KNITTING tuition in Shetland’s primary schools is set to get underway once again after the summer holidays following a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ShetlandPeerieMakkers project aims to keep the skills and tradition of hand knitting alive by offering tailored lessons to all primary four to seven bairns.
Launched in 2014 by Pierre Cambilliard of Brough Lodge Trust, the initiative is a direct community response to a cost-cutting council decision back in 2010, which saw the discontinuation of knitting classes in Shetland schools.
This week the project received a welcome financial boost in the form of a £5,000 donation from oil company EnQuest, the operator of Sullom Voe Terminal.
Cambilliard has been busy during the last few months mustering financial support for the project that has more than 70 highly skilled and hugely motivated knitters going into schools to teach knitting to pupils for free.
A three-year £48,000 package of funding from the Shetland LEADER programme, fashion designer house Alexander McQueen and Brough Lodge Trust came to an end in 2020.
Since then, Cambilliard has been able to agree a number of three-year sponsorship deals with local companies worth £500 per annum, and has also received a £3,000 donation from salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms.
Cambilliard said the funding from private businesses is helping to secure the long-term viability of the project.
“It gives us some security for the future, but we still rely on public funding through the small grants system of Shetland Charitable Trust and others,” he said.
“Businesses were generally very happy with what we are doing, so we seem to tick all the boxes,” Cambilliard added. “One of the reasons why we are so successful is that lessons are not compulsory; we have mainly girls but also some boys, and they are taught in small groups with one tutor for four bairns.”
He said he was grateful to the schools for welcoming the ShetlandPeerieMakkers in, as this is the environment closest to how children would traditionally have learnt to knit within a family setting.
The project’s consultant co-ordinator Tracey Hawkins added: “It’s fantastic to get that funding boost from EnQuest, which will help the groups to continue for a number of years without having to worry about finance.”
She said that despite a general relaxation of pandemic rules over recent weeks, tuition has not restarted yet as it is difficult to stick to minimum distances between pupils and tutors when teaching a hands-on craft such as knitting.
Hawkins added that before the start of the pandemic 24 ShetlandPeerieMakkers groups across primary schools had been established, and the hope was that this would continue after the summer holidays.
Everyone, the bairns as well as the many tutors, are keen to continue, she said.
“They all give their time each week during winter terms,” Hawkins said. “It is amazing the amount of experience these tutors have, they are experts in their field although they would not admit that; our youngest tutor is in her 20s and the oldest in her 90s.
“We are seeing peerie makkers that have gone through the groups are still knitting in their teens, and have probably come back to it more so in lockdown.”
Janet Mullins of EnQuest said the company was donating funds generated in 2020/21 through the terminal’s Greenie Day HSE scheme to three local organisations – ShetlandPeerieMakkers (£5,000), Mind Your Head – Wellness Programme (£5,000) and £5,400 for the Archie Foundation.
“Some of these charities we have supported before like the Archie Foundation as many local people use the Royal Children’s Hospital in Aberdeen, and others like the ShetlandPeerieMakkers were new to us,” she said.
“Pierre wrote to us, and we thought it is a good thing and something that we want to support such as the traditional knitting which we think is a great thing to keep in Shetland.”
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