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December 2011 Newsletter
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December 2011 Newsletter

December 2011 Newsletter

Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our December edition.

People who've never been to Shetland often ask me how we pass the time here. Can there be very much to do?

Photo: Neil Henderson

It's a question that invariably brings a smile to the face of anyone who's made the move to Shetland, because the problem is never lack of things to do: quite the reverse! During November, we've had the Christmas Craft Fair and the Shetland Food Festival, not to mention a host of musical events. For example, I really enjoyed a magical recital in Lerwick's beautiful Victorian Town Hall given by Glasgow-based Jemma Brown (mezzo-soprano) and Maryam Sherhan (piano). They performed a selection of songs by Ravel, Purcell, Rachmaninoff, Copland, Bizet, Rossini, Korngold and Britten. Two nights later, I was at a great performance of 'Top Girls', the play by Caryl Churchill set in the early eighties, which had a three-night run at the Garrison Theatre. During November, we also had one of the lively debates held by the Althing Social Group and openings of no fewer than four new art exhibitions; and these are just a few of the options that were on offer.

The great thing is that although we regularly host well-known performers of every kind, recently including X-Factor winner Matt Cardle and comedian Ed Byrne, a healthy portion of what's on offer is home-grown. All of us have the chance to take part. For example, Islesburgh Drama Group, which performed 'Top Girls', is one of several amateur companies in the islands and anyone who has an interest in the theatre, either in acting or backstage, is spoilt for choice. There's a thriving musical scene, with lots of young bands and some long-established ones, not to mention an orchestra. In sport, there are clubs to cater for a huge range of interests, from clay pigeon shooting to cricket, rugby union to darts. If you were so inclined, you could be involved in something every night of the week.

If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, as many others have done, we hope this newsletter offers a flavour of the life you could enjoy in the islands. We have a large amount of essential information about Shetland on our website but we also recommend that you make a couple of reconnaissance trips to experience island life, ideally at different seasons. I also recommend our website for visitors and Abby's newsletter, packed with ideas and tips for getting the most out of a Shetland holiday.

If we can help in any way, please don't hesitate to contact our team!

Right now, though, your thoughts may well be turning to the festive season. Shetland has its own fascinating Christmas - or Yule - traditions and you can read about Shetland Christmas Past on our website. All of us in the Promote Shetland team send you our best wishes for a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.

Native Shetland Wool Wins International Protection

After a long campaign, the organic wool from Shetland's native sheep has been awarded the sought-after 'Protected Designation of Origin' by the European Union. Many food products, such as Shetland lamb, Cornish clotted cream and blue Stilton cheese, are protected in this way. However, this is the first time that a UK product that isn't a food or a drink has been registered under the scheme.

The new designation affords legal protection to organic "Native Shetland Wool", giving consumers the strongest possible guarantee that they are buying the genuine, premium product from Shetland. The lengthy application process was begun by ShetlandOrganics CIC, a Community Interest Company of crofters and farmers formed to initiate a series of business development projects. They've had to be patient: it has taken nearly six years to gain approval.

It seems that the breakthrough has come at the right time. Dorota Rychlik, of ShetlandOrganics, said:

'We are all delighted that as ShetlandOrganics members, we have finally received the well-deserved accreditation which, we find, means a lot to the well-informed customers and buyers of our outstanding woollen products. It comes at a time of increasing consumer awareness of provenance and traceability, and while the indigenous industries are enjoying a happy revival, as demonstrated by the popularity of our Wool Week here, in Shetland. We could not have hoped for a better boost for our long-term determination to achieve European and world-wide recognition for the special quality of Shetland wool.'

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The native Shetland sheep is smaller than other breeds and it's known for its very fine, soft wool, which comes in a range of natural colours from black to white, taking in shades of brown and grey along the way. The colours have their own Shetland names, such as shaela ( a grey) and moorit (a brown). Shetland lamb - which has enjoyed PDO protection for many years - is known for its unique flavours, which vary slightly depending on what the lamb ate. For example, there is heather in a hill lamb's diet and Shetland also produces seaweed lamb, where the animals have access to the shore. All of them are delicious.

