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Shetland: Community projects come to life with a little help from charitable trust

Publication: Shetland News

It's name might sound somewhat less than exciting but there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about Shetland’s Capital Works Bridging Loan scheme.

Janet Catterall has enjoyed her first summer as a warden at the caravan park. Photo by Shetland News | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

That is the title of a £1.5 million fund run by Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT), which quietly and effectively smoothes the path for many ambitious community projects which enhance island life.

The effort that goes into drawing up plans and securing national and international grant funding can be in vain if an organisation lacks its own funds to pay contractors’ bills when they come in before the grant donors release their funds.

SCT can step in to lend the cash at zero interest to bridge the gap.

A recent project helped into existence in this way was the £670,000 Scalloway Caravan Park in the Tingwall Valley. The five-star-rated addition to Shetland’s amenities got off to a flying start in its first summer season with high demand for hiring its two wigwams and ten caravan pitches at Asta.

Access to a £400,000 loan from SCT meant the bills for materials and contractor’s fees could be paid on time, helping the construction workflow.

The Scalloway Community Development Company created the caravan park. Its chair, Davie Sandison, rated the SCT bridging loan scheme as “absolutely excellent”.

“Frankly, we wouldn’t have been able to proceed unless we had that support,” he said. “To go and borrow that funding from the commercial market would have been a substantial extra cost, especially because this project’s taken a lot longer than we planned.”

The process of claiming the grant money, often from several different funders, can be onerous and time-consuming for voluntary groups, he said, with months passing before payment comes through for work done.

“I don’t know how community groups can do it in other parts of the country because I don’t suppose there are too many schemes like the bridging loan scheme around. I think we are very fortunate to have it and it’s probably why we do alright in Shetland in getting projects going.”

SCT’s bridging loan scheme began in 2010 as a way of helping lever millions of pounds of mainly European funding into Shetland. There were concerns that its days might be numbered after Brexit with EU grants drying up.

However, it continues to operate and has issued a total of 55 loans to support £5.8 million that has been spent on local projects.

Recent loans include to the North Yell Development Council to help create ten new sites on the industrial estate at Cullivoe Pier, to the British Legion in Lerwick to make the building cosier and more suitable for families and disabled people, and a loan to Papa Stour History and Community Group as it seeks to save the island’s dilapidated kirk.

The SCT bridging loans are available to charitable organisations working on a public building or amenity or seeking to provide something new for the community.

Up to £1.5 million is available at any time following a decision by trustees to increase the funding available due to the increasing success of the scheme. Loans can cover up to 90 per cent of the value of the grant aid.

SCT chair Robert Leask and his fellow trustees are proud of what the scheme has been able to achieve at little cost to the trust other than the small amount of income it would have made on interest.

He said:

“This pot of loan finance is there for projects that might not otherwise happen. The trust is very pleased that it can do its bit to help all the volunteers and staff get their projects over the starting line. The loan scheme helps the pieces fall into place so that good ideas can come to fruition to everyone’s benefit.”

The latest big project to get a helping hand is the new £8 million Fair Isle Bird Observatory, borrowing up to £500,000 to help bring it to fruition.

The brand-new building now has tiles on the roof and should open next year to replace the observatory that burnt down in 2019. Construction in Shetland has its challenges, but a large project on a remote island is on another level, with awkward logistics and bad weather to contend with.

Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust chair Douglas Barr said:

“The fact that there is a scheme within Shetland that assists projects is pretty unique.

“It’s extremely useful because we’ve got various funders, and the money comes in at different stages. So, to be able to smooth that out and have a relatively stable cash flow is really important, particularly in this day and age.”

In earlier years SCT’s bridging loan scheme was important for many of Shetland’s biggest community developments, including Scalloway Museum, Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, Sumburgh Lighthouse, Sandsayre Pier and the Bressay Sports Park.

Application forms and further details about the Capital Works Bridging Loan Scheme are available on SCT’s website at or by emailing

This article was provided by Shetland Charitable Trust