Excitement is mounting up on Staney Hill for the big day when the people vote on how to spend £40,000 in the community. Next Saturday in the Shetland Hotel promises to be an entertaining day out with music, food and a flavour of the nail-biting drama of the X Factor as 14 different groups audition for a slice of the cash.
The event represents an experimental new way of bringing communities closer together to tackle the issues that really matter to the locals and for them to take action themselves the way they want to, rather than relying on outside organisations.
Already the enthusiasm for Wir Community, Wir Choice, promoted by the council and North Staney Hill Community Association, suggests it could catch on in other parts of Shetland with interest already in places as diverse as Mossbank and Gulberwick.
Among the hopefuls up for a share of the cash next Saturday is a plan to help young people starting out with their first tenancies by teaching them how to decorate and do DIY jobs in their new homes. The cleverly named Fab Pad workshops would spend £5,200 helping the tenants make their homes feel like their own while also hopefully encouraging them to look after the properties better.
There is a bid in from the Staney Hill Cafe which hopes to expand on the Sunday lunches currently provided in the hall for people with drug and alcohol problems by running a twice-weekly drop-in cafe during evenings, costing a grant total of £5,650.
Another group wants to spend £6,500 on the Staney Hill hall to equip it with computers, broadband and the gear needed to have film nights, perhaps for the older generation.
Each of the 14 groups will get three minutes to put their case in the Shetland Hotel before the Staney Hill residents present are asked to cast their votes, ranking the projects from one to 14 in order of preference.
During the vote-counting there will be music from Sheila Henderson and friends plus free grub. The event will run from 11am to 2.30pm. A crèche and transport are available with details included in a newsletter being sent out this weekend.
Wir Community, Wir Choice is a first for Shetland and one of only five pilots in Scotland aimed at improving community life. The woman behind it, Maggie Dunne, the council’s environmental health manager, applied for the funding from the Scottish government, her department and the EU Leader fund. Having worked closely on the project she is convinced the concept, with its grassroots democracy in action, is a winner.
She told The Shetland Times: “It’s not normal for the council to engage with communities in this way, spending time with them finding out what life’s like for them and then supporting them to make improvements themselves. It’s just a really different way of working.”
In fact through the process of working closely with the local people she has emerged as a big enthusiast for this often-maligned northern part of Lerwick, her old prejudices having been swept away quickly and absolutely. In her line of work she had associated the area with complaints about noisy neighbours.
“I would have said the biggest problem in Staney Hill was noise because we used to get two or three complaints every week, even five or six in a weekend. Yet a community consultation that we did made it quite clear that the best thing about living in Staney Hill was how quiet it was and that it has the best parts of living in the town and the country.
“It’s made me realise that one of the reasons people do complain about noise at Staney Hill is because it is so quiet. When you go and stand in Staney Hill you only hear sheep and birds and therefore somebody with a window open and a CD player can create a lot of noise in such a quiet community.”
The 14 projects in with bids for the £40,000 next Saturday also include ideas for improving voluntary clubs or toddler groups and for planting shrubbery and other foliage to enhance the area.
● the organisation Bridges offering to put on music workshops, cooking sessions, games nights and other social evenings for young people who are in need of a bit of support;
● Parenting workshops to teach skills like baby massage, cooking and children’s games;
● Over-50s activities such as arts and crafts and gentle exercises;
● Developing a community garden on the site of the old multicourt;
● Buying musical instruments for a children’s club and running a series of African drumming classes.
In total the bids add up to £44,768 so up to five groups could be unsuccessful when the votes are counted.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott will be on hand to present the cheques to the successful groups and if all goes well the people of Staney Hill may find themselves an inspiration for funding organisations and a trailblazer for small communities everywhere.