From the fifteenth to the twentieth century the most northerly tip of the Shetland mainland, Fethaland – just a couple of miles north of North Roe – became a summer home for hundreds of deep sea fishermen and fish processors, including some women. They lived in basic stone lodges, roofed each summer, and worked from May to August. At the end of the fishing season the roofs were taken off – to avoid destruction in winter gales – and the fishing boats returned home …. A brief episode in the annual cycle of life in Shetland….
Now Shetland houses a different group of transitory workers. The St. Magnus Bay Hotel, across the bay from our window, in the early twentieth century served guests who had travelled up to the ‘health resort’ of Hillswick by sea, but now mainly fills its beds with oil workers, on contracts, working here for, perhaps, three weeks followed by two weeks off – home for them usually being on the UK mainland. Breakfasts are served from 5am and minibuses carry the men to Sullom Voe, Shetland’s oil refinery. From there some will be taken by helicopter to the oil rigs in the North Sea (or the new fields to the west of Shetland).
Other hotels in Brae house more of these short term workers, meeting the changing needs of the oil industry. However not all the oil workers are temporary. When oil was found in the North Sea and the Sullom refinery was built in the 1970s many workers brought their families and settled in Shetland, whilst others came and met their partners here and stayed. Others were attracted to jobs created in the public and private sectors that developed to meet the needs of a growing and thriving population. From the 1970s onwards new housing has sprung up in many of the small North Mavine communities. A small new estate is currently under construction in Brae.
The development of Sullom Voe has brought significant improvements to the infrastructure throughout Shetland but perhaps particularly to the north of the mainland, with a well-planned road system, two lane roads on the key routes and effective single lane roads, with many passing places, making driving easy. Many small communities have been able to build or retain their own primary schools, although retaining very small schools remains controversial with, for example, both North Roe and Urafirth primary schools being under threat of closure in 2014 –
Although numbers of children have fluctuated, and in some schools numbers are very low, it is heartening to see many young families throughout Shetland and to read in the Shetland Times of their achievements and activities. The old building of the Anderson High School in Lerwick (which includes boarding facilities) is being replaced by a modern building currently under construction.
Through the Shetland Charitable Trust , set up by the Shetland Islands Council in 1976 for the benefit of the Shetland community with funds contributed each year by the oil companies, a wide range of community facilities, projects and individuals have been supported. Over £3m have been dispersed in grants since then and the islands are well served by local facilities, including swimming pools, community halls and residential care for the elderly. Just this week, in the Shetland Times a photo shows Shetland youngsters who are going to study at UK universities receiving grants. Bus services, mental health services, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, voluntary sector organisations and volunteers, festivals, the arts, training and small enterprises have all benefited from this funding.