Heritage leaders hope to open some of Shetland’s cultural sites as early as June after admitting they may have been “overly pessimistic” about the lasting impact of Covid-19.
Shetland Amenity Trust said recent government announcements had left it “cautiously optimistic” that some services could resume this summer – rather than the October date previously suggested.
Sites such as the Shetland Museum and Archives have been closed since March while all of the trust’s events scheduled for this year including Da Voar Redd Up, Shetland Boat Week, Nature Festival and Wool Week have been cancelled due to Covid-19.
The trust’s chief executive Mat Roberts said his team had been seeking guidance from professional bodies about how to open some sites while complying with social distancing.
Speaking after the trust’s latest “virtual board meeting”, held this morning (Friday), Mr Roberts said similar strategies to those adopted by supermarkets could be implemented, such as one way systems, card payments, and a strong focus on hand washing and hygiene.
He also said that with little prospect of tourists visiting in the immediate future, the trust expected its customers would be Shetland folk to begin with.
“Our market for the next 12-18 months is largely going to be the 23,000 people who live here,” Mr Roberts added.
“We know we have a very loyal market base and we are very grateful for that – we need to make sure we continue to serve and sustain that.”
There are no plans to reinstate the cancelled events before next year.
The trust has furloughed 32 of its staff, which accounts for most of its workforce, but hopes they can return ahead of the reopening.
“I want to welcome all of the staff who have been furloughed back, because we need these people to provide services to the people of Shetland,” Mr Roberts added.
However, the trust has warned that despite its hopes for an earlier reopening, it still faced uncertainty over its finances.
“We are facing very significant financial challenges because we’ve seen a large amount of commercial income disappear overnight,” he added.
“We won’t see the full impact of Covid-19 until the end of the financial year.”
The trust has made applications to various national funding bodies, but has yet to hear any news.
Mr Roberts said that with its commercial activities generating more than £200,000 last year, it left a “very large gap to fill”.
However, he said there had been encouraging support from its lighthouse holidays and camping bod guests – around half of whom have opted to roll over their bookings rather than cancel.
Once the trust starts to reopen its sites and services, Mr Roberts said it would begin looking at the “revive” phase of the process.
Having changed its practices during lockdown, he said there would be opportunities to continue with the lessons learned.
Mr Roberts said the online activities and quizzes had proved very popular – and the trust would also look at its travel and working from home policies.
He said the revive phase would not be about seeking to be “bigger and better” but rather “fresher and more relevant”.
Although he has revised some of his earlier pessimism, Mr Roberts said he still remained very cautious about the future.
“We really don’t know who the future holds,” he said.
“There’s so little certainty about what might happen. “