Mention the word Shetland and you might conjure up pictures of small ponies, knitwear and puffins. Perhaps you’re aware of the islands through the recent BBC drama series featuring Douglas Henshall as DI Perez, or you’ve seen coverage of Up Helly Aa, the Viking themed fire festivals which take place across the islands each winter. Shetland is home to breath-taking scenery and spectacular wildlife, but it also has a thriving economy supported by decommissioning, oil, fisheries and aquaculture, but with strong renewables, tourism, creative industries and even a budding space sector.
It’s frequently rated as one of the top places to live in the UK, providing unrivalled quality of life, but what’s it really like to live there? Susie Daniels asked some locals…
EMMA & KAYLEE
Emma works as a specialist paramedic, while Kaylee works as a senior maritime operations officer at the Shetland Coastguard. Both have recently appeared on Island Medics, the BBC programme about Shetland’s health and rescue services. Emma says: “Lerwick has more options than ever. Mareel [the local cinema, music and arts centre] was a big thing when it opened a few years ago.
“And this summer has seen new places open, like The String and The Dowry, where you can get a cocktail and good food, and see live music. It’s been this sort of domino effect.”
Kaylee adds: “It’s definitely become more competitive. There’s more of a sense that things are happening, and people are going out more.”
Originally from Northumberland, Sophie is a designer and maker at Shetland Jewellery, creating pieces inspired by the Shetland Landscape. She says: “Despite there not being as much clubbing as I was used to in Newcastle, there is a lot of partying. Every weekend we were out doing something – meeting people, listening to music. Doing something creative in such a beautiful place was always the draw, and it’s still so inspiring to me being here. My friends here are just amazing. They’re always there for me, and up for going on little adventures. People here are really welcoming, especially with new people. No one likes you feeling left out, so you’re welcomed into peoples’ homes, invited to weddings, that kind of thing. Everyone just wants you to feel welcome, and wants you to be part of it.
Local football star James works as agent at LHD, a local operations firm who help run the daily fish market auction, as well as providing management services for Shetland’s fishing industry.
“People think we sit in our houses and drink cups of tea and knit Fair Isle jumpers,” he smiles. “So many people at uni would ask me: Is there working internet? But, actually, there’s loads going on, from the gigs and other events at Mareel to the galas and festivals in the summer. And the sporting facilities are brilliant: where we train and play football, there’s a brand new gym, and a brand new indoor training facility. It’s brilliant.”
Hailling from Goa in India, chef Akshay is co-director and chef at The String in Lerwick, creating delicious fusion combinations using the freshest and best local produce.
“When I first saw the ad for a job in Shetland, my first thought was: Where the hell’s that?” he laughs. “Basically, I saw lots of pictures of sheep, hills, a couple of ponies, Fair Isle ganseys [knitted jumpers], and a few people. I thought, ‘I’m going to be so bored here! There’s actually so much to do, and not just the obvious outdoor stuff like cycling, walking or kayaking. There are yoga classes, fencing classes, MMA, squash, you name it. Just about anything you’d find in a big city, you’ll find it here, it’s just that you don’t have to book. I’m busy all the time. I thought people would have their own groups, and that I’d be all by myself, but it was the opposite. From the start, people in Shetland have treated me like family. In the months leading up to Christmas, I’ll get so many people inviting me round to their family homes for Christmas dinner. You can just walk into people’s houses and get something from the fridge – it’s that kind of place.”
Photographer Floortje works as Programme Manager for Shetland Arts, bringing exciting new artistic product to the isles. She says: “I’d picked up a camera in Glasgow again after a long time and taught myself to take pictures. “When I came home to Shetland, I saw something completely different in the place I’d grown up. Suddenly I became interested in the landscape, and saw the light and the land differently, through a whole year of seasons. The land and the changing light became my main source of inspiration. I used to get a bus and the underground in Glasgow. If I was lucky, I’d cycle, but even that was pretty stressful. When I came home to Shetland, I remember just feeling so lucky that this beautiful drive was my commute, watching the light change every day. We take turns to drive, just so that one of us can just look out the window. It lifts me in the morning and de-stresses me at night.”
To meet more locals, and find out what it’s like to live and work in Shetland, visit www.shetland.org/shetlanders.