2017 is a special year for Stromness as the town celebrates 200 years of becoming a Burgh of Barony and taking control of its own affairs for the first time. A full programme of events is planned, focusing on the past, present and future of the town.
The Per Mare celebrations (the name is taken from the town's motto, meaning 'By the Sea') will see the local residents come together to highlight the vibrancy of the place and the people. We've asked Per Mare Development Officer, Kirsty Groundwater, to tell us what makes Stromness so special.
In the 1960s, Stromness–born poet George Mackay Brown wrote, in an official tourist guide book for the town, that Stromness ‘in several important respects shows a vitality that Kirkwall cannot match – in intellectual and political matters, for example, and perhaps also in affairs of the creative imagination. It is still to Stromness that Orkney people come to hear the best in debate and discussion (on all levels, from the Town Council through the two Debating Societies to the pungent Pier Head gossips) and to experience the most original creative work in Orkney.'
There’s no doubt that much has changed in Stromness in the fifty-odd years since these words were written. The guide book itself boasts no less than 42 adverts for local businesses – long-forgotten establishments like Tait’s Gift Salon, the Home Bakery Café on John Street (apparently the only Espresso Coffee House in Orkney) and Guthrie House Furnishers on the North End Road, selling ‘reliable furniture at reasonable prices’.
Local shops in Stromness, like so many other towns across the UK, have struggled in the face of supermarkets and internet shopping, and although the town still offers an impressive array of shops, it doesn’t compare to the heyday of the mid 20th century.
But what Stromness continues to thrive on, as GMB wrote, is its incredible creative energy. Each year visitors flock to the town to wander around the world-renowned Pier Arts Centre or to spend an afternoon exploring the town’s various small arts and craft shops. Artists themselves are drawn to the creative inspiration Stromness offers, with makers of all types establishing a base for themselves in the town, including at the recently refurbished artists’ studios in the former library building at the foot of the Hellihole Rd.
The town also continues to make moves towards establishing itself as a centre of academic excellence. Heriot-Watt University has had a presence in the town for a number of years and the recent announcement of £6.5m of funding for a research and innovation campus at the Old Academy site could see Stromness establishing itself as the St Andrews of the north.
That creative force has come to the forefront this year as Stromness celebrates a huge milestone in its history, by marking 200 years since it became a Burgh of Barony. This move allowed the town to take control of its own affairs, establishing a town council and taking as its motto ‘Per Mare’, meaning ‘by the sea’, a nod to not only its geographical location but to the life blood that has sustained the town for generations.
Folk from all across the town have come together to plan a series of events for the year which share three common themes – remembering and exploring the history of the town, celebrating everything that the town has now and imagining the future.
There are events planned throughout the year, but the biggest will take place in Per Mare week – scheduled for 24 – 30 July, the week after the town’s annual Shopping Week, to encourage visitors to linger longer in the town.
Plans for the week range from a day of family activities looking at Stromness’ relationship with the sea and its unique structure of piers, a food and drink market showcasing the excellent produce available in and around the area and a community sports day, perhaps bringing back memories of old rivalries between the youngsters of the North (the North-enders) and South ends (the Nessers) of the town. Plans are also afoot to open up the town’s historic Commercial Hotel for an exhibition of toys and fashions from previous decades.
Watch our short film to get a feel for Stromness and what the celebrations are all about.
Planning for the events has brought together a huge spectrum of organisations, from the ladies of the local flower club to the town’s formidable football team; and from the very youngest children at Stromness Primary School to the salty sea dogs of the Sailing Club and Yole Association.
The scale of the proposals requires Stromnessians to pull off a huge team effort, but the confidence and enthusiasm in the town for the celebrations is palpable.