South Mainland Notebook

Supper dance

The Auld Yule Family Supper Dance at Gulberwick Community Hall tomorrow is open to Gulberwick folk of all ages, and is guaranteed to provide a way of burning off those Christmas calories that is much more fun than jogging or a work-out.

Music will be provided by the Alan Nicolson Band, well-known on the Shetland scene and also heard regularly on the BBC Radio Scotland programme Take The Floor, which showcases the pick of Scottish dance music.

The event starts at 8pm and costs £7 for adults and £3 for children. Pay at the door. There will be a sandwich supper and the bar will be open.

Toddler group re-starts

Gulberwick Toddler Group starts up again today after its Christmas break.

The group meets every Friday in Gulberwick Hall from 10am to 11.30am and costs £1.50 per family. For further information call Fiona Loynd on 07833 134380.

Interview with Tavish Scott

Just before Christmas I met up with MSP Tavish Scott, in order to discuss some of the issues, plans and events that will affect the South Mainland and Fair Isle during the new year and in the forthcoming decade.

I started by asking him what he thought about the renovation and development of the lighthouse and surrounding buildings at Sumburgh Head.

“I think what’s being created at the South End is very exciting for Shetland,” Mr Scott replied. “If you put Old Scatness, Jarlshof and the Sumburgh Head development together, then you have something very special indeed. It’s important that we try to build, reconstruct or recreate these kinds of community assets at the absolute top end of what can be achieved.

“We’ve always got to work hard on our ‘product’ in Shetland, and the Sumburgh Head development fits into that. It’s a fantastically exciting part of Shetland from a geographic, geological and wildlife point of view. It’s scenically very powerful. It ticks many boxes, but I think it’s all the stronger because of its ability to fit into a Ness day out for a visitor.

“If you take in the Crofthouse Museum, Quendale Mill, and the great beach as well, there are lots of interacting things to do.”

Continuing with the theme of tourism, I went on to ask Mr Scott what he felt about this year’s upcoming Hamefarin.

“Hamefarins are a part of appealing to Shetland’s diaspora,” he replied. “Not just from down under but from the west coast of Canada and from other parts of the world too.

“The potential to build Hamefarin is considerable. It brings back people who have impeccable Shetland connections, and that will feed out into a wider network of friends of Shetland.

“At a time of enormous economic change that wider circle of people who care about the islands is very important. You never know what someone may bring back or bring in.

“I think we maybe need to be a little cleverer about these economic links. When we encourage all our ex-pat Shetlanders to come home we must ensure that they have a great time while they are here, but also that any useful connections, which will help Shetland plc in the widest possible sense, are maximised.”

Mr Scott is enthusiastic, too, about the first South Mainland Up-Helly-A’, due to take place in March.

“It’s great that the south of Shetland has taken Up-Helly-A’ on,” he said. “It’s such an asset, and can be hugely advantageous in terms of community spirit and activity. Because it involves so many different people it’s a good social occasion. Young and old get involved, men and women, boys and girls: it’s a positive.

“I have read they are going to take it from district to district. That’s a clever idea, because it means a different part of the south of Shetland will be the figurehead for each year. That’s good thinking about how to make sure the festival continues. I’m sure it will go from strength to strength.”

Commenting on St Ninian’s Isle as a setting for the galley burning, Mr Scott said that it was about as good as it gets. “I think a lot of people will go there to watch it. If you get a nice evening it will look fantastic.”

Turning to other matters, I discussed with Mr Scott the issue of charging for parking at Sumburgh airport, something to which he is deeply opposed.

“We pay considerably to leave our islands at the moment,” he said. “If the airport were to introduce charges to park our cars that’s simply an extra tax on flying, and there are enough taxes on flying as it is.

“I also know, from my time as transport minister in the Scottish government, that we were able to find some extra money to give to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd to build that car park behind the terminal building. It wasn’t as if HIAL had to find it from within their own budget. That was additional grant money they got from central government.”

Mr Scott hopes that when he sees HIAL’s chairman, at a meeting at which he would like Dunrossness Community Council to be represented, he will be able to make it very clear that charging for parking is not acceptable.

“If there’s a sudden family bereavement on the mainland of Scotland or further afield, a person living in Shetland has no option but to jump on a plane and pay the full cost of going,” he said. “If you then have to pay for parking at the same time, what is the social justification for the imposition of that charge?”

