What is the aim of the project?
To encourage locals and visitors to appreciate Shetland’s ever-changing, beautiful, dramatic skies.
Where is it taking place?
On Unst, a remote island off mainland Shetland.
What has been achieved?
Unst is one of the poorer Shetland islands. Its population dropped by 30% in the 2000s when the RAF withdrew. The lack of access to services and arts venues, coupled with the fragile local economy, means that it is important to have exciting, artistic projects on the island that local people can access, and local artists are keen on opportunities to showcase their work on the island.
Wild Skies Shetland (WSS) work with island folk to develop interesting, low-cost or free things for local people to do. This might be walking the Planetary Trail, with its amazing views and work by local artists; making and setting up solargraphic cameras with a professional artist; working on a film together; or gathering to play local tunes for the Sky Trail’s “musical benches”. Unst has strong cultural and artistic heritage, and Wild Skies’ activities provide an outlet for these. The Sky Trail has 13 sky-related stops. Through notice boards; QR codes; web-pages with text, illustrations and sound; and talking benches WSS showcase Unst’s artistic and cultural life.
WSS activities also benefit visitors. Unst struggles with not being able to retain tourists for more than a few hours, and who spend little or no money when there. The Sky Trail, in particular, encourages people to stay for longer, providing economic benefits for the island.
WSS is proud of its contribution to the local economy and community cohesion. The project has provided employment by recruiting a part-time Social Media Communicator, and created local contract opportunities, for example to build the Sky Trail. The community hostel had a valuable block booking for a school trip, which walked the Planetary Trail. The local Brownies did a star-gazing badge for the first time, inspired by Wild Skies’ creations, and a local musician held a concert in an atmospheric new venue, having seen the Sky Trail Stop there.
Who is running it?
Wild Skies Shetland is a volunteer run organisation, with five of the seven WSS trustees living on Unst.
Why did the judging panel like it?
The judges were impressed by the ambition and drive of WSS to support the sustainability of their community in Unst. The judges recognised that the varied work of the organisation demonstrated strong partnerships and multiple impacts, for the island economy, wellbeing, education and community regeneration. In particular, the project highlighted the value of embedding local language, culture and heritage within creative and community activity. With a focus on the skies and environment and the rooting of activity in their local community, history and culture, there are considerable opportunities for further development. The judges considered that WSS had a truly community-led approach to regeneration, with significant potential for adaptation and growth to respond to future changing community needs.