The PDO protection only relates to organic native Shetland wool. There's still no protection for the term 'Shetland', which has been applied over the years to countless items of knitwear that include no Shetland wool and weren't made in the islands. You can find the real thing in Shetland or by contacting one of the firms that offer mail order - we have a list here.

Food Festival And Craft Fair Draw Crowds

This year's twin events, the Shetland Food Festival and the Christmas Craft Fair, were the most successful ever, going down very well with local people and visitors to the islands. Both were bigger than ever before, filling the two large halls at Lerwick's Clickimin Centre, and there was a great range of things to buy or admire.

Photo: Billy Fox Photography

In the Food Festival, a producer's market featured local meat, cheese, fish, shellfish and a wide range of vegetables. Various preserves were on offer, too. There was also some delicious ice-cream, fudge, tablet and several ranges of cupcakes. Demonstrations and cooking contests - a local version of 'Ready, Steady, Cook!' - kept audiences entertained in the Food Theatre. Scottish Chef of the Year, Neil Forbes, provided many of the demonstrations and was greatly impressed by the event itself, by the quality of food available in Shetland and by the commitment of local producers. Throughout Shetland, eateries of every kind featured even more Shetland produce than usual on their menus.

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The Christmas Craft Fair demonstrated, once again, the wealth of talent in the islands. There was knitwear in traditional and contemporary styles, leatherwork, woodcarving, furniture, pottery, glassware, ceramics, jewellery, painting, photography, bookbinding...the list goes on and on. All of the work is quality-assessed and some of it was of an exceptional standard.

Shetland Woman Wins National Health Award

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Katie Hatfield, a paediatric physiotherapist from the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick, has been presented with a national accolade at the Scottish Health Awards 2011 for her invaluable contribution to Scottish healthcare.

The caring physiotherapist was amongst the winners at the award ceremony in Edinburgh on 10 November to accept the coveted Therapist's Award. The judges selected Katie as a worthy winner after a thankful mother nominated her for going beyond the call of duty for her son.

Since the young boy was diagnosed with Infantile Batten Disease, a degenerative brain condition, over eight years ago, Katie has provided care and support to the boy and his family. As his condition deteriorated, Katie worked closely with the family to maintain the boy's comfort and provide first-class physiotherapy. Throughout the boy's treatment, Katie has supported the family through difficult consultations.

The boy is now ten years old and is possibly one of the longest surviving children with Infantile Batten Disease. The family credits this achievement in part to the care, support and assistance provided by Kate, which has allowed the boy to live as normal a family life as possible. Speaking of Katie in her nomination the mother said, 'She is skilled, caring and approachable. She's my son's "fairy godmother" and is so deserving of an award.'

The Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy, Nicola Sturgeon said: 'All those nominated have gone that extra mile to deliver consistent, reliable and responsive healthcare for everyone.' NHS Shetland Chief Executive, Mr Ralph Roberts said: 'I would like to add my congratulations. This award reinforces the difference that staff across the health service can make and I am delighted for Katie and NHS Shetland that she has won this award.'

The Gilbert Bain Hospital is Shetland's largest medical facility and, as well as physiotherapy, provides a wide range of treatment including general surgical procedures, a maternity suite and accident and emergency care. It's equipped to high standards. There is also a network of GPs and nurses based in health centres throughout Shetland. Where very specialised treatment is needed, patients can be transferred quickly by air ambulance to Aberdeen or other centres in Scotland.

Remembrance Installation For St Paul's Cathedral Was Designed In Shetland

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As part of this year's Remembrance, a huge installation of poppies was displayed in St. Paul's Cathedral to highlight the plight of child soldiers worldwide. The work was created in Shetland by Ted Harrison of Baltasound, Unst, Shetland's most northerly inhabited island, and made possible by a Visual Artist Award from Shetland Arts.

