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Community / Income generation key as finances continue to improve at amenity trust

Amenity trust chief executive Hazel Sutherland (left) and chair Alison Moncrieff (right). Photo: BBC Radio Shetland

THE TURNAROUND in Shetland Amenity Trust’s finances in the last year has been “phenomenal”, according to chair Alison Moncrieff.

She was speaking after accounts showed that the trust, which looks after Shetland’s cultural and natural heritage, recorded an in-year surplus in 2022/23.

“It’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Moncrieff said at the trust’s latest AGM on Wednesday.

The trust, whose activities include operating the Shetland Museum and Archives and the visitor centre at the Sumburgh Head lighthouse, has struggled with finances over recent years.

In 2021 accountant Hazel Sutherland took on the chief executive role at the trust, while Moncrieff – who was re-elected as chair at Wednesday’s AGM – also has a background in finance.

Around two thirds of the amenity trust’s income comes through core funding from Shetland Charitable Trust and Shetland Islands Council, whilst it also receives other grants from organisations like Museums Galleries Scotland and NatureScot.

The meeting heard there was an operating surplus of nearly £190,000 in 2022/23 before year-end adjustments were made.

Speaking after the AGM, chief executive Hazel Sutherland said the focus at the amenity trust was on income generation rather than any cuts.

In 2022/23 the trust saw increased visitor numbers at its facilities, tours, exhibitions and educational workshops.

Among the highlights for Moncrieff were hosting Shetland Wool Week, exhibitions, nature events, peatland restoration and expanding the trust’s horticultural unit.

Shetland Amenity Trust’s Staney Hill tree nursery. Photo: SAT

Referring to how the organisation has a requirement from the charitable trust and the council to deliver services for the community, Sutherland said: “First and foremost we wanted to stabilise that in terms of making sure that we had enough people in the posts to actually do what we’re obliged to do.

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“So stabilising that core staff base then just gives you a peerie bit of freedom for them to have enough time in their day to go look for trading income opportunities.

“Some of that is nothing clever or different. It will be for example the tours down at Sumburgh, or the plant sales at woodlands, the talks and events and workshops that goes on here. But it was a deliberate investment in staff and staff time, to then go generate income.”

The trust has previously relied on an overdraft, but Sutherland said this facility was not needed for cash flow in the last financial year, which was described as a “huge improvement”.

Like everyone else, the trust has seen a “significant” increase in its energy bills, but it has been able to manage the rise, and the large museum and archives building is connected to the Lerwick district heating scheme.

When it comes to the staff headcount, Sutherland said the trust will “continue to invest in growing our staff team as long as we have income”.

The charity is continuing to review its estate, including exploring whether buildings like the camping bods can be taken on by communities.

The ruined Park Hall in Bixter was put on the market, while interest was also invited in the community operating the Bressay lighthouse building.

“We don’t necessarily need to be the ones that operate them,” Sutherland said.

Shetland Museum and Archives.

“That’s the shift – we still want to celebrate them and want them back in community use. It’s an honest assessment that we might not always be the best organisation to do the doing.”

Moncrieff added: “Every single person in Shetland owns our heritage. We all have to be involved in it.

“We both have Shetland and the benefit to Shetland at the core of what we’re doing here.

“We’re absolutely committed to making sure that Shetland’s heritage is protected for the future.”

The positive financial picture from the organisation is not quite mirrored by Shetland’s two other key organisations which are funded by the charitable trust but experiencing rising costs.

Shetland Recreational Trust, which operates leisure centres in Shetland, has reduced its headcount and changed operating hours in a bid to balance the books.

Earlier this year Shetland Arts also confirmed it was offering voluntary redundancy to staff as it looked to make another £160,000 in savings.

Meanwhile four new volunteers have been appointed to oversee the work of Shetland Amenity Trust.

The new trustees are Hamish Balfour, Keith Robertson, Margaret Reeves and Shayne McLeod.

Their appointments were confirmed at Wednesday’s AGM.

With Moncrieff appointed as chair, Robert Smith getting the vice-chair role.

The new trustees join Lindsay Tulloch, Bobby Hunter and Vic Thomas. Neville Martin has stepped down.

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