We should be proud of our separate lifestyle

Thanks to The Year of the Young People and An Lanntair in Stornoway, myself and three other girls were given a week’s textile placement over on the Isle of Lewis while two girls from Lewis received film placements here in Shetland (I’ll add this now, Shetland gave next to no funding for this).

The week I experienced really got me comparing the Hebrides to Shetland. Besides the obvious visual similarities and differences, there were others, particularly in the textile industry, that Shetland really should be taking on board or stop taking for granted.

Firstly, shopping. I particularly expected Stornoway to be much better for shopping than it was. Yes, they had more chain stores than us, an Iceland, Superdrug etc. but the local shops were poor compared to our own. We take for granted our beautiful shops. They are so well kept and professional!

What upsets me is when all I hear is: “We need shops open seven days a week”, “Da Street is a ghost town” and “Where is Lidl and Aldi? Everything is far too expensive”, yet people don’t utilise the town at all and all the amazing local talent we already have.

What particularly annoys me is: “Shops should be charging mainland prices. We shouldn’t be treated differently just because we’re an island”.

Sorry to disappoint you but because we are an island, we are different. Things cost extra to get here for a start, but we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the mainland. We’re different and we should be proud of our separate lifestyle – our local vendors and a completely different choice of shops to anywhere else.

Isn’t this something we should be appreciating rather than trying to bring down? Stornoway made me realise just how spoilt we are for different products. The whole of Lewis didn’t even have a shoe shop!

I’ve been creative all my life, and I have only started realising this now – the opportunities for young people to be creative is abysmal.

At the Anderson High School, I was never allowed to push myself creatively. Art classes included nothing but still life painting in acrylic paint. There was the odd design unit using paper but that was just to meet SQA criteria.

I was never given the chance to work with textiles. For a place with knitting being so strongly associated, it’s so disappointing to not give people the chance to carry this tradition. Even outwith school, were there any groups or clubs dedicated to crafts or art?

If you liked sports, there was more than enough choice and funding, but for creative people? Nothing!

And where in town can young people display their work and get their name out there? Unless you get a lucky break in Mareel or the museum, there is nowhere to display work.

Tourists would love to look at and buy art or textiles from local designers. There is an opening for this. In Stornoway, An Lanntair has a permanent gallery space for young artists, designers and photographers to display work. That’s just one good platform to get people’s names out there.

Everyone knows Harris Tweed, and everyone knows where it comes from. How many people from outwith Shetland could tell you where Fair Isle knitwear originates? Harris Tweed has recently really developed its branding, definition and its authority.

A piece of Harris Tweed cannot be called so unless the wool is sourced, spun and woven on the islands following set rules. This produces jobs for independent weavers, demand for local wool and an exclusivity and standard to the fabric. Traditional Fair Isle knitwear needs this as well.

We want people to travel to our islands just to get their hands on true Shetland knitwear and for everyone to know (exactly…) where we are on the map. It would create more demand for farmers, spinners and knitters while also keeping our knitwear alive.

There is no real definition to Fair Isle knitting and there really should be. Let’s stop people claiming our textile heritage as their own fashion.

It’s heart-breaking knowing that young people aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve in such a ‘creative’ place. I also hate hearing complaints about our town and lifestyle.

We are so lucky to live in such a unique and inspiring place, yet we aren’t making the most of it. We need to support our local designers, support our knitwear industry and instead of dismissing them, support our young, creative minds.

Helen Laurenson
Lerwick

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