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Council / From church to library to council chamber: St Ringan’s latest evolution

Head of legal Jan Riise addressing an empty council chamber. Photo: Shetland News

IT ALL sounds very high-tech: five wall mounted auto-track cameras, display screens, a webcasting system and 30 microphones.

Behind all the technical equipment, though, is a new home for Shetland’s 22 – and soon to be 23 – councillors.

On Wednesday (16 March) the former St Ringan’s Church – and ex-library building – will host its first council meeting in a historic change in local democracy.

They are moving out of Lerwick Town Hall, which has hosted council meetings since opening in 1883.

The move has been hailed by council convener Malcolm Bell as an “important step forward for democracy in Shetland”.

Anyone watching council meetings in the past year or two on YouTube – whilst no doubt struggling to hear some of the contributions in the Town Hall – will have recognised the real need for a fit for purpose, up to date broadcast system.

The plan is to livestream meetings from St Ringan’s online, although Wednesday’s full council session has come a little too early.

It is a pretty swish affair – the auto track cameras will focus in on speakers in the chamber, for instance, and the table is 9.6m in length. The equipment cost £105,000, and the building refurbishment bill came to £111,000.

Councillors will be able to bask in the luxury of USB charging points and plug sockets, and each place at the table has a wireless microphone and speaker console, forming part of a full conference system.

There is also improved access for the public, with seating for up to 20 people, and facilities for the local media.

The relocation of the chamber to St Ringan’s now means that the Town Hall will have greater capacity for civic and community activities, the council said.

Council meetings will be broadcast from St Ringan’s Church as of next week. Photo: SIC hosting

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Bell took time to thank the staff involved in the project.

“It’s important to have a dedicated space for debate by our elected representatives as well as an easily accessible area for the public and media to be present too,” he said.

“The additional space in this building, along with improved technology, will improve public access and engagement.

“If we believe that local democracy needs to be revitalised, then we need to invest in this digital infrastructure.”

The next question, though, is whether the upgrade will entice any prospective new councillors to come out of the woodwork.

The public will go to the polls on 5 May to elect Shetland’s next council, with 23 in total due to be returned after changes were made to wards.

Meanwhile the end of the public section of Wednesday’s meeting will end with a motion for the SIC to congratulate the Queen on her platinum jubilee year.

The motion has been signed by Bell and vice-convener Cecil Smith.