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Community / Wool week organisers looking to make decision on fate of this year’s festival soon

The event is thought to bring £2 million into the local economy each year

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. Photo: Shetland News

A DECISION on whether this year’s Wool Week will go ahead will be made “as soon as we realistically can”, according to event organisers Shetland Amenity Trust.

Trust chief executive Mat Roberts confirmed that the decision has to be made before the end of June, but he said it would be “unfair on a lot of people” to make them wait that long.

The festival is due to take place from 26 September to 4 October, but it remains unclear how the coronavirus situation will affect the event.

Amenity trust chief executive Mat Roberts.Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts.

Shetland Wool Week, a big draw with knitting enthusiasts from across the globe, is now estimated to be worth over £2 million to the local economy and cancelling the festival would come as a further hit to an already fragile Shetland.

Not only does it bring visitors to Shetland and increases spend to other local businesses, it also provides a focal point for knitting tutors and wool shops.

The amenity trust is also reviewing its nature festival, scheduled for July, and August’s boat week.

Roberts said he was unable to put a timetable on wool week’s decision-making at the moment.

Despite this, the 2020 patron was announced last week – Wilma Malcolmson – and the popular hat pattern is now online.

Roberts said obviously trustees, management and staff “don’t want to say goodbye to a multi-million pound component of the Shetland economy”.

“But we have to look at the global circumstances as most of our visitors to Shetland for Wool Week are coming from outwith the UK, many of them from North America, and you only have to look at the numbers around the Covid-19 confirmed cases and fatalities in America to realise that they are having a very hard time of it,” he said.

“People have to be able to get here. I think for those who are the tutors or accommodation providers or transport providers, we have to give them as much notice as we possibly can.

“We are in active conversations with everybody in the eco system that is wool week, and we understand how important it is to many people’s annual business model. We know it’s important for our annual business cycle, but we also have to be sensible about it.

“There’s no point in us putting it on and it being a disaster, if nobody turns up. We are looking at all the options around virtual conferencing and virtual events, and how much can we put online.

“We are getting quite a lot of communication from people [saying] this is how you could do it. The number of available webinars on how to run virtual events seem to be growing on a daily basis.”

Roberts added that a lot of the value in Shetland Wool Week comes through selling wool and “all the other bits and pieces that go along with it”.

“And then we have to understand whether or not people can fulfil those orders,” he said.

“One of the challenges we’ve had around the hat pattern is that it is designed to use wool from the four main suppliers on Shetland.

“We had to make sure that they would actually supply the wool in the colourways that have been chosen by the pattern, so that people could knit the pattern. Otherwise they would have to buy different wool in different colours.

“We work very closely with all the suppliers to make sure that they, as best as they can, will be able to fulfil the demand.”