February 2009 Newsletter
Here is our newsletter from February 2009. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.
TS Eliot Prize Comes To Shetland
Jen Hadfield, who was born in Cheshire but has lived and worked in Shetland for four years, was crowned winner of what is widely regarded as Britain's most important poetry prize at a ceremony in London on Monday 12 January. Ms Hadfield's writing draws partly on inspiration from Canada; she is half-Canadian and has travelled extensively there. Her current work, though, is rooted in Shetland and reflects her experiences of the islands' environment and people. There's more about her work and the award on The Independent's website, or in this Guardian article.
On the BBC's Today programme website, you can listen to James Naughtie's interview with Jen on the morning after the ceremony.
...And Shetland Comes To London
If you happen to be in London on 13, 14 and 15 March, you can meet some of the Shetland.org team at an event called One Life Live, which runs at Olympia.
We have a special offer for you: when booking your tickets, just quote B46 and you'll be able to buy two tickets for just £22. So, please visit us on stand B46!
One Life Live is aimed at people who want to do something different with their lives: maybe a short break from routine, a big adventure or a completely new direction. Shetland.org has a stand and we'll be there to talk to you in person about life in Shetland, help with any questions you may have and amplify the information on the http://move.shetland.org website.
We'll have some special guests, too. Jen Hadfield will be reading some of her poetry and Shetland-based artist (and ex-Londoner) Roxanne Permar will be showing pictures of the islands and talking about life here. Jen and Roxanne will be in the Brighter Futures Theatre from 1440 until 1500 on Saturday 14 March and 1300 until 1320 on Sunday 15 March. We'll probably have a few Shetland tunes on our stand too.
New Shetland In Statistics Out Now
Anyone wanting to track down that vital piece of missing information about Shetland can probably find the answer in Shetland In Statistics, a booklet that has been published annually, for many years, by Shetland Islands Council. There's comprehensive data on Shetland's economy, population, weather, environment and much, much more. The 2008 edition has just been published and is available for download (as a .pdf file) from the Council's website, here.
Recession Yet To Bite In Shetland
Commentators have noted that the Shetland economy has not, so far, succumbed to the recession, attributing this partly to the health of some of the islands' main industries, especially fishing, and to the high proportion of jobs in the public or voluntary sector.
There is some evidence of a modest slowing in the housing market, mainly because of tighter restrictions on mortgage lending, but otherwise there is no real sign of any cutbacks. It's much too soon to say, though, whether this will continue to be the case.
The islands have substantial sums of money invested outside Shetland and returns on these investments are unlikely to be sustained at present levels, so some pain may eventually be felt. There's more on this on the BBC website.
Big Plans For Major Archaeological Site
Shetland has a very long list of archaeological sites; there's an excellent introduction to them in John Stewart's recent book, An Outline of Shetland Archaeology (ISBN-10: 095576422X or ISBN-13: 978-095576422).
One of the more recent discoveries is Old Scatness, which lies very close to Sumburgh Airport. The remains might have lain undisturbed for many more centuries had it not been for the construction of a new access road to the airport in the late 1970s, which revealed the existence of an Iron Age broch.
Brochs are circular towers, presumed to be well-defended homes, commonly found in Shetland, Orkney and north-west Scotland. The best surviving example is on the island of Mousa in Shetland, which lies about ten miles north of Old Scatness; it stands to around 13m high and is regarded by experts as virtually complete. However, the Old Scatness site doesn't only include a broch: there's a complete Iron Age village. At one point during the excavations, an archaeologist found that he had put his foot through the roof of an intact Iron Age house.
Over the last ten years, the site has been painstakingly excavated by teams involving local people and researchers from Bradford University. The Shetland Amenity Trust, which owns the site, has provided a small interpretative centre and, each summer, there are fascinating 'living history' sessions where you can see ancient crafts including weaving, carving and smelting practised. It has become clear that the site is the finest of its period in northern Europe and the Trust believes that it needs permanent protection and better visitor facilities. It's proposed that the entire site be enclosed within a partly-grassed dome-shaped roof, with much better visitor facilities than presently exist. You can read more about their plans here.
Innovative Film Gets Up Helly Aa Preview in Shetland
On the eve of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, a new British film was previewed in Shetland a day ahead of its national release. Faintheart is a romantic comedy that was born on the MySpace social networking site in collaboration with Vertigo Films and Film 4. Previously shown only at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival, the film was given free showings across Britain on January 27th and has been released on DVD. The making of the film was unusual because MySpace users were involved in many of the production decisions.
Faintheart explores the somewhat obscure world of Viking battle re-enactments, hence the (loose) connection with Up Helly Aa. Readmund the Just is Richard, a sales assistant who spends his spare time as a Viking warrior and who's rather more committed to that role than to his long-suffering wife, Cath, and family. She duly throws him out and begins seeing their son's PE teacher, prompting Richard to confront reality and, as the film's publicity puts it, 'discover the real warrior within'. The film stars Eddie Marsan, Jessica Hynes, Paul Nicholls and Ewen Bremner.
You can see the film's MySpace page, with the trailer, here. Reviews have been mixed; one took the view that the free showings were 'overpriced' and another that the film was 'well-meaning' but 'tedious in its own way'. You can read more about the background on the Guardian or Scotsman websites.
Shetland Company Among Those Winning Place At MIT, Boston
A Shetland web production company, NB Communication, was among six firms from the Scottish Highlands and Islands that recently had the opportunity to attend a week-long course on entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A further ten companies from elsewhere in Scotland were also included in the trip. David Nicol, who heads the Shetland business, said that the time was now right to win clients farther afield and that that would mean changes in marketing and sales, but that was 'a challenge we are ready for'.
Speaking on his return, Mr Nicol described the Boston experience as 'fantastic'. 'It was very intense', he said, 'but worth it.'
There's more about the programme of visits, which has been running for four years, on the website of HIE, which sponsored the trip.
Wireless Broadband To Serve Small Shetland Communities
With the backing of an investment of £100,000 from Shetland Islands Council, two of Shetland's smaller communities are to have the chance to connect to a new wireless broadband service operated by THUS, a subsidiary of Cable and Wireless. The Council already uses the THUS service to connect its own properties, for example schools and offices, and the new scheme is an extension of that network.
The new service will offer speeds of up to 2Mb, whereas the existing wired network has been available at around 0.5Mb and hasn't always been as reliable as users would wish. Businesses and households in the Vidlin area and on the island of Fetlar will be able to connect to the service this summer. The cost will be similar to existing broadband packages.
As we've noted, the Lerwick Up Helly Aa is over for another year,though there are still several more smaller fire festivals in other parts of Shetland between now and early March. On the morning of the Lerwick event, the weather was a little unpromising as spectators examined the Bill, a proclamation which pokes fun at local people and institutions, but by evening it was dry, with only the lightest of winds. The turnout of torch-bearing guizers and spectators was the largest for a number of years and the burning of the galley was, as ever, spectacular.