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Features / 50th birthday reunion for class of the early eighties will be last held in old AHS building

From left to right: Dianne Morrison, current AHS head teacher Valerie Nicolson, Irene Smith, Irvine Tait, Norma Nicolson and Lesley Johnson. Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.

A GROUP of former classmates believed to represent the largest ever number of pupils in a single year at the Anderson High School are getting together to celebrate their 50th birthdays in what is to be the final ever reunion to take place in the existing school buildings.

With secondary education in Lerwick set to relocate to a brand new school at the lower Staney Hill this autumn, the 1981/82 secondary three class – which numbered some 296 pupils at the height of the North Sea oil boom – will get together on Saturday 12 August.

The overall school roll that year was 1,020 and peaked two years later, when those pupils were in S5, at 1,047. The roll has gradually fallen back since then and sits at around 900 today.

Organisers of the 50-year-olds’ reunion said there had been a great turnout for their 40th birthday year back in 2007. This time almost two thirds of pupils have been tracked down on Facebook, but they are hoping to reach those former classmates who don’t use the social networking site.

One of the organising committee, Irene Smith, described the reunion as “a great way to re-establish your old friendships”.

The AHS buildings at the Knab will be vacated this autumn. Photo courtesy of Anderson High School.

Among that year’s vintage were current AHS head teacher Valerie Nicolson, who is part of the 11-strong committee organising the reunion. Also involved are Irvine Tait, Dianne Morrison, Norma Nicolson, Lesley Johnson, Diane Sinclair, Lyndon Nicolson, Marianne Hurson and Mark Wylie.

Shetland News caught up with a group of the former pupils in Valerie’s soon-to-be-vacated head teacher’s office to get a flavour of how different certain elements of school life were in the early 1980s.

When they began S3 back in August 1981, many pupils had joined the AHS at the end of S2 from various junior high schools dotted around the islands, while the high school roll also reflected the number of families that had moved to Shetland for oil industry work.

It was a time of substantial change for the school. The three storeys of classrooms built in what became known as A, B and C block had been completed in October 1977, while the Bruce and Janet Courtney hostels were expanded in a project completed in June 1980, followed by the new games hall.

Those developments came to dwarf the original institute building, which was turned into the school’s English department.

Irvine recalls an educational experience that was “a mixture of the traditional and the modern in a way”. It is hard to credit that, a little over 30 years ago, there were elements of gender segregation with girls taking home economics and boys taking technical.

“You still had things like weekly assemblies and a house system for sport, and dux medals at S5, that probably would have been quite traditional,” he said.

“On the other hand you had a lot of freedom to dress the way you wanted, and music was a big thing in how folk dressed. You couldn’t wear jeans, but folk wore army jackets, a lot of folk dressed depending on if they were punks or mods or rockers. [Which was he?] I actually liked heavy metal music at the time!”

For some of his former classmates, though, there was “no fashion sense whatsoever” in Lerwick in the early 1980s. Fashion tastes were shifting from the 70s heyday of flares to “really tight trousers you could hardly get on”, while a taste for Adidas Samba trainers – which remained ubiquitous well into this century – was beginning to take hold.

Irene said that, while there was some sadness at the old school’s impending closure, it was “the end of an era – things move on, life moves on – we’re not sitting in our yoke jumpers and corduroy breeks anymore!”

For Norma, it is “definitely a good thing there’s a new school, but it’s sad at the same time”, while Irvine – who previously worked at the AHS and now teaches history in Brae – notes that “everybody up to the present days will have so many memories of this place over the generations”.

The 1981/2 S3 classmates, pictured in the school's English department which was the original Anderson Institute building, are looking forward to renewing acquaintances in the year of their 50th birthdays. Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.

Valerie is enthusiastic about a new social media group called “Anderson Through the Years”, which has amassed over 1,200 followers on Facebook in just a few months. It is a vehicle for people to share old photos from the old Anderson Institute and AHS.

Later this year a commemorative book is to be created from the images, while pupils are also collecting oral history accounts about what life was like at the school over the years.

Dianne works in the school’s ASN department and has also worked at the Janet Courtney hostel for almost three decades having started out back in 1988.

The hostel and school are intrinsically linked, as was recognised by the SIC and Scottish Government when deciding to build new facilities for both across town.

Working at the hostel, Dianne says lots of parents whose children stay in the hostel want to have a tour because they stayed there themselves. “That’s going to be a big change. The two are connected and they’re moving together – one’s not moving without the other.”

The weekend prior to the class of 81/82 reunion, the existing AHS also hosts the final 40-year-olds reunion, on Friday 4 August.

  • Any ex-pupils who turn 50 this year and are interested in attending can email for more information. Partners and friends are welcome, and cheques (£15 per person) are to be sent to AHS Reunion 2017, 1 Upper Baila, Lerwick, ZE1 0SF.