“This is the beginning of the next step of our journey,” said councillor Rick Nickerson at the opening of Saturday’s Shetland South Vision conference at Sandwick School.
Entitled “The Way Forward”, the conclusions of the conference were not only the culmination of a nine-month consultation process, during which residents and professionals met at different venues to discuss issues affecting South Mainland and Fair Isle – they were also a strategy for building on the achievements of Ness 2000, an earlier consultation exercise.
The development and project plan drawn up by Ness 2000 resulted in some very positive innovations, which have enhanced life in south Shetland ever since. They include the Ness Learning Centre, the South Mainland Ranger Service, developments at Sumburgh Lighthouse and the Scatness dig.
Shetland South Vision has benefited from the information and actions taken as a result of Ness 2000, and has gone on to encompass a wider geographical spread.
Mr Nickerson’s introduction was followed by a speech from MSP Tavish Scott. He said that he has learnt a lot from reading the documentation that the consultation has put together, and from attending the meeting in Fair Isle, and that he was impressed by the range of organisations that have been involved in Shetland South Vision.
Mr Scott believed that education was going to be one of the most important national issues in the coming years, and warned that the allocation of funds all round was going to become harder as money got tighter. Because of that he asked people to consider how they could ensure that public money was used most effectively.
A statement was read out on behalf of Jonathan Emptage, chairman of the South Local Service Delivery Group (LSDG), a body of people from different organisations who seek to influence and plan for future services provision.
In answer to the question as to whether the South Vision exercise will make a difference, Mr Emptage said he would like to think that the information gathered would “provide those people who make decisions on our behalf with guidance to reflect on what’s important and needed for the future well-being of the Shetland South area. If that happens then it will have been worthwhile and will make a difference”.
Those attending the conference then spent the rest of the morning participating in two workshops they chose from a selection of five, all devoted to topics which had been discussed during the months of consultation.
As well as commenting on issues already raised, and bringing up others which might have been overlooked, the aim of these workshops was to initiate an action phase, and to be the point at which the conclusions arrived at were translated into practical plans.
The turnout was good and the number of concerned and informed individuals present made for lively and informative discussions.
During one of the workshops on agriculture and the environment folk talked about better use of arable land, their fears that small producers were losing out to the big farms, and the viability of crofting life. There were worries that crofting land was being lost to housing, and that young people were not going into crofting.
People also came up with ideas for ways in which local food could be marketed, both in Shetland and outwith, and there was enthusiasm for the idea of a Shetland label.
In terms of the environment, a need was perceived for preparing for climate change, and also to see conservation, not in a vacuum, but as part of a whole package including such economic factors as tourism.
A dark skies policy when it came to street lighting met with a lot of approval, and it was suggested that street lights might be put out after a certain time of night, with the additional benefits that this would save money and energy.
In the afternoon session of the conference the proposed plan of action was put forward for each of the issues that had been looked at during the morning. In the case of agriculture and the environment it was suggested that a co-operative approach should be brought to the selling and marketing of local produce, in order to make it more available to local people.
To that end it was proposed that a local food group should be set up, and a website where producers could inform potential customers of their current stock. In order to protect the marine environment it was seen as necessary to lobby politicians to make sure that the right measures were put in place.
A representative from Fair Isle had a lot of useful things to say at one of the workshops on economic development, tourism, culture and heritage. On the issue of promoting arts and crafts he cited Fair Isle’s successful use of open workshops so that people can see things being made.
Fair Isle, he said, was in the enviable position of having an excessive demand for its products. Given that South Mainland had some of the most visited tourist and heritage attractions in Shetland, it seemed to many that there was an opportunity for a joined-up approach, linking attractions and craft producers, and having a policy that every individual involved should draw attention to what the others have on offer.
Suggested ways forward were to promote South Mainland’s distinctive historical heritage, in particular aspects of it which are less well known, such as its significance during World War II. The possibility was raised that a development group could be set up for the purpose. It was also agreed that it would be a good idea to produce a South Mainland visitors’ map.
Practical help suggested for micro businesses included local banking facilities, and making resources such as photocopying, already available to community groups, available to businesses too. There was enthusiasm for the idea of starting a South Mainland farmers’ market.
Extending the facilities of the Fair Isle surgery was seen as a priority by the workshops on health and social care. Given Shetland’s high suicide rates, promoting community involvement in mental health was also considered important.