Another issue I discussed with Mr Scott was the Fair Isle surgery, about which he admitted to feeling a sense of frustration.

“I’ve been asking the health board to commit to capital expenditure in Fair Isle for most of my time as an MSP,” he said. “I think they are closer to that now than they have been for some years, but what has been going on there has not been acceptable on clinical, never mind common sense, grounds, and it will be very important that the health board makes the financial commitment to support the Fair Isle community with the provision of a proper surgery and associated facilities.”

Mr Scott believes that Shetland needs to remember that it is made stronger by the strength of the periphery of the islands, and he sees this as a pivotal time for the centralisation debate, both in Shetland and across the UK.

“The council here has done a great job over many years in giving reasonable grants to community councils to spend locally,” he said. “If you face real financial pressure, that’s a key area to cut straight away, which is why I keep a close eye on it. It would be indicative of change if that was to come under any pressure.”

When I asked Mr Scott what he saw as the biggest challenges facing us in the new decade, the changed economic climate came up again.

With public money more difficult to access, he believes it will be harder in the south of Shetland, and across the islands, to maintain the standard of living that Shetlanders have got used to. As a consequence it will be vital to maintain and develop our community spirit, to make sure that people want to live in the outlying parts of the islands, and to give them the facilities that will allow them to do so.

“I think that would be a real big investment in the future,” Mr Scott said. “We move into the 21st century knowing that we live in a knowledge economy. Access to information, and the ability to use information, is how people will earn a living, and I really don’t see why someone living in Virkie should in any way be disadvantaged by the fact that they live there and not in Lerwick or in central London.”

Given all the great advantages we’ve got, such as good schools, a low crime rate and the natural environment, it is vital, Mr Scott maintains, that we keep the islands competitive.

Hopes for the future

As well as speaking to our MSP about the new year and new decade, I asked some folk who live and work in the South Mainland to tell me their plans, and what they hope the future will bring.

“I would like to see Shetland Amenity Trust’s two big projects, Sumburgh Head and Old Scatness, become a reality, and in turn encourage more locals and tourists to come to the area,” said Eleanor Pottinger, who works at Old Scatness. “It is important to preserve Shetland’s heritage and provide the public with access to it. These sites, when work is complete, would do that and, in the process, secure jobs.”

Pat Christie, who lives in Cunningsburgh, wears many different hats. During 2009 she was greatly involved in Shetland South Vision, as project co-ordinator.

“It was a genuine reaction to concerns about development in South Mainland,” she said. “An enormous amount of material was gathered, and this now needs to be analysed and actions prioritised. We will be working on a new version of the Community Profile and an Action Plan based on the findings of the consultation.”

As a community worker Pat will continue to help community groups, both large and small, during 2010. She also expects to be on a big learning curve when she starts working with the Skerries community in mid-January, and finding out about the issues they face.

Pat is also secretary of the Cunningsburgh History Group, and she can’t wait to get moved into their new building, which arrived at the end of last year.

“We are beginning to plan an opening event in the spring,” she told me. “And we hope to have everything up and running before the Hamefarers arrive in June. Organising the Hamefarin 2010 event will be one of our major tasks. Like many other South Mainland groups we hope to have displays and other activities ready for then. It will be an opportunity for us to work together and make the event one to remember.”

Another South Mainland resident for whom 2010 promises to be a memorable year is David Smith who will, in March, be Guizer Jarl for the area’s first Up-Helly-A’.

“I’d like there to be a successful first one that makes people want to come back for more in the future,” he said. “So I guess for the next decade I would like to see 10 South Mainland Up-Helly-A’s.”

Sumburgh RSPB warden Helen Moncrieff also has ambitions for the next 10 years.

“I hope that everyone in the last decade who said ‘I have never been to Mousa’ will be saying the opposite in 2010,” she said. “I also hope that every child born in this decade will have more than one experience with puffins and other seabirds at Sumburgh Head, and take full advantage of the redevelopment.

“I’d like to see families and individuals make more of the outdoors and fully appreciate the nature that is around them. And for people to take heed of warnings about climate change, and change their behaviour accordingly.

“Every year I hope for successful breeding seasons for our seabirds particularly. But who knows what will happen there?”

Cathy Feeny


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