Bressay is seven minutes by ferry from Lerwick, and offers Shetland in miniature - inspiring coastal landscapes, wildlife up close, and sites of historical, natural and adventure interest. At 11 square miles (28 km2), it is the fifth largest island in Shetland and has a population of around 350.
HIE’s Shetland Area Office works closely with Bressay Development Ltd (BD ltd), one of HIE’s newest CAM anchor organisations, to develop its plan for growth on Bressay. Funding for the LDO post is provided through the Community Capacity Building Programme, and Sharon Anderson was recently recruited to the role. Here she offers her take on the job so far:
"As an island resident, I understand both the challenges for Bressay at present and also the opportunities we have identified as a community. I’m looking forward to working with community reps and other organisations to make happen what’s in our development plan. The most immediate task is finding new tenants for our community hub and working out how we make our café service financially viable in the long term."
Over recent years Bressay has experienced the ongoing challenges of declining and ageing population, alongside remoteness from the market, reducing transport capacity and logistics, high cost of living and limited service provision.
In late 2013, Bressay residents formed a steering group to see what they could do to reverse decline on the island. An extensive community engagement exercise was undertaken resulting in the formation of a Bressay Development Plan.
The steering group formed a not-for-profit company BD ltd, in late 2015. It is run by a volunteer committee of five directors, who are committed to working in partnership with other key organisations on the island such as the community council, hall committee and boating club, to develop community resources and tourism facilities on the island.
Priorities from the plan include:
Developing Bressay as a visitor destination including plans for a caravan and campsite
Researching housing needs and identifying solutions
Working in partnership with Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to find creative solutions to island transport needs
Developing the former school as a viable hub providing a range of community services
Using Climate Challenge funds to put in place a community bike service and deliver “Skills for Sustainability” training
BD ltd operates a monthly bulky waste removal service, an annual clear up of roadsides and a quarterly community newsletter. They organise regular fundraising events and have produced walk leaflets and a geocache trail.
Following successful funding bids to Awards for All, SIC and the Climate Challenge Fund, in December 2015 BD ltd took on the lease of the former Bressay Primary School with the aim of securing the building for the community and providing facilities including a café on the island.
The Speldiburn Café in the school's former canteen, named after the burn that passes next to the premises, opened in June 2016, set up by BD ltd following extensive consultation with the Bressay community. The school's former music room now houses a second hand shop, and a range of classes and workshops have been held in the new hub. The official opening took place in May 2017 and was covered by the Shetland Times.
Chairwoman of BD ltd, Hazel Anderson: "It’s great to see The Speldiburn Café up and running. Our homemade food is attracting visitors and local alike. The café has created some new jobs on Bressay and we are delighted to be employing island residents.
"We’ve already attracted some regular customers and this is helping keep the service running during the winter months.”
There is much to do in Bressay but the development plan coupled with staff and volunteer resources provides a framework for action. There are plans to participate in other learning events and networking opportunities with other community development groups in Shetland. BD ltd recognise that partnership working will be key to realising much of their development plan, and they are beginning to form strong relationships with key organisations such as HIE.
With BD ltd’s commitment and the support of the islanders, work towards ensuring the long term development of Bressay is gathering pace.