Over 5,000 poppies were scattered under the dome of St Paul's on Remembrance Day, Friday 11th November 2011. From ground level, the poppies appeared to have fallen randomly but, when viewed from the Whispering Gallery, the poppies formed an image of three child soldiers, one from the First World War and two from more recent conflicts.

Artist Ted Harrison said:

The poppy is now a universal symbol of remembrance. At the time of year, when we rightly recall British soldiers, sailors and airmen who have given their lives for their country, this work is a reminder of the many children who have also, throughout history, died as members of the armed forces. Today, a UN convention forbids the conscription of anyone under 18 years of age, but the convention is widely ignored. It is estimated there are 250,000 children worldwide in military service, a third of whom are girls. When the work is viewed from above, I hope something of the innocence of these children is conveyed along with a sense of innocence betrayed.’

Ted is one of four artists this year who have been successful in the latest round of the Visual Artist Awards Scheme. The funding scheme is co-ordinated by Shetland Arts in partnership with Creative Scotland - the development body for arts and cultural industries in Scotland - and the Economic Development Unit of Shetland Islands Council. The scheme is now in its third consecutive year and has awarded a total of £15,000 to 19 visual artists in Shetland.

Shetland Architects Gain Special Mention In National Awards

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A new housing development in Shetland's capital, Lerwick, has won praise from the judges in an annual competition to find Scotland's best buildings. The houses at Grodians received a special mention in the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award 2011, run annually by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. The 34 colourful new homes were built for Hjaltland Housing Association and the layout is based on the principle of the Home Zone, in which pedestrians' safety and convenience takes precedence over car movements. The houses range in size from one to four bedrooms and they were designed to have a very small carbon footprint, beating the current Building Standards by at least 15%.

Richard Gibson Architects are no strangers to award ceremonies, having impressed many judging panels down the years with their clean, unfussy style and strong sense of place and context.

The Grodians development was up against the stiffest of competition. The overall award was taken by the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, designed by Gareth Hoskins Architects. That's a good omen, because they're the designers of Mareel, Shetland's stunning new cinema and music venue, due to open in early 2012.

Shellfish Management Scheme Shortlisted For Award

Another, very different, kind of award may be heading to Shetland. TheShetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) has made it onto the shortlist for the Nature of Scotland Awards, organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Photo: Billy Fox Photography

Shetland has some of the richest shellfish grounds in Europe, producing superb lobsters, crabs, scallops, queens, whelks, razorshells, cockles, mussels and oysters. The industry, in partnership with nature conservation, community and academic organisations, has long recognised the need for the fishery to be managed in a way that's sustainable, aiming to ensure that the stocks are maintained and that the fishing activity isn't harmful to the environment.

For more than ten years, a Regulated Fishery Order has empowered the SSMO to manage the commercial fisheries up to six miles offshore and the scheme has been widely acknowledged as a practical demonstration of how commercial and conservation priorities can go hand in hand.

Islands Seek New Owner

If you're thinking of moving to Shetland, finding somewhere to live will obviously be near the top of your action list. One of the more unusual offers on the market at the moment doesn't actually include a house, though building one should certainly be possible.

The islands of Out Skerries, which lie to the north-east of the Shetland mainland, are for sale. The Skerries, as we usually call them, are among the remoter of Shetland's 15 inhabited islands. Seen from any distance, they appear as no more as a scatter of low islets on the horizon, but they have a population of 76 and a thriving economy based mainly on fishing and fish farming. They have an extraordinary system for collecting fresh rainwater, involving a culvert that spirals around one of the low hills and discharges into a concrete reservoir. Occasionally, in very dry years, fresh water has to be shipped in from the Shetland mainland. Skerries is also a favourite place for bird-watchers, because it's a landfall for spring and autumn migrants. Comedian Bill Oddie has often migrated there himself in the autumn.

