This google earth image shows the amazing site of the Whalsay Kirk which we visited in February. Whalsay sits on a promontory, 215 miles across the North Sea to Norway and 229 miles to Inverness. Whalsay is a very special place, with around 1000 of a population and a strong unique local culture and dialect and an astonishing fishing fleet that drives the local economy.
The impact of the oil industry has resulted in facilities investment across Shetland. As a result, there is a passion for saving the beautiful old kirk; our challenge was to work with the people of the island to find a distinct, relevant and viable use for the building – particularly complicated because the graveyard is still in use.
The team were on Whalsay for 3 days and toured the island, met key people, held a range of public consultations and finished with a formal stakeholder event. The depth of thinking in the community over those three days has helped us move towards some preferred options which we are testing now. We very much look forward to our next visit to see what they think.
While we were there, it was a delight to visit two of our previous projects to see a positive difference that asset ownership has achieved. In Bigton, following the transfer of title but prior to the big renovation, the community has taken control of the building, and the Saturday we popped in to see them, there was a music therapy session in the old vestry, an activity day in the main body of the kirk, art all round the walls and a charity shop busy with customers. They showed us the new architectural plans and an exciting future for the building to reach local people and attract visitors.
Then we visited our friends in Nesting, The Aald Skul in Nesting was the first asset transfer on Shetland, and they have transformed an old school into a high-quality workspace with an annexe leased to a beauty therapist. There are great plans for the annexe, which currently holds a Scrap store and a very popular gym with a growing membership.
Partnership is vital to our approach at Community Enterprise and we made sure we took time to visit the impressive Community Development team at Shetlands Island Council and also to visit the Third Sector Interface, Shetland Voluntary Action. As well as ensuring good joint work on our projects here, we were able to promote the Accelerate programme and Just Enterprise to ensure groups across Shetland can tap into that support.
More requests for support will give us another excuse to visit.