I write in response to the publicised claim at the Lerwick Community Council this week that children in Lerwick have nothing to do in the summer months (Concern over lack of things for children to do; SN, 06/02/2018).
It was asked "What can be done for the bairns and the families that can't afford to leave Shetland in the summer time, what can we offer our bairns that is fun?"
Bairns in Lerwick already have wonderful amenities provided in places like the Clickimin, Mareel and community centres on their doorstep. These places can cost a pretty penny for a family to visit, so may not be a viable regular option for everyone.
Accessible to all, there are numerous play parks, a skate park, the Lerwick Museum, the library, and direct access to coast and superb beaches, burns and green areas that are free to visit and explore. In comparison to the UK mainland prices, all of these cost little or no money.
There are plenty of activities that nurture a love for nature and the environment, while teaching valuable life skills like a couple of hours delving in rock pools at Sands of Sound or bird spotting along Cunningham way, picnics at the play parks, a day at the library, bike rides, fishing or crabby lining off the pier, walks around Clickimin Loch, or a history lesson at the broch.
Then there is always a fantastic and inexpensive bus service to explore other nearby areas and amenities such as Scalloway play parks and museum, the Burland Croft trail, the Outpost and beautiful beaches at Burra.
When my bairns were small, our summers were Shetland summers. Days were spent hocking in a burn, stream scrambling or exploring in the ebb, catching crabs, fishing or setting creels, visits to play parks or days out organised with friends, whale watching or beach combing.
For a number of years in Scalloway, a group of us parents got together and ran our own summer play scheme, not expecting the council to provide volunteers to look after the bairns for us. We organised buses and went on trips all over the isles. We organised craft days with visiting artists. Some of the bairns, now young adults, have said these were they best holidays of their lives.
What young minds really need is encouragement to get out and about, get mucky, get wet, catch mini beasts, and see wildlife and experiment with the world around them. They need the very people they watch and learn from every day to not only allow them the freedom but also show them how to do this.
In a time where everyone is quick to condemn the young for having too much digital time it is ultimately the responsibility of the parents and carers to set an example, get out and involve bairns in activities that require no screens and cost no money while improving physical and mental health.
Just now in Lerwick there is a group of parents with very young children organising themselves into an outdoor playgroup (Peerie Explorers), organising activities that are free and open to all, even throughout the winter months.
A mum in Scalloway is taking the initiative and organising a walking group for bairns and buggies (Walk Scalloway) to get out and about and get healthy. This is what needs to be encouraged and can be easily modelled all over Shetland.
These are simple activities provide priceless examples to bairns at a cost of nothing. Maybe those that have expressed concern in Lerwick could look to these successful ventures to plan ahead now for the coming summer and have activities planned among themselves for the short six weeks that bairns are free during the holidays. No doubt the Shetland weather will always be a factor, but as the saying goes 'there is no bad weather, only bad clothes' and what bairn doesn't love jumping in muddy puddles?
Shetland bairns are blessed with a wonderful environment, teach them to use it well and respect what they have in abundance. Teach them the best experiences cost nothing and help them appreciate being part of a community.