Community council asks to see junior Up-Helly-A’s equal opportunities policy

The junior procession at Lerwick. Photo: Kenneth Shearer

A challenge has been laid down for the organisers of Lerwick’s Junior Up-Helly-A’ to set out its policy on equal opportunities.

Until then, a funding application to cover rent due for ground on which the “Peerie Galley Shed” sits has been put on hold.

The event organisers were seeking £82.12 to cover costs. But on Monday evening Lerwick Community Council agreed to postpone a decision, amid concerns the voluntary group should adopt a more “progressive attitude”.

It comes against a backdrop of extensive debate over the role of women in Up-Helly-A’, and a recent opinion piece by Shetland Times columnist Helen Robertson, on the issue surrounding girls’ involvement in the junior fire festival.

Cash requests are regularly submitted to the town’s community council for the junior event, and a similar application – for £81.07 – was granted by members last year.

This time round a five-page application form was submitted. But member Andy Carter raised questions over the assertion on the form that the committee held “an approved equal opportunities policy”.

Mr Carter said: “Is there any way we could encourage this organisation to adopt a more progressive attitude to this issue. I ken it’s a bit of fun, but with what’s going on internationally, I wonder if it’s time to look at our own affairs.”

SIC councillor Allan Wishart said it was always possible that the committee would have a policy in place.

“Whether it’s mandatory, or followed, that’s another question,” he said.

Seconded Anderson High School pupil Eve Thomson was asked for her views. But she appeared to dismiss the concerns, insisting the flagship fire festival was not worth taking seriously.

“I’ve never felt oppressed in any way,” she said, when questioned by fellow members. “You can’t defend Up-Helly-A’. It is silly. And it is nonsense.”

Another member, former Lerwick Guizer Jarl Andy Johnson, was not in favour of seeing any differences between the Junior Up-Helly-A’ and the main event.

“The big one and the small one have to run together. One wouldn’t work without the other,” he said, later adding that the community council had decided long ago its contribution would be to pay the rent for the ground.

Brian Johnston wanted to get things moving. “We’re asked for assistance,” he said. “I think we could spend months discussing this.”

Vice-chairwoman Averil Simpson said the community council should have sight of the policy.

After some discussion a decision was made to hold over the application until the next community council meeting, by which time the equal opportunities policy should have been made available for scrutiny.

After the meeting Junior Up-Helly-A’ secretary Ian Spence said he held the equal opportunities policy, although he admitted he did not know whether or not it was up to scratch.

“It passed all the tests for getting lottery grants when we built the shed,” he said. “If they [the community council] don’t want to give us the money I’ll just pay it myself.”

Mr Spence insisted the determination to stick with the existing set-up had “nothing to do with lasses”. Rather, he said committee members felt better able to ensure safety if they worked with those who had a long-established involvement in the event.

“On the Hillhead on Tuesday night, you have to run a procession. And when you run a procession, you have to make sure that everybody there is totally safe.

“That is done by a whole community of folk. It’s done by men that come there and ken what they are doing. You end up with the thing
being as secure as you possibly can, that nobody gets hurt. If you can’t guarantee that happening … then you can’t have a Junior Up-Helly-A’.

“I don’t ken if I can get folk there if we change Up-Helly-A’, or if we get more numbers. We were struggling this year as it was.

“You needn’t take any Tom, Dick or Harry in there. It needs to be folk that really kens what they are doing. It’s nothing to do with lasses.”


Add Your Comment
  • Brian Smith

    • February 11th, 2017 9:05

    Ian Spence is like Theresa May. When you ask him a question he answers another one.

  • Michael Inkster

    • February 11th, 2017 9:19

    The Tom’s, Dick’s and Harry’s are OK though, aren’t they, but not, perhaps, the Theresa’s, Deborah’s and Hilda’s with Viking aspirations, even with a “policy” in place? Might even help boost numbers!? Just a thought.

    • Ian Tinkler

      • February 11th, 2017 13:05

      Theresa’s, Deborah’s and Hilda’s, they would be a hell of a lot more aesthetic to look at. But then I am just a misogynistic, non-PC type male. Apologies to the burn your bra brigade, both male and female!!

  • George Dickson

    • February 11th, 2017 12:09

    Will Lerwick Community Council do anything like this with regard to the main Up-Helly-Aa? I very much doubt it. No doubt the vast majority of male members of the Community Council take part in Up-Helly-Aa and prefer it to be predominately a single sex event.

    But they won’t admit it.

