The Swan Trust has gained a £3,000 windfall thanks to the efforts of West Side school pupils – but warnings have been made the organisation is heading through unchartered waters because of funding cuts.
Fears have even been voiced that the historic sail training ship Swan may end up being sold or tied up.
The cash donation was made by youngsters from Aith Junior High School who proved victorious in a Youth Philanthropy Initiative event (YPI). That saw the pupils present their case for their chosen charity to a judging panel.
The Swan Trust suffered significant funding gaps following moves by Shetland Charitable Trust to tighten its belt.
That has left those behind the vessel with a headache. Running costs range from between £90,000 to £100,000 a year.
The Swan is only operational for a limited season as well.
Now trustees are looking into accessing lottery funding to help keep Shetland’s only existing Fifie on the go.
Swan Trust vice-chairman Tommy Allan said he was grateful for the donation.
He said: “It really is excellent news, and what’s good about it is it’s a bunch of young folk who have been on the Swan and have shown enough faith in the Swan, and they have nominated us for this money.
“It’s from the young folk of Shetland, particularly the Aith school, to the Swan and we’re very pleased to get the money.”
Trustee Melanie Henderson said problems lay on the horizon.
“Our grant funding we’ve had for many years now is being reduced and it’s causing a lot of pressure on our finances at the moment,” she said. We have quite a lot of running costs and a short season to gain any income for the boat, so it really is putting us under all sorts of pressure.
“We really are looking at all sorts of ways to make up the shortfall that we’ve got to try to keep the boat running. It’s known in an international sense now with its participation in the Tall Ships. It’s a vital asset for Shetland and definitely an ambassador.
“We would hate to see the boat lost for any reason, and we are facing that situation at the moment where if we don’t make up that shortfall we are going to have to make some tough decisions on whether we continue operating.”
Mr Allan said the prospect of the Swan sailing one last time out the South Mouth or being “parked up next to the museum” was real.
“We want to keep it going as a living, breathing forward-looking project that involves life and young folk in particular,” he said.
“The reality is if we can’t afford to keep it going then we have to consider all these options. And one of the options is if we simply can’t afford to do it then we would just have to sell the boat, and that would be a really sad day for Shetland.”
• See tomorrow’s Shetland Times for full story