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News / College extension gets royal opening

Princess Anne hearing about the work of Shetland College art students. Photo: Malcolm Younger

THE PRISTINE new £4.5 million extension to Shetland College was officially opened by Princess Anne on Tuesday morning.

It is the second time the Princess Royal, who is University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) chancellor, has visited Shetland for an unveiling this year. In June she did the ceremonial honours at the opening of the revamped Sumburgh Lighthouse complex.

In a short address to declare the new building open, Princess Anne said it was a “real pleasure” to be able to join the students, lecturers and staff at an institution which “represents much of what UHI wanted to do”.

She said the new building would “hugely extend” Shetland College’s capacity to invest in and inspire learners, providing opportunities for students to stay in their own community and learn.

“There are plenty of opportunities here,” Princess Anne said following a two hour tour of the college, “and I’ve met quite a few of you here who are taking full advantage of the courses.”

She added that the relationship between UHI and outlying colleges in communities throughout the Highlands and Islands was a “very important partnership”, and she hoped it was a place people would “feel comfortable coming back to” later in life, or if they fancied a change of career.

Princess Anne was greeted by guests including Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell, lord lieutenant Bobby Hunter, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Shetland College chairman Peter Campbell said the visit had provided a “unique opportunity” for her to meet students, and “demonstrates the significance she puts on the role of UHI chancellor”.

The extension joins together the college’s two existing buildings, which were previously separated by a road, on an industrial estate at Gremista.

New facilities incorporated within the extension include a new library, an internet café, expanded teaching spaces, social areas for students and video conferencing suites.

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“We now have everybody in the one area,” Campbell said. “We’re all in the one campus, and that’s a very positive thing. It will help create a sense of community within the college, which I feel has been somewhat lacking.”

Campbell said final figures were yet to be calculated but the budget “will be within or very close to” the projected £4.5 million cost.

He is pleased that the number of people enrolling on full and part time further and higher education courses was up on this time last year, which is “particularly encouraging against the backdrop of all the economic activity that is taking place in Shetland”.

“That is very heartening, and I feel something we can build on,” Campbell said.

In addition to construction classes, the college already has a focus on the creative industries, with arts and textile courses featuring alongside music certificates offered in conjunction with the nearby Mareel arts centre.

Campbell said he expected that would continue, with UHI about to appoint a chair of creative industries who will be based in Shetland.

Other areas he thinks Shetland College may branch into include training for people interested in working in renewables and North Sea oil and gas decommissioning.

“There is an opportunity, not necessarily for the college to provide a whole course, but to be a partner in the provision,” Campbell added.

Asked whether he thought moving the college into Lerwick in the medium term was still an aspiration, he replied: “It’s very difficult to say. The current availability of land prevents one coming into central Lerwick.

“We have adequate parking, we’ve got adequate buildings here now which we would find difficult to replicate in the centre of town. Ok, the Anderson High School site will ultimately become available, but I think decisions regarding that will probably be for another council to take.”

One of the college’s newest staff members is assistant textile technician Roisin McAtamney, who moved to Shetland from Shotts in North Lanarkshire a few weeks ago.

She jumped at the chance because “to me, Shetland is the home of knitwear, and I’m obsessed with knitwear”.

McAtamney, who graduated with a masters degree from London College of Fashion, said it was important to be in a position to “pass on knowledge on the dynamics of the machines – it’s a dying art”.

Art lecturer Paul Bloomer, whose National Certificate class includes 16 students, is delighted with the extension. He said it provided great new spaces to hang art and a dedicated room to practice drawing, which along with new social spaces will “enrich the whole student experience”.

Former college director George Smith, now an SIC councillor, was involved in drawing up the concept for expanding the college. He said it was “really excellent to see the new extension opened and in use”.

Later on Tuesday, Princess Anne was due to preside over the UHI’s foundation day, incorporating this year’s Shetland College graduation ceremony. In addition to student prizes being dished out, honorary fellowships were to be presented to Thomas Prag and outgoing Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons 

On Tuesday night Scottish musician Midge Ure, frontman of Ultravox, was due to deliver UHI’s annual lecture at Shetland College.

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