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Final farewell for old Anderson High School

The Anderson High School shut its doors to pupils on Wednesday. Photo: Neil Riddell/Shetland News

THERE may well have been a few tears shed at the Anderson High School come closing time on Wednesday as the building shut its doors to pupils for the last time.

The Lerwick secondary school, which has been at the Lover’s Loan site since 1862 when it began life as the Anderson Educational Institute, has closed to children before the new one opens across town next to the Clickimin Leisure Complex at the end of October.

Headteacher Valerie Nicolson, who presides over a roll of around 900, said Wednesday was a “thoughtful day” which saw Willie Hunter’s reflective Leaving Lerwick Harbour played over the tannoy as pupils went home.

Headteacher Valerie Nicolson has been packing up her office ahead of the big move. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

As the children start their October holidays early, the process of transferring furniture, equipment and books to the new £55.75 million school and halls of residence has begun.

It will be the end of a era for the school and its neighbouring Janet Courtney hostel, which have seen thousands of children from across Shetland pass through their doors over the years.

The pupils and staff have formed the backbone of the school over the decades, with the popular George McGhee for instance managing the hostel for nearly 40 years before retiring from his role in 2016.

Once the transfer is complete, the old Anderson site is set to be redeveloped and possible uses which have been suggested include housing, recreation and hotel accommodation.

Nicolson, who has been the Anderson headteacher since 2003 and was a former pupil after moving from the then Brae Junior High School, said she had “mixed feelings” over leaving the site.

“I was here as a teenager, and then came I back here to work,” she said. “I’ve seen my daughter go through the school here, which was very special, so there’s a lot of melancholy.

“But to be honest this building has become harder and harder to adapt to modern educational practice, and we want a really lovely new learning environment – and that makes you very excited.”

Nicolson also praised the “real Shetland community” present in the Anderson as a result of pupils coming from outlying areas, as well as Lerwick.

Davie Gardner first attended the AHS in 1970.

Former pupil Davie Gardner went to the school in 1970 when the Educational Institute merged with the old Central School – which is now the Islesburgh Community Centre – to become the Anderson High.

“For me the Anderson High School was a largely good and very positive experience, although moving from the Central School to what you, at that time, saw as the ‘swots’ school was – initially at least – a bit of a daunting experience,” he reflected.

“Some of the teachers there had a pretty fearful reputation too, and that was a bit concerning at first, but it turned out their barks were usually worse than their bites. John Graham was a terrific headmaster.

“For the first while we still had to travel – mainly on foot – between the two schools, even in winter, due to space restrictions. Looking back the quality of education was pretty good though and I largely had a really good time there – whenever you could avoid the bullies that is!”

Gardner also recalled the “legendary” teacher Nessie Robertson, who helped him forge a love of history, while he remembers being allowed to bring LPs into school – and sometimes into music class – as pupils played the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and The Who.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said he had “all kinds of memories” of the school, both as a pupil and a parent.

“The most compelling as a pupil is taking modern studies in fifth year under the wise tutelage of the Gordon Johnston,” he said.

“That was the reason I took an interest in current affairs and internationalism and thought about working for people through politics.

“The then Orkney and Shetland MSP Jim Wallace hired me to help in his Westminster office because of modern studies at the Anderson High School.

“As a parent my over riding reflection is that when [daughter] Lorna went into first year 12 years ago we parents were told that by the time the class were in sixth year there would be a new school! So it is wonderful that the next generation of Shetlanders will benefit from a new building and all the facilities that go with that.”

Ex pupil James Stewart attended the school between 2000 and 2006, and during this time he was chairman of the student council for a year as well a committee member for the annual Beanfeast celebrations.

He paid tribute to teachers Gordon Johnston and Stuart Clubb, who “both taught me modern studies and helped nurture my interest in politics” before he landed a job in MP Alistair Carmichael’s Westminster office.

“You get through a lot of teachers as a pupil. Some were great, some you didn’t connect with as well. But I felt like Gordon and Stuart were able to reach every pupil that they taught,” he said.

Scottish Youth Parliament member for Shetland Sonny Thomason thinks the new Anderson and halls will be "truly fantastic".

Any particular memories? “I was on the 2006 Beanfeast committee responsible for organising the music for the event, and I played in the band. I badgered the music department to buy a left-handed bass so that I could use it in our ‘in-between-skits’ jazz band – and they did!

“In the process of putting our jazz band together, we learned that janitor Terry was a tremendous harmonica player, and we got him to join our band for one song. The crowd of pupils and teachers absolutely loved it.”

Stewart – who has a strong interest in Shetland history – feels that change in this instance is a move in the right direction.

“Instead of focusing any energy lamenting the closing of the old Anderson High School, let’s look at the positives: a better environment for pupils to learn, and the opportunity to convert the old site into a great deal of desperately needed new houses for Lerwick.”

There are nearly one thousand pupils on the Anderson’s books at the moment, with secondary two student Ryan Peart looking forward to the new building – partly because there won’t be as many “long walks between classes”.

Classmate Daniel Thompson added that he’s not too downcast to be leaving the current Anderson and is excited about the new building.

First year pupil Lois Moar said that while she is sad to be leaving a school she has just become used to, the new one will be “cleaner and not as higgledy piggledy as the old one.”

Shetland member of the Scottish Youth Parliament Sonny Thomason, meanwhile, added that the future is bright for the current crop of Anderson pupils.

“The new Anderson High and halls of residence is a truly fantastic building for the future of education in Shetland,” he said.

“These facilities also have the opportunity to become a community asset for many events and activities in the years ahead.

“The current pupils at the Anderson are so fortunate to have such a state of the art learning environment to reach their full potential. I am excited for the opening of the school and I’m sure this is the case for all students and staff alike.”