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Community / Amenity trust ‘stretched to capacity’ during Wool Week

Guests posing for photos in their wooly hats as the week formally opened on Sunday evening. Photos: Shetland NewsGuests posing for photos in their wooly hats at the 2018 Shetland Wool Week. Photos: Shetland News

THE ORGANISERS of Shetland Wool Week have admitted that this year’s festival was “absolutely stretched to capacity” – with pressure high on staff and volunteers.

The Shetland Amenity Trust event, held in September and October, celebrated its tenth year and enjoyed huge popularity with people visiting from across the world.

There was a 50 per cent increase in participants on 2018, with over 1,000 people buying tickets.

Over 400 events were delivered across Shetland, from Unst to Fair Isle.

Trustees of Shetland Amenity Trust heard at a meeting on Friday that the event “stretched our capacity to its maximum”.

Chief executive Mat Roberts said in a report to trustees that the charity is now “reshaping our event delivery functions to make it more sustainable”.

“We knew it was going to be the biggest thing we had ever done…we knew it was going to be challenging,” he said.

Roberts said that the burgeoning popularity of the event revealed some “gaps” in how it is delivered.

Amenity trust head of engagement Sandy Middleton added that online shop development for the whole organisation has been “hindered by workload with Shetland Wool Week”.

Speaking after the meeting, Roberts said wool week is “very successful and we have to work very hard to make sure it continues to be a success”.

He said the event is potentially worth £2 million to Shetland every year.

“We’re a small organisation running a big event, so it’s always going to be challenging,” Roberts said.

“We go into every year knowing that. We need to keep raising our game, because the world raises its game every year.”

Middleton added that Wool Week today was “not the event it set out to be”.

“It was very much a small community event, but it’s grown into an international event, which is fantastic,” she said, adding that the festival is “utterly rewarding”.

“But the expectations come with that as well, and we saw a 50 per cent increase in the numbers this year, and we work really hard to achieve that.

“We can only put on as many events as the community can put on. We previously managed it with a much larger team, so now we’re having to draw on people from across the trust to try and hold it together.

“So we need to understand truly what it takes to deliver it and how best to do it. Running the three events [Shetland Wool Week, Shetland Boat Week and Shetland Nature Festival] that we do back to back, really takes its toll on the small number of people.”

Roberts, meanwhile, said that across the trust as a whole more volunteers are needed.

“Not just wool week, boat week and the nature week, but also the operation that we’re running at the museums and all our other attractions and activities,” he explained.

“We already use a lot of volunteers particularly around things like biological recordings. They are quite often invisible because they are out birding or botanising or whatever. I think we’ve got to that moment in time where maybe more visible volunteers are an integral part of the mix.”

The chief executive added that at this stage the trust does not know if the 2020 Shetland Wool Week will look different to this year’s offering.

“I would not expect it to be as big – it was the tenth anniversary celebration, so I would be surprised if it was quite so popular.”

Middleton added that the “look and feel” of Shetland Wool Week may not change, but its internal running may differ slightly.

General Election - 12 December 2019