    • David Spence

      • February 12th, 2017 13:09

      Why should they, George ?

      When does a tradition not become a tradition for the sake of ‘ political correctness ‘ ?

      Any way, women do play a vital and important role to the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, as far as I can see.

      As the saying is ‘ If it ain’t broke, why fix it ? ‘ lol

  • John Inkster

    • February 12th, 2017 20:14

    As a child, I read that vikings were strong bearded men, who built wooden boats to sail all over the north Atlantic, colonising places including Iceland, Greenland and America. Now are we supposed to believe they were actually women?

    • Alan Leask

      • February 13th, 2017 10:00

      Yes, god forbid Up Helly Aa should lose its historical accuracy. Maybe the junior event should be scrapped altogether. I don’t suppose secondary 2 viking bairns could get time off school to join a raiding party.

    • Brian Smith

      • February 13th, 2017 13:26

      They dress up as women.

      • John Inkster

        • February 13th, 2017 23:12

        I thought the boys dressed up As Vikings.

    • Trondra Norquoy

      • February 9th, 2022 19:54

      Freydís Eiríksdóttir was a particularly bloodthirsty viking. The Greenlander’s Saga mentions her stay in North America, where she killed 5 people with an axe herself.
      She then threatened to kill anyone who mentioned her killings. However, word of the killings eventually reached Leif who had 3 men from her expedition party tortured until they confessed to her deeds.
      The Saga of Erik the Red portrays Freydís as a fearless Viking warrior, and tells of her bravery when her party in North America were attacked by what are now called natives (skraelings). Many of the viking men fled in terror but Freydis, 8 months pregnant and a strong and intimidating sight, picked up the dropped sword belonging to Thorbrand Snorrisson and, baring her breasts, beating the sword upon her chest and screaming in fury, she terrified the natives to such a degree that they fled in their boats, saying:
      “Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle?”

  • Margaret Gear

    • February 13th, 2017 10:03

    There are plenty references to Viking women warriors in the sagas. Think of Aud the Deep Minded? I would like to thank Ian Spence and everyone else who has put in the very many hours of work needed to make Lerwick UHA the fantastic event that it is. I can see his point that he needs folk who know what they are doing to make the event secure. When women have previously been barred from taking part they will not suddenly have the necessary experience. But thinking of succession planning, would opening up the junior UHA to both boys and girls not ensure that the best young people can learn how to do UHA in the future? Irrespective of gender?

  • Matthew Simpson

    • February 13th, 2017 10:24

    “You needn’t take any Tom, Dick or Harry in there. It needs to be folk that really kens what they are doing. It’s nothing to do with lasses.”

    How does folk know what they’re doing until they’ve been taught? How do you get new men in to help? Are there instructions to the procession that a women’s brain is inherently incapable of understanding? This entire line of thought makes no sense to me.

    “The big one and the small one have to run together. One wouldn’t work without the other,”

    Then perhaps we need to see the equal opportunities policy for the main procession too, to ensure that both processions are being as fair to everyone as possible.

  • ian tinkler

    • February 13th, 2017 11:30

    Without Viking women, the Vikings, they would have died out pretty quickly. George Dickson’s “single sex event” is not a lot of good for procreation!!

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 13th, 2017 12:00

    The main UHA does allow women members, they just don’t have any. This is the only way the organisation can be totally male but yet still be supported by the local authority.

    Im very surprised at the young lasses at the High School accepting this position. I mind seeing Eve Thomson with her mother in the audience at the Town Hall on the day her dad was in the Jarl squad and I remember thinking, now if this had been a country UHA she would have been in it, not just in the audience. And I imagine all the sons were.

  • Trondra Norquoy

    • February 9th, 2022 20:02

    Remember, “viking” is actually a verb, not a noun. It describes anyone who went “viking” (pronounced “veeking) which was a form of raiding, usually in the spring and then again in the summer.

    Other well known women vikings from the sagas include Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir the Far Traveller.

    Born in Iceland, she also travelled to Greenland, where she held a pagan ritual to banish the famine current there. She survived but her husband died and her next husband was Thorstein Karlsefni.

    This is important in viking history because it is recorded in the sagas that it was Gudrid who encouraged Karlsefni to make the journey to Vinland. Some think that the Saga of Erik the Red would be more aptly called Gudrid’s Saga as she is so central to it. She continued viking after the Vinland trip and travelled as far as Rome on occasion.

    Then theres all the records of viking burials of female warriors with their swords…


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