Capturing Unst’s Spirit

The long-running BBC television series An Island Parish follows the lives of island communities and the local parish. In the past the programme has visited the Isles of Scilly, Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Sark in the Channel Islands and gone further afield to the Falkland Islands. For the eleventh series, producers headed to Unst, following the Rev. David Cooper and other island residents. The programme is a gentle observational documentary rooted in the community of the islands featured, with a particular focus on the church and the role it plays in island life. Production coordinator Rosie Patchett is one of the team who worked on the project and told Shetland Life how she found the experience on the ‘island above all others’.

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Shetland Life: When was the production team in Unst and how long were you based there?

Rosie Patchett: The production team were in Unst from mid-June until December last year for anywhere between two weeks and a month at a time. We tried to be there for as many key events in Unst as possible, as well as giving ourselves time to get to know the island and the local community.

SL: Which parts of the community did you get access to?

RP: We spoke to people from all parts of the community and everyone was incredibly helpful by putting us in touch with people when we wanted to explore an event or idea further. Being based in Unst over such a long period meant we had the opportunity to get to know people from local businesses like the Final Checkout and Baltasound Hotel, as well as the organisers of events, such as the brilliant UnstFest and the Norik Eela.

SL: Shetlanders are famed for their welcoming attitude, did you find that was the case in Unst?

RP: Absolutely. We were lucky enough to be able to take time off from filming to get to know people and found everyone eager to help. Alongside much-appreciated dinner invitations we received advice on anything we needed. Whether it was better ways to travel to Unst, local fishing spots or how to avoid being dive-bombed by disgruntled skuas, there was always someone more than willing to help out.

SL: What was the highlight of the time spent in the island?

RP: Stumbling across Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms after our first rather long journey to Unst and sitting down to afternoon tea is certainly one of the highlights. The Norik Eela was a really enjoyable event that stands out as a great example of how everyone in Unst gets into the spirit of things and pulls together to put an event on.

SL: Did you find any challenges that were particular to filming in Unst, or do other island communities face similar difficulties?

RP: We’re usually prepared for some unpredictable weather when filming on islands and Unst was no different. We drank a lot of tea so the biggest challenge was probably running out of milk on a Sunday and knowing you’d have to ask a friendly neighbour if you wanted another cup of tea before the ferries came in on Monday.

SL: The first Shetland Reel Festival was held during your time filming in the island. Were you surprised to see so many visiting and local musicians coming together in such a way?

RP: We’d actually been fortunate enough to see some of the local talent before the festival so we knew it was going to be a great event, but to see various musicians from Shetland and America playing some of the sessions together, having never met each other before, really highlighted just how good the musical talent in Shetland is.

SL: Did you have time to enjoy the fantastic sights and attractions that Unst has to offer?

RP: Both when filming and in our time off we had the chance to explore the island. We managed to take time for walks to Hermaness to see the puffins and to explore the Viking ruins dotted all over the island, not to mention sampling the local food and drink.

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