Feedback had consistently indicated that elderly or ailing people want to be able to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, and aiding them to access the help that is available to facilitate this was considered vital.
In terms of lifestyle, it was thought that the facilities and events offered by clubs and halls, which do so much to aid people’s wellbeing, might be put on a community website, and that measures should be taken to encourage participation in sports and exercise.
An overall outlook was asked for when it came to the conclusions of the workshops on housing and planning, with a variety of factors being taken into account. These would include employment opportunities to bring young people into the area, the desire for decentralisation, and a demand for small rather than large new developments, sited around already-existing services. Planning ahead was viewed as key, and should involve an assessment of the likely future effects of development on services, and the provision of leisure facilities such as youth clubs.
There is a high uptake for learning opportunities in Shetland South, so the action plan resulting from the workshops on education and learning largely advised building on what is already in place. Parents’ existing involvement with educators could be an opportunity to offer them help with subjects such as IT, so they can better support their children’s learning.
Ideas were raised about inter-generational education, including adopting a grandparent, and younger people teaching adults about Twitter. As in the case of health provision, the need to make folk aware of the facilities available was highlighted.
The conference and the entire South Vision consultation have accumulated a vast amount of data, which will now be analysed by the LSDG. They will then draw up an action plan, to be published by the end of March.
Given the enormous amount of selfless work that so many dedicated individuals have put into Shetland South Vision, it is impossible not to believe that many very good things will come out of it. Not only those of us living here today, but our children and grandchildren owe them a big debt of gratitude.
To comment on anything concerning Shetland South Vision contact Stephen Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen heads south
Virkie resident and RSPB warden Helen Moncrieff is attending a wildlife sound recording course in Norfolk this week.
Working with a professional sound recording specialist, she will be looking at the latest recording systems, learning about quality control and doing practical work on the north Norfolk coast, which will then receive critical feedback. She will also be spending some time with pals in Suffolk.
Helen said: “I’m really looking forward to it. To catching up with my old friends, walking in woodlands, and visiting English country pubs.”
Boating club party
Ness Boating Club’s Christmas party, prize draw and dinner dance is due to take place on Saturday 12th December at 7pm for 7.30pm, but tickets must be reserved by Tuesday and folk are advised to book early in order to avoid disappointment.
Call Sonny Flaws on (01950) 460622. The price is £12 for members and £15 for non-members and both are welcome. The event promises to be fun-packed, and will include music from the popular Cullivoe Dance Band, so folk will be stepping out to the sounds of piano, accordion, drums and fiddle.
There are 20 or more prizes in the draw, tickets for which are available from the boating club or from local shops. Members are requested to return draw tickets before 12th December.
Since September budding William Wordsworths and JK Rowlings have been meeting at Ness Learning Centre for creative writing classes run by Hazel Bairnson.
The students began by looking at different types of poetry, with folk bringing along works by their favourite poets and listening to recordings of them reading.
Now they are moving on to the short story, using a range of exercises designed to help master the various aspects of prose fiction. One of these is free writing, a technique used to generate ideas, overcome nerves and build confidence, which requires the students to write continuously for a set period of time in response to a stimulus such as a picture or a headline.
Class members also receive feedback and comments on what they have written during the sessions or at home. “I encourage people to enjoy their writing, and not to be afraid to have a go or to share it with the group,” says Hazel. “At present everyone is working well together and really getting into it.”
Ness Learning Centre offers courses in a range of subjects, many of which are due to start up in the new year. For more information call (01950) 460901.
Family night out at Virkie
For a fun night out head to the Bruce Memorial Youth and Community Centre tonight, to enjoy a Christmas family dance. The event lasts from 7.30pm to 9pm with live music, a raffle and refreshments. Entry is £5 per family and all are welcome.
Bairns’ Christmas parties
Members of the Sandwick Social Club have until tomorrow to register the names of their children on the list in the public bar if they wish them to attend the Christmas parties, both of which take place on Wednesday 30th December.
The party for the under-fives is from 2pm to 3.30pm and the one for 10s and under is from 4pm to 5.30pm. There will be games, refreshments and singing, and it is just possible that a certain rotund personage will take some time off from putting his feet up after a very busy period, in order to attend.
Members should also note that they can now renew their membership for 2010, at a cost of £10 per member.