Shetland College welcomed a royal visitor this morning when Princess Anne returned to the isles to officially open the new college extension.
SIC convener Malcolm Bell, along with Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott, were among those lined up at the entrance to welcome the Princess Royal.
Her Royal Highness took a tour of the new £4.5 million extension which includes a new library and computer suite, internet cafe and construction department.
The extension has been built with money from Shetland College UHI with help from Shetland Islands Council, European Regional Development Fund and the Scottish Funding Council.
This afternoon she has been attending a Shetland College UHI graduation ceremony and the University of the Highlands and Islands Foundation Day at Mareel.
She was followed by trail of photographers, press and officials, with chairman of the Shetland College Board, Peter Campbell and acting principal Irene Peterson leading the way.
While in the library Her Royal Highness chatted to Mr Campbell about the college and its history and looked at a presentation of photos and newspaper cuttings, documenting the life of the college since the 1960s.
In the art department she stopped to speak to students about their projects before later visiting the textile department where she met textile technician Eric Stewart by the knitting machines and Fair Isle jumpers.
Mr Stewart said he had “ a very interesting chat” with Princess Anne, who asked him about Shetland knitwear, and whether it was still being made in the isles.
She asked how it compared to other types of knitwear in the UK and he explained the history of some of the textile students at the college.
She had visited Hawick, where Mr Stewart was from, he said and she had visited many of the knitwear shops there.
“It was lovely to meet her, it was the first time I’ve met her, other than seeing her at Murrayfield at the rugby and that was at a distance.”
Following the tour, Mr Campbell addressed a large audience, including college students which had assembled in the canteen, ready for Her Royal Highness to unveil a commemorative plaque.
“This is a very special occasion for us and we are very privileged to have the Princess Royal, the chancellor of the University Highlands and Islands to be with us today,” he said.
Princess Anne praised the new extension and said: “You can only do so much with facilities, you really do need for people to take up the challenge both as staff and tutors as well as students to come forward and make use of those facilities.
“I hope many of you will find that this is a logical first step, a continuing step, and maybe its a place that you feel comfortable coming back in throughout your careers, whatever those might be, or maybe even a change of career, but the opportunities are here in Shetland to stay in Shetland and do exactly that.
“There are plenty of opportunities here as I know, and I’ve met quite a few of you here who are taking full advantage of the courses, with support from your families and parents, but also from the staff who are here.
“It’s a pleasure to be able to see the facilities and meet so many of you, and wish this building well in providing what is needed here in Shetland through the college and and its other centres to support its students,” she said.
She added: “It’s a real pleasure to officially declare open what seems to be open and working rather well.”
Afterwards Mr Campbell said it was an important day for the college as well as UHI.
The new extension links to the two college buildings which means students no longer need to cross the road, added Mr Campbell.
Everyone was now in one area, and he he said: “It will help to create a sense of community in the college, which I feel has been somewhat lacking.”
The college is looking to develop new courses, he added and said there was the potential to look beyond local construction industry – such as playing a role in renewable energy, decommissioning and oil and gas engineering.
The final cost of the extension is yet to be calculated, said Mr Campbell, but will be “very close” to the projected budget.
• For more on the college, including an interview with acting principal Irene Peterson, see Friday’s Shetland Times.