If owning a whole mini-archipelago doesn't appeal, there's usually a good selection of property available in Shetland. Although the Skerries sale is an exception, property in the islands - as in virtually all of Scotland outside Glasgow and Edinburgh - is mostly sold through solicitors rather than estate agents. We have advice on all the housing options on our website and from there you can also follow links to solicitors offering houses for sale.

Remote Island School Wins Praise From Inspector

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The primary school and nursery on the small western island of Foula, sixteen miles off the Shetland mainland, have received a positive report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIe). The inspector was especially impressed by the 'very positive' relationships between staff and children; the high quality of learning and teaching in the nursery; the 'strong' arrangements for profiling children's learning and progress; and the determination of the head teacher and her staff to strive for ever better learning and achievement.

During his visit the inspector spoke to a parent from each family and to all children attending the school. He worked closely with all staff, including Foula's new head teacher, Jeanette Cowie, who took up the post at the beginning of this term.

The report concludes that the inspector is "satisfied with the overall quality of provision" and is "confident that the school's self-evaluation processes are leading to improvements". The inspector will make no further visits in connection with this inspection.

A Van Named Sue

Sue, the near-silent electric car, has taken to Shetland roads as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The organisation's Lerwick staff are now driving a Peugeot Partner modified to run on lithium-ion batteries by Glasgow based company Allied Electric. Sue is so named as, shortly before arriving in Lerwick, a typing error transformed 'electric use' into 'Electric Sue'; and the moniker has stuck.

A full charge from a normal mains socket takes around eight hours. The vehicle's range is conservatively estimated at around 65 miles; as in any other vehicle, it depends to some extent on how the vehicle is driven.

Kevin Riley of SNH said: 'There are no gears or clutch pedal, but unlike an automatic gearbox, the motor simply delivers an increasing amount of power relative to throttle pressure. Apart from the tyres, the vehicle is almost silent and staff have been asked to take extra care. An extra loud reversing alarm has been fitted. The acceleration is surprisingly normal and the vehicle will go up to 60mph on the main roads. But with no motorways in Shetland this is all we're ever going to need!"

SNH staff in Lerwick are monitoring the vehicle's performance; however, it looks as though the cost of electricity will be roughly 2p a mile.

Film Maestro Scorsese Has Shetland Connections

According to an interview he recently gave to Siobhan Synnot of the Scotsman, film director Martin Scorsese has roots in Shetland. He explained:

'My family name means 'The Scotsman' but it's spelt differently, it's mis-spelt. But they checked my DNA and I do have Scottish blood, from Shetland. I really, really want to go up there. It's a base of civilisation.'

Martin Scorsese has been in Britain to talk about his new 3D children's film, 'Hugo', which had its UK release on Friday. In his earlier career, after developing his skills on student films, he went on to direct Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Color Of Money (1986) and Goodfellas (1990), among many others. He's known for highly stylised films, featuring such trademarks as long tracking shots, graphic violence and cameo appearances.

If Mr Scorsese does visit Shetland, he'll no doubt also have in mind the work of Michael Powell, who directed The Edge Of The World (1937), a dramatised account of the evacuation of St Kilda that was actually shot on Foula. Interviewed last year by Mark Kermode - who is co-curator of Shetland's annual film festival, ScreenPlay - Mr Scorsese explained his admiration for Powell's work and related how he rescued Peeping Tom (1960), a Powell masterpiece that was panned by critics when originally released.

It's hoped that Mr Scorsese will decide to make the trip to Shetland. Kathy Hubbard of Shetland Arts told the Shetland Times that 'we'll have to make sure he knows about ScreenPlay and that we let him know how very welcome he would be here.'

Blog Of The Month

For our blog this month, we meet up again with poet Jen Hadfield, whom we featured some time ago on these pages. Jen has lived in Shetland for more than five years and, in 2008, won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry. She was recently appointed Reader in Residence at the Shetland Library and she explains what that involves. We hope you enjoy it.

Once again, from all of us at Promote Shetland, very warmest good wishes for Christmas and New Year.

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