SHETLAND Food and Drink (SFAD) has been awarded a package of just under £150,000 in funding to secure its future for the next three years.
The funding will enable the organisation to use its money to assist efforts by the food and drink sector to increase production, profile and profitability between now and 2023.
With over 70 local businesses now signed up – and plans in place to grow membership further in the coming months – SFAD will look to support producers and the hospitality sector amid the upheaval and challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
SFAD was founded in November 2017 and it was previously funded partly through the European Union’s LEADER programme in association with Shetland Islands Council.
With the UK leaving the EU, a new funding package has been put together consisting of an initial £25,000 from Shetland Islands Council over the next 12 months, £58,000 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) between now and 2023 and – for the first time – a contribution from Scotland Food & Drink.
SFAD manager Claire White and finance assistant Mary Andreas will continue in their part-time posts, while recruitment is underway for a new project assistant.
Board chairwoman Marian Armitage, who worked with Jill Franklin to create the organisation three years ago, paid tribute to staff’s hard graft over the summer in ensuring the various funding bids were successful.
“We are delighted to have this funding confirmed,” she said. “It puts SFAD on a firm footing for the next three years and allows us to continue providing growth opportunities for member businesses.
“We are very grateful to the SIC and HIE for their financial backing, and it’s exciting to be working with Scotland Food and Drink for the first time as a recognised regional food group. I would particularly like to thank Claire and Mary for their dedicated work to achieve this success.”
White said that, with several major local hotels still on the market and the ongoing challenges caused by Covid-19, SFAD members “have never needed our help more”.
“SFAD will offer a strong collective voice and a visible public face for the sector,” she said, “and we’ll try to assist members to deal with whatever the future might hold in these uncertain times.
“Shetlanders have always been a resourceful and talented bunch, and we look forward to helping businesses to capitalise on the many opportunities that are undoubtedly out there.”
A renewed membership drive will partly seek to broaden the scope of SFAD’s activities, working with Promote Shetland and the Shetland Tourist Association to bolster food-and-drink offerings available to tourists in collaboration with accommodation providers and tour guides.
Among new members to have signed up recently are Garths Croft and the Maryfield House Hotel in Bressay, producers Simpson Fish, accommodation providers Brekka Lodge and The Taing, tour guides Shetland With Laurie, Shetland Wool Adventures and Island Vista, and local music and events promoter Ragged Wood.
Armitage said that while Covid-19 had obviously disrupted SFAD’s plans in 2020 she felt the organisation had made a good start in helping to bolster the food and drink sector’s presence locally and further afield.
On Saturday 17 October its annual festival will take place online, with cooking demonstrations, talks and culinary discussion to be broadcast on social media.
While it is hoped the festival will return to its traditional format, but in the meantime it offers the opportunity to tap into the considerable online interest in all things Shetland driven by the popular crime drama, Shetland Wool Week and other high-profile media coverage.
White said: “We are just beginning to scratch the surface in capitalising on global interest in Shetland, and we are eager to tell the story of our islands’ outstanding produce to folk in every corner of the globe.”
HIE’s Shetland account manager Andrew Gear said he was “really pleased” the funding package had been secured.
“The group undertakes important work in providing a collective voice for the sector and supporting its members to grow and showcase the best of Shetland’s world-class produce at home and further afield,” he said.
“HIE believes having a strong food and drink group is more important than ever before as the sector responds to the challenges of Covid-19.”
Leah Irvine of the SIC’s economic development unit added: “It has been very encouraging to see what SFAD has achieved for the food and drink sector over the last three years.
“SIC are pleased to support the group for this next stage, alongside HIE and Scotland Food & Drink, which will ensure more development in the sector moving forward.”
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