Created on: 05 Dec 2023 | Last modified: 23 Feb 2024
I began my learning journey by studying higher communications at the Whalsay Learning Centre, I wanted to get back into further education. Reintroducing myself to education surpassed my expectations, I found I was enjoying it much more than I anticipated. After passing the exam, this motivated me to try the six-month art new direction course at Shetland College. When the lecturers saw my artwork, the head of the art department asked me if I wanted to join the national certificate in art and design. This was a year long course which with encouragement I decided to take. I absolutely loved every aspect of the course and felt vexed when it was over.
However, due to my high marks, I was encouraged to continue my studies with the contemporary textile’s degree. I was reluctant to join the course at first, as the writing aspect seemed incredibly daunting, but I was able to overcome this. The thing I was most proud of was my dissertation as I got the highest mark in my class. Although I’d received A’s in other parts of the course, this was most special to me.
At the end of the year, my commitment to studying led me to win Shetland College’s student of the year followed by the Highlands and Islands student of the year. Since graduating I have been working part time on my art, selling unique pieces to order. One of my long sleeve, fine lace/engineered print dresses from my degree show was bought by the Shetland Museum and is on permanent display.
My Norwind schooner with lace sails has also been on display in the museum for tall ships and wool week. My goal is to build on my body of work for my own exhibition. My husband and I also completed the website building course at the Whalsay Learning Centre, his blog is still in use and was mentioned by promote Shetland as a great birdwatcher’s blog worth reading.
Irvine,A. (2023) ‘Norwind on display at Shetland Museum’ [Facebook] 25 July. Available at: Facebook (14 November 2023)
I think you could say my learning experience at school was a bit of a disaster. For various reasons I left school with no qualifications. I was lucky to live in a community where there was plenty work, mostly manual labour in the local fish processing factory. I secured a 2-year placement in a local shop in the then youth training scheme (YTS). Part of the training involved day release to college in Lerwick and distance learning. I found an interest in retail and the courses we were doing. At the end of the two years, I had won the award for trainee of the year. This was a great achievement for me considering my less than favourable school years. It showed me that I could in fact learn!
I went on to have my children and found that once it was time to enter the workplace again, my confidence in my ability was back to where it had been at school. I have since found out I possibly have Dyslexia, so perhaps that was a barrier to my learning at school.
I heard about our local learning centre and enrolled in a course called New Directions. It was for people who had been out of education or were lacking confidence, and to help get back in to the workforce.
I really enjoyed being able to pop to the learning centre, in a small friendly environment. Going to college was something I wouldn’t even have considered as I couldn’t have gone off island to study due to finances and childcare issues.
Once I completed the New Directions course, I found my desire to learn again and enrolled in numerous courses through the Whalsay Learning Centre (bookkeeping, minute taking, ECDL etc.). These courses helped me in the role of community council clerk which I held for 7 years. I also had support completing the City & Guilds NVQ 2 in Pharmacy Services which was required for the role of Dispensing Receptionist at our local Health Centre.
When I had completed all courses that I could do through the Whalsay Learning Centre. I finally decided to enrol at the Shetland College in Lerwick to do a HNC in Business, part-time, as this allowed me to keep working whilst studying. However due to a change in my work the college timetable clashed with my work hours. Thankfully the learning centre was there for me again and I did my all my HNC study locally and my PDA in IT. I was also able to sit my final exam there as well.
The irony is that I currently work part-time in the school as clerical assistant, I never imagined myself back in school after my own poor school experience. I am also the Presiding Officer for Whalsay and Skerries at Elections. Without the learning centre giving me the confidence to engage in learning and the skills to gain my qualifications I would not, I don’t think be able to undertake the career path I have.
How do we measure the wealth of a university?
I am concerned to hear about the proposed redundancies at UHI Shetland. This will undoubtably have a negative impact on the students and wider community as well as the lecturers.
The isolated communities on Shetland deserve the chance to access tertiary education. For me, the option to study later in life, in a rural setting, was essential. My learning journey did not begin well, I struggled at school. I was heartbroken not to be accepted into the Fine Art degree courses I applied for in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I studied an HND Social Sciences at Aberdeen. It was not my first choice. At seventeen, I found city life overwhelming. I moved back to Shetland and worked at the Shetland Times Bookshop. Later, I started a family.
As a young mother, I began a new student journey with courses at the (then) Shetland College and the Whalsay Learning Centre, including NC Art and Design, Creative Writing, and Web Page Design. The social benefit of these courses, as well as the educational, should be a major part of the discussion. The courses had diverse social groups, with students of varying ages and backgrounds. In a time when people struggle with mental health and wellbeing, these courses provide an inclusive space for diverse groups of people to socialise and learn new skills. Personally, I felt that the smaller groups of students meant that I did not feel overwhelmed, I gained confidence in public speaking, academic writing, my artistic ability, and working with technology. It encouraged me to take my studies further.
This year, I graduate from UHI Shetland with a First-Class Honours Degree in Fine Art. I cannot stress enough the importance of the practical, hands-on teaching and the resources that were available to the students at the college. A variety of teaching approaches and access to different materials is invaluable in art, as it is in most practical subjects.
I am now working towards my master’s degree in Contemporary Art and Archaeology at UHI Orkney. I have exhibited locally and nationally. I am showing work in the 125th Scottish Society of Artists exhibition. I am in the process of setting up a studio and gallery in Whalsay. My art career would not have been possible without the opportunity to study in Shetland and the combined expert knowledge and support I received from all my lecturers over the years.
I am sure my journey is not unique. The opportunities provided by UHI Shetland are vital to the continued longevity of these islands. Personal growth promotes community growth; by investing in the student journey, we invest in future employability and growth of skills within Shetland.
So, I put the question to you again, how do we measure the wealth of a university?