Plans unveiled for £1.3 million museum showcasing isles’ agricultural heritage
Shetland could play host to a new museum filled with artefacts showcasing a rich agricultural heritage if enough interest is shown at a public meeting next week.
Plans have been drawn up for a £1.3 million development near Walster in Tingwall that might provide a new home for much of the island’s classic farming machinery and a base for people to learn more about how past generations worked the land.
Age-old tractors with skinny tyres and no cabs or creature comforts will be joined by other traditional implements like binders, gigs, old ploughs and harrows, once commonplace in any rural scene.
A smiddy, croft house and byre would also be on show to highlight the way life used to be, while a learning room would form part of the new building to keep visitors educated and informed.
Space would be set aside for material provided by the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale History Group.
The rear end of the building would form a workshop where implements can be stored and maintained before appearing themselves on display to help keep the public area looking fresh.
A 10-strong working-group has been looking into the proposals for the last three years, drawing up a feasibility study, consulting with the council’s planning department and appointing architects Redman and Sutherland to put the plans down on paper.
However they are keen to drum up extra interest before bidding for funding from the Big Lottery project and SRDP. A meeting has been planned for Wednesday night at the Tingwall Hall from 7.30pm to judge public opinion on the venture and draw volunteers into a new committee dedicated to making the museum a reality.
Chairman of the steering group Drew Anderson urged anyone interested in the proposals to attend.
“We must get support of the public because if we go to the Big Lottery that’s one of the first questions they are going to ask: ‘Does this community want this?’ “The public meeting is the crucial point. We need to have people at this meeting willing to take part in the project.”
Should the museum be built the simple if rather elegant building – penned by Redman and Sutherland’s Suzanne Malcolmson – will be filled with a host of old machinery currently buried away in sheds and warehouses.
The plans grew out of a desire to show off a collection owned by Jean Sandison, which filled a previous agricultural museum many years ago.
They quickly grew when it became clear other implements from a collection currently housed at Brindister, which has never before been on display, would also be available.
“The result of that was the project went from being reasonably small to very big. It’s a big job now with an extensive range of tractors and machinery and stationary engines,” said Mr Anderson.
He added it was important people were given the chance to learn how farming and crofting worked in years gone by.
“I was a farmer with my father for a lot of years and there is a lot of machinery that’s there that I used to work with, with my father. “Modern machinery is all electronic. There is very little done by hand. For me, personally, I think the generations to come need to ken where it all started.
“I just feel it’s a part of Shetland’s heritage that the younger generations should be made aware of.”
The idea first came from the late Alan Inkster when he was standing down from the community council for the area in 2006.
“He made the suggestion that somebody would need to look at the possibility of getting Jean Sandison’s collection back on public display. We got a group of folk together and set up a steering group to see what we could do,” said Mr Anderson.
From there, the committee has had to clear many hurdles – not least of which was consulting with Tingwall Airport, which lies close to where the museum could be.
However Mr Anderson said he was encouraged by the level of support he had heard over the last three years.
“It’s of great interest. I’ve been in several places down south and everybody I’ve spoken to thinks it’s a good idea. Everybody that we’ve spoken to about this – there is not one of them that has said ‘you’re wasting your time’. Everybody is enthusiastic, but that doesn’t write out cheques.”
Jim Sutherland, of Redman and Sutherland, was similarly enthusiastic about the project. He drew parallels between the new museum and the Unst Boat Haven in Baltasound, which features a sloping beach-like interior.
“The new building is just as simple as it can be. It’s a fairly big shed but we’re trying to make it a slightly more elegant shape. The floor will be set out with different finishes so it defines the walk-way. There will be a gravel area for the tractors to sit on.”
Assuming the plans generate enough support and there are no hiccups, it could be attracting visitors to its shiny new building within the next three years.