hobby business making heirloom teddy bears that I sell at the local craft fair in November, and I’m a member of the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association. I was about the least creative or handy person I knew at school, so being confident enough to make things, and then take them into the public and sell them has been a huge step for me.

Mostly though I just feel like I’ve found my home. I’ve met so many lovely people, had so many great experiences and made some fantastic friends here. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about moving to Shetland?

Don’t be afraid to get out there, get involved and ask questions. Shetland is a very friendly place, but it’s a close-knit community, and that can seem a little intimidating when you come into it from the outside. If you’re friendly and willing, speak, listen and are prepared to roll up your sleeves and muck in, then you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Join a group (or two or three) or volunteer your time somewhere as a great way to get to know your community. If you’re planning to move up, ask your employer for advice and recommendations (or now you can join the Promote Shetland Facebook group – it’s a great resource!).