Shetland should become a European “island of culture” to unite the population and showcase its assets.
That is the vision of Busta House Hotel proprietor Veronica Rocks, who spoke about the idea at Shetland Museum and Archives last night.
The possibility of Shetland being highlighted in this way stemmmed from the concept of cities being named capitals of culture, and Mrs Rocks said Shetland, with so much to offer and a “never-ending feast” of events, was already “halfway there”.
At present, she said, the isles were in a period of uncertainty, poised somewhere between hope and fear – hope from oil and gas developments, and fear with council cutbacks.
But Shetland has so much going for it, she said, with the biggest oil terminal in Europe on the doorstep and 2013 seeing the biggest growth ever in the oil and gas industries.
In a different area, she said that Shetland had recently been named as the European Community of Sport, but “we didn’t know” about it as not enough fanfare had been made. Events such as the island games already gave Shetland a platform to be an island of culture, but all aspects of culture would have to be brought together.
And the concept would need a “hook”, such as inviting Olympic medallists Chris Hoy and Andy Murray as ambassadors to Shetland. “They should come up here”, Mrs Rocks said. “That’s their job.” She named other ambassadors as naturalist Simon King, novelist Ann Cleeves and film critic Mark Kermode, and mentioned the more quirky areas in which Shetland had benefited recently.
She said 3 Mobile, which made the advert with the dancing pony, could be approached for sponsorship of the island of culture idea and ideas such as the pony in the Shetland jumper should be tacked onto a campaign.
But it was important, indeed vital, that any idea of a campaign for an island of culture should come from the grass roots, and cited Living Lerwick, as a good example. This has united the business people of the town centre to promote the area, with considerable success.
Mrs Rocks was speaking at the occasion of a return visit to Shetland of Dr Michael Kelly, the man behind the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign.
His slogan had been vital in that campaign and Mrs Rocks had devised her own, as a suggestion: <i>Shetland’s For Sharing</i> – referring to the links to be made within the isles and externally.
The year of culture Glasgow had enjoyed had created civic pride and vastly improved Glasgow’s image, Dr Kelly said. The same could happen in Shetland, but the initiative must come from the private sector and the community.
Joe Rocks of the Busta House Hotel said that council imposition had often been the “death knell” of projects, and councillor Alastair Cooper said that this had been the biggest failure of the council over the last 30 years.
However Dr Kelly said the council, with its expertise, could provide leadership for a project, and he had already been impressed with Shetland’s private sector on his previous visit. He also remarked on the fact that Sullom Voe Terminal had “wanted to be involved in a community campaign”.
Leadership and funding were vital for a campaign, but it must be based on facts, itemising Shetland’s selling points – these could be the “happiness index”, in which the isles fared well, and areas such as the amount of leisure or life expectancy.
Long-term, he said, in a idea that has often been aired by the council, the isles need more people of working age. This number is at present “dangerously low”, and the isles need help in this area from the Scottish and UK governments to create infrastructure, including housing.
It is a “big jump” from civic pride to sustainable population growth, he said, but it could be achieved.