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News / Inside the halls: keeping communities warm and fed

Rural Shetland has been hard hit after heavy snowfall took out vital power networks. Sarah Cooper has been visiting some halls that have become essential support hubs

Inside the Walls community hub. All Photos: Sarah Cooper

FOR WALLS resident Andrea Watt there was no question when the power went out: “I looked out the window and I saw the power lines all down, and immediately thought this is going to take a peerie bit longer than SSE is saying.

“So I walked down to the shop and my youngest son was helping clear a path to the shop. I filled my trolley full of everything I needed to make lentil soup, went along to one or two houses and asked if they could come and help me.”

Watt has co-ordinated the Walls community hub with Brian Chittick and added that “everybody has pulled together”.

The West Mainland has seen some of the worst power outages after the snowfall and power line icing earlier this week. After opening the Walls hall to the community, they’ve been delivering over 100 meals a day to local people who couldn’t leave their homes.

Andrea Watt: ‘Everybody has pulled together’.

Watt said: “We’ve had boys in 4x4s going out to every house we could get to. That’s carrying on today. There’s been a lot of folk coming here for meals as well.”

She added: “[Contractor] RJ McLeod has supplied hot water bottles, blankets, batteries, flasks. We’ve had local folk coming with food out of their freezers, had a donation of food from the school.”

Meanwhile, washing machines and tumble dryers have been donated by local firm George Robertson, and a generator was supplied by DH Marine.

Sarah Carr has been in the hall for 14 hours every day after losing power on Monday. The first day they all had to work in torchlight before the generator was donated.

“At first, we churned out breakfast on Tuesday morning because we thought it wouldn’t be much longer before the power would come on,” she said.

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“But more people were coming in trucks and telling us how many poles were down between Whiteness and here, and we were really starting to get worried.”

They methodically went around checking on people to ensure they had what they needed, providing food parcels and delivering by hand.

Carr said: “We were walking with over 20 portions of soup in takeout boxes, with bannocks, cakes, flasks of hot water and delivering them to anyone who couldn’t leave their houses.”

Children have had plenty to do too, with a TV showing movies. They’ve also been running classes to keep them entertained.

“The kids love it, we’ve had craft clubs, sewing, drawing, doing needlepoint, and it’s been great!”

The bar has also been open at night, and people can get a bit of normality. They’ve even been able to pick people up and take them home, she said.

And it’s not just been local residents who have benefitted from the community hub in Walls. SSE engineers drafted in from the Scottish mainland to help in the effort of getting Shetland’s power back on have been using the hub to get a meal and warm up after having been out for hours in freezing conditions.

In Bixter Karen Murie helped set up the local hub there. “On Monday I was on the school run driving the buses. By the time I got home, there was no power,” she said.

“The next day when there was still no power my neighbour Ian came round with flasks of hot water. I had my gas BBQ out which came in handy. We cooked our breakfast and then decided to go to the hall and get some hot water and it’s escalated from there.”

Bixter has had their power back, but the hall has remained open and is now supplying food to around 70 SSE engineers working on the power lines.

Murie added: “My husband was phoning people who work at the wind farm to see if they could help, and the next thing we knew we were getting supplies and people asking if the engineers could come for their lunch. We’ve been feeding kids, elderly, everybody!”

“We’re not a committee, we’re a community.” (Karen Murie of the Bixter hall community hub)

The hall has been a vital part of community support during the darker days. It has a pool table set up for young people to play, with the main part of the hall being used as a dining room. Murie added the kids have been “stars” throughout everything.

Despite all the difficulty and worries, there has also been a lot of positives to the snow and power cuts, she added.

“I’ve gone two years without seeing some of my neighbours, but now I’ve spent a whole week with them. We only stay doors apart, and we’re wondering why we’ve waited until an emergency happens, but life gets in the way.

“It’s been amazing to catch up with all these people as it’s brought us together.”

Philip Pickering and Linda Richardson in the Voe hall: ‘We came up right away’.

Meanwhile in Voe, Philip Pickering and Linda Richardson have been volunteering at their local hall to help serve tea and coffee, fill up flasks, and give people a warm meal since they don’t have power in their own home.

The couple moved to Shetland seven years ago and haven’t experienced snow like this on the island before.

“When we heard the Voe Hall was going to open we came up right away. We are completely electric at home, so it’s been a warm place for us to go while we also help the community,” Richardson said.

Volunteers have also been delivering soup and supplies to vulnerable people who can’t leave their homes. There are shower facilities, and plenty of food has been donated. Richardson added people had come from as far as Sullom to get some support.

Pickering said he saw the moment the hydro pole outside his house fell: “I was looking out the window at the weather when I saw it slowly topple over. All the cables snapped and there were sparks flying everywhere.

“I called 105 right away to report it but it was like a domino effect after that as the others started to go too.”

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