Fresh calls for rethink over AHS hostel’s name

The row surrounding the naming of the new high school hostel has been reignited, with renewed calls for the council to bow to public opinion and name the new build after popular former warden George McGhee.

Former hostel resident Peter Gear, now of Bell’s Road in Lerwick, has written to The Shetland Times in a bid to have the halls named after the now retired housemaster.

“George McGhee is unquestionably one of our most well-respected and hardworking public servants, and there is clearly a great deal of support for honouring him in this way,” Mr Gear states.

The previous council’s education and families committee found itself in hot water when it decided to dismiss consultation carried out over the naming of the new hall of residence.

Despite sweeping an SIC poll with 44 votes – over half the 80 cast and the overwhelming favourite – the idea of using Mr McGhee’s name was binned in favour of the more prosaic Anderson High School Hall of Residence.

The then education and families committee chairwoman, Vaila Wishart, argued against using Mr McGhee’s name because the former warden was “still with us”.

But those on the other side of the fence argue the precedent of naming buildings after people who are still alive has already been set.

An online petition gained 750 signatures in favour of the George McGhee name.

Mr Gear’s call has gained the support of North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson, who says this is one u-turn Shetland Islands Council can afford to make.

He hopes to raise the matter before the education and families committee in December – ahead of a planned official opening of the new school in 2018.

“There is an ongoing strength of feeling in the community that they still see as an issue,” he said.

“It went out to consultation and the public gave their opinions on the matter and the public were ignored.

“There are certain situations where the council has to make unpopular decisions and the public doesn’t have any say on it. This was not one of those situations. This was an unpopular decision. Many unpopular decisions fade away in time but this one certainly hasn’t.”


There is an ongoing strength of feeling in the community that they still see as an issue. RYAN THOMSON


He described Ms Wishart’s assertion that a building should only be named after a dead person as “nonsense”.

He cited the Hendra and Edward Thomason House as each named after living retired public servants.

Nationally, he pointed to the Chris Hoy Velodrome, too.

“This idea that buildings can only be named after people who have passed away is nonsense.

“We have a duty to listen to the people and when the public opinion is so strong, we have a duty to represent that view.

“This goes far beyond the naming of the hostel. I think this goes into the councillors listening to the public.

“Given what the council is dealing with at the moment, I know many people will see this as a relatively trivial matter. But we have a duty to listen to the public, gauge their opinions and represent their views.”

New education and families committee chairman George Smith said he had not received any correspondence on the matter. But he said the door was still open to have the decision reconsidered.

“The standing orders of the council allows any decision of the council to be revisited.

“If there was a notice of motion that came to the council that we should reconsider a name or propose a different name then the council would be obliged to consider that.”

Asked for his view on the name chosen for the halls, he said: “The committee made a decision, rightly or wrongly. It made a decision and that is the name we have.

“They [campaigners] could get councillors to raise it as a notice of motion.”

However, the man at the centre of the storm was reluctant to be drawn on the debate.

Mr McGhee said he would be “delighted” to see the halls named after him. But he insisted he would respect whatever decision was made.


Add Your Comment
  • Janice Pottinger

    • October 4th, 2017 21:54

    Why don’t SIC put the naming of the student’s accommodation to the vote of everyone who is/has been a resident or employee at the hostel?

    It is after all the home from home of all the bairns who have been wrenched from the bosum of their parents at a young, vulnerable age to spend the majority of their year in the town. It has NOTHING to do with anyone else who might FEEL they should have an opinion.

    I’d bet that the hands down winning choice would be George McGhee – he’s lived and breathed the hostel (or halls) for the majority of his life. Was (is) an example and a lifelong friend to all. You won’t find any ex-residents walking past him on the street or in Tescos, and he’s never too busy to pass the time of day (even if he really IS too busy).

    Respect, Mr McGhee. No matter what the good old Shetland Islands Council think, you’re the real winner in my eyes!!!

  • stella smith

    • October 4th, 2017 22:44

    I read this & think of my late father in law, Bill Smith for the years he fought to have a new school build, it was always his dream, to see our bairns in a good school, learning & moving forward in life, if anybody deserves to have a namesake, it’s him, because I still think the old AHS would have been patched up, without his dedication.

  • David Thomson

    • October 5th, 2017 12:41

    Stella I totally agree your late father-in-law strived all his days for education in Shetland. I put forward his name when the they asked for suggestions, as the hostel is also nearly on the door step of his former home.

  • John Tulloch

    • October 5th, 2017 14:41

    Stella and David, you’re right about Bill Smith. He was a huge champion of education, throughout his very long service as a councillor.

  • Brian Smith

    • October 5th, 2017 17:56

    The best example of someone who gave his name to a building during his lifetime is of course Arthur Anderson. There are no rules about this sort of thing.

    155 years later, I think the school might be renamed the W.A. Smith High School, and the hostel the George McGhee Hostel: thus celebrating Bill’s years of public service, and George’s care for Shetland students.

  • Steven Jarmson

    • October 5th, 2017 20:16

    Why not keep one of the former names, The Bruce Hostel or Janet-Courtney Hostel?
    After all, the new school is keeping the Anderson High name, which I think is the right decision.
    I think any name for the new hostel is better than the current agreed name.
    My heaven’s, even the “Hostel McHostelface” sounds better!!

  • Peter Hamilton

    • October 6th, 2017 16:50

    Whilst I think George is a terrific man I totally agree regarding Bill Smith’s contribution being marked. Bill’s oft stated and often remembered maxim that public service was about, first and foremost, “looking after those that can’t look after themselves…” guided him to repeatedly to stand up for a manymore in Shetland than will ever know it, and inspired fellow councillors and council workers to do the same. I think it echoed Arthur Anderson’s “Do weel”, or “contribute to the common good” as it might be more plainly stated today.

    I remember being shocked in my twenties to hear Bill explain that the powers that be underspent on education purposefully because if enough folk properly understood the way things worked they would act to change them, but the more time has passed the truer it seems.

    Shetland College would serve folk better were it in the town. Maybe if it relocates into the old AHS site a new name for both it and the high school would be appropriate at that time. Failing that the new library might also bear a new name.

  • Jack Brunton

    • October 6th, 2017 19:55

    Is it just me or is this ongoing blah just a little bit boring.
    George Smith, in today’s paper, quite clearly clarifies what is required for a refreshed Council decision.

  • Elizabeth Morewood

    • October 7th, 2017 14:24

    Why not the Clickamin Hostel ? that is where it is. In choosing a personal name it would no doubt mean something to those who have been living there when Mr Macghee was in charge but what about those who were there earlier? __Never heard of him! Granted Janet Courtnay was the name chosen, and became known and easily explained in the future, because it belonged to the past, but the name of Mr Mcghee means little to most folk, only to those boys who had stayed there at his time.

  • John Irvine

    • October 8th, 2017 16:29

    I agree with you totally Brian, those are the 2 who deserve buildings names after them, Arthur Anderson has done his bit and has nothing at all to do with the new school.

    There is overwhelming support for the hostel to be named after Mr McGhee and not only does that come from parents but the pupils as well, this speaks volumes about the man.

  • John Irvine

    • October 9th, 2017 13:39

    Elizabeth…. best to know your facts before you comment.

    Girls and Boys have been in the same hostel now for many years under the leadership of George McGhee, there is no one more deserving of the honour of having a building named after them.


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