Shetland Times Column 12 January 2024

12 Jan 2024

What better place to start the first working week of the New Year but standing literally at the top of the country - on Saxa Vord at arguably one of the best views in Shetland. There was a smattering of snow at the top last Thursday and the wintery weather made it all the more invigorating.

I was meeting with the Wild Skies committee following their Sky Trail project winning Scotland’s Regeneration Forum 2023 SURF Awards for Best Practice in Community Regeneration. The trail is run by passionate community volunteers in Unst who care about the natural wonders of their island and want to share its sights and sounds. I can highly recommend it no matter what time of year.

Saturday’s rededication service of the County War Memorial went to Plan B given the wet weather conditions. I joined around 100 people for what was a poignant and informative occasion in Lerwick Town Hall, with speeches from Convener Andrea Manson, history teacher Jon Sandison and Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter who spoke movingly about his family’s losses in the Great War. 

Following the wreath-laying ceremony at the memoria, the impressive display of material provided with the help of Shetland Archives and the Shetland Family History Society was pored over. As well as descriptions of some of the people who didn’t return from the 1914-1918 war, how the memorial itself was funded and built was also of great interest.

Shetland’s history is another of our great visitor attractions, and the Shetland Family History Society is a valuable organisation run by volunteers who field enquiries from folk around the globe ‘coontin kin’.

That history includes the people who lived in Lerwick’s Lanes. Part of that area between Commercial Street and the Hillhead is currently being consulted on by Shetland Islands Council for a ‘masterplan’.  

The right to housing is considered by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. It should also be habitable, but not all that long ago in terms of Lerwick’s history the lanes were over-crowded with poor housing.

The Lerwick Town Council in the 1950s had vision and employed architect Richard Moira, who ran his Shetland office in one of the lanes. He designed the Heddell’s Park scheme which made the most of retaining the old lane formations while incorporating modern housing design. The scheme subsequently won a Saltire Society Award.

Whatever vision may eventually be published in the ‘masterplan’, disappointingly not being run by local architects, I hope the outcome is not led by the short-sighted clamour by some for more parking rather than housing. The consultation closes this Sunday.

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