News / A new future for Scalloway’s past

Former Shetland Bus Friendship Society chairman Jack Burgess, Scalloway Museum Curator Robbie Johnson, and John Tait of building firm DITT outside the new Scalloway Museum - Photo: hans J Marter

THE FISHING village of Scalloway enjoyed a historic day on Thursday when the keys for its new museum were handed over to the owners after a marathon effort by a small group of volunteers.

Since 2003 a handful of villagers have struggled through funding applications and businesses failing to achieve their dream of converting the former Shetland Woolen Company on Castle Street into a home for their collection of artefacts.

Last summer more than 10,000 people passed through the doors of the tiny premises of the old museum, housed in a former hosiery shop and café on the corner of Main Street.

Curator Robbie Johnson, who celebrated his 70th birthday last month, said the old building simply could not cope with the influx of people.

“It’s very difficult to cope with all those people. When that liners is in Lerwick they take them out to Scalloway on bus tours and we have as high as eight or nine buses in the day, four in the morning and five in the afternoon. A lot of the buses has 48 to 52 people on them and they have to be staggered back and fore,” he said.


The big attraction is the collection of memorabilia associated with the Shetland Bus operation that helped people escape from Nazi-occupied Norway during World War Two.

“We get a big majority of Norwegians interested in the Shetland Bus exhibition, but they come from all over the world to see what we have here,” Mr Johnson added.

Raising the £800,000 to renovate the former knitwear business took more than five years, and efforts almost fell through when a £400,000 bid was rejected by the Lottery in February 2009.

Two months later the Scottish government stepped in with a grant of £392,314 the Rural Priorities scheme, with a further £300,000 coming in from Shetland Islands Council.

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Building got underway to create an energy efficient environment with thick insulation and underfloor heating using an air source heat pump. The south gable has been replaced with glass to provide an unhindered view of Scalloway castle.

However the next problem arose when the building firm JHB called in the receivers last year before the job was finished. Lerwick firm DITT stepped in to finish the project.

Over the winter volunteers have been cataloguing and packaging all the artefacts ready to shift them to the new premises, a job which will start next week.

Mr Johnson said they hope to have a small maritime display in place by June in readiness for the Tall Ships visit in July, alongside a temporary Shetland Bus exhibition. However it will not be until March next year that they plan an official opening.

He said he felt “nice pleased” with the result and he hoped the people of Scalloway would be satisfied with the outcome and that local schoolchildren would still come along and carry out projects, despite the closure of the village’s secondary department this year.

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