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Community / Tenth wool festival launches in style

Previous Wool Week patrons on stage on Sunday. Photo: Peter Johnson/Shetland News

A PACKED audience at the Clickimin Centre’s main hall was treated to the opening of the tenth annual Shetland Wool Week festival on Sunday evening.

A slick presentation of the Shetland Wool Week welcome was ably compered by Claire White with an address by Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts.

He said that the amenity trust welcomed “many, many visitors to Shetland” of which Wool Week was one of the largest contingents. Wool Week, he added, was one of the largest events in Shetland that did not involve “setting fire to anything”.

A man who has spent 52 years in the wool, Oliver Henry, was this year’s patron, and he joined six of the past patrons on stage.

SWW 2019 Patron Oliver Henry.

Henry has judged, graded, sorted, worn, promoted, researched and been inspired by Shetland wool in his work at Jamieson and Smith, also known as the Shetland Woolbrokers.

Henry joked that he had been told to become patron by “his boss” Wool Week manager Victoria Tait.

He added that what had become a world renowned event reflected an amazing community effort.

Henry was instrumental in setting up the inaugural Wool Week in 2010 as part of the Campaign for Wool championed by the Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles himself appeared (on a recorded message) to deliver his address and congratulate everyone involved. To him, wool was an “extraordinary, and versatile fibre”.

Wool’s environmental credentials were a common theme in this year’s event and the prince said that natural materials which were not inflammable, not made from fossil fuels and would biodegrade had an important part to play in facing up to the “enormous challenges” of climate change.

Wool, he said, was the “fibre of ecological choice” and the persuasive case for using it was “finally starting to get through”.

Wool was also a vital source of income for Shetland crofters and sheep producers, especially at these economically “challenging” times.

Prior to Henry appearing on stage, six of the previous patrons had appeared sporting various themed articles of oo that had been the hallmark of their patronage.

There must have been about 500 people in the Clickimin Centre for the ticketed opening do, with the usual international crown heavily featuring American visitors.

One man, Larry Krengel from Illinois, stood outside in the drizzle with a placard round his neck advertising his need of a ticket. Luckily he was wearing a Fair Isle beanie.

Krengel, his first time at Wool Week, had bought a ticket with the “bleary eyes of 4am”, unfortunately for the wrong event, and ended up queuing in the rain so that he could join his wife Sharon inside.

He said: “I waited about 45 minutes. When it started raining I started wondering if I really needed to wait. Somebody in line said that if I just put a finger up in the air and wish, a miracle will happen.”

Luckily someone came forward and Krengel managed to secure a ticket from Ruth Robinson.

The audience was also treated to some fiddle tunes by Hjaltibonhoga and there was a silent auction of wool runners designed by Shetland College students and inspired by people involved in the industry.

Of course the opening event will be followed by an absolute wealth of wool related events and workshops throughout the isles that are detailed online.