The vacant Skeld Smokehouse buildings are to be leased to an entrepreneur who quit his job as an accountant and moved to Shetland last year to establish his own cheese-making business.
Councillors made the decision in favour of Jay Hawkins’ firm Shetland Cheese Ltd. behind closed doors at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday. It was announced publicly on Thursday.
In a statement the council’s head of economic development Neil Grant said: “[Mr Hawkins’ firm had] provided a comprehensive and well-researched business plan that fitted well with the original intended purpose of the Skeld Smokehouse buildings as a location for high quality food production.”
A community-backed steering group hoping to turn the factory into a shop and cafe/restaurant complex had been named by West Side councillor Gary Robinson earlier in the year as “possibly the frontrunner” to take over the buildings.
In his statement Mr Grant said this other group would be encouraged to realise their ambitions for a “multi-purpose community hub” at a location elsewhere in Skeld, using national grant aid schemes to “achieve a purpose-built solution to their objectives”.
Mr Hawkins arrived from Bedfordshire with his wife Dilys Evans and their two sons last September. He registered his firm and put in place an arrangement with Shetland Farm Dairies to supply the milk he needs for his enterprise.
He lives in Twatt, Bixter, where he has since been working on basic recipes for artisan Shetland-flavoured cheeses made using traditional techniques, including a cheddar-style product and a creamy brie-type. He hopes to sell both in the isles and on the mainland.