Crofter Agnes Leask from Weisdale says she was “gobsmacked” to be included in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for services to crofting in Shetland.
Mrs Leask, 78, has been awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal). The award recognises her longstanding work in promoting, encouraging and developing crofting in Shetland for more than 50 years.
Mrs Leask, who has lived on her croft in Cott since 1958 and still does all her own work, is still finding it hard to believe she has been honoured in this way.
She said: “Why me? I’m just an old crofting wife – other Shetlanders are more deserving than me, I’m still pinching myself. The only other prizes I’ve won are for my show dogs in the country shows.”
Nevertheless the work she has done representing Shetland in crofting circles has been acknowledged. She was a founder member of the Crofting Federation (CF), formerly known as the Crofters’ Union, and has been an active member of the Shetland branch since 1961. Throughout the past 50 years she has held posts including treasurer, vice-president and president.
Promoting high animal health has always been one of her priorities, and she supported the introduction of a health scheme in the 1980s. Through her involvement in the CF she was able to inform Shetland crofters of the importance of obtaining this high health status which adds value to stock when sold on the mainland. In addition she worked with a vet to devise a scheme which was funded by the local authority for promoting Shetland livestock. Thanks to this scheme Shetland is the only location in Scotland free from sheep scab, which is an excellent achievement for a location with 125,000 sheep.
She said: “I argued strongly for having a mart together with a slaughterhouse so that our animals could be taken straight there with just one mode of transport.”
Another Shetlander, Eileen Moir, has been awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to nursing.
Mrs Moir, the daughter of Jimmy and the late Elsie Watt of Staneyhill, Lerwick, started her career as a nursing auxiliary in the Gilbert Bain Hospital in 1974.
She rose to become nurse director for NHS Quality Improvement for Scotland, one of the top posts in the country, and believes that starting at the bottom “kept my feet on the ground.” She said: “I didn’t lose touch with what matters to patients.”
Mrs Moir, 54, went away for training in 1975 and since then has worked at every level in the profession, including ward sister. After some time in mental health she moved into caring for people with dementia and later went into management.
After spending 18 years in Aberdeen she was promoted to director of nursing with NHS Borders in 2001 – she is still based in the area but works across Scotland – and in 2007 became nurse director for NHS Quality Improvement for Scotland. This gave her the opportunity to study and she took a master’s degree in management with Robert Gordon University. She also gained a scholarship with the Florence Nightingale Foundation and studied in New Zealand and South Africa.
Mrs Moir’s latest move is to set up her own business, which she did in April, as a specialist and coach in “designs and dialogue for improvement” within the health service.
She said: “My particular passion is for improving services for the old and vulnerable, and this [business] enables me to help health and social care organisations to improve their services.
“I’ve had some fantastic opportunities working for the NHS and I’m able to use those skills in putting something back. I work with people to help them identify the gaps [in their knowledge] and work out how best to address them, and helping health professionals have the right conversation with staff.”
Mrs Moir believes her success is largely thanks to her Shetland upbringing.
She said: “It has had a significant influence on the way I live my life and I’m deeply proud of my origins. Island life is a great equaliser of communities and has laid the foundation for how I approach leadership. I have deep respect for each individual’s identity and support their unique contribution to the whole.”
Her personal resilience also comes from her “stoic and calm” parents – her father is a former whaler – and she said she tries to emulate those qualities. She said: “In the busyness of the modern world it’s awful easy to forget to respect people, so you have to make an extra effort to make sure you keep that at your core.”
Mrs Moir feels “honoured in every sense of the word” to accept the OBE and pays a special tribute to her family, friends and colleagues who have supported her along the way.
She said: “Perhaps most significant of all is that it is deeply humbling to think that the OBE has been awarded for work that has been so personally rewarding.”