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Visit Scotland | Alba

Scotland’s tourism and events industry engage with Themed Years in all sorts of ways.

Magnus Dixon is E-Marketing Manager at NorthLink Ferries. In this case study he shares details of their Year of Stories activity, and why they chose to get involved.

Can you share some background about NorthLink Ferries?

Serco NorthLink Ferries provide scheduled lifeline passenger and freight services to Orkney and Shetland from the Scottish Mainland.

The comfortable and reliable service sails throughout the year, offering a service from Aberdeen to Lerwick in Shetland, with regular calls into Orkney’s capital of Kirkwall. We also operate sailings from Scrabster in Caithness to Stromness in Orkney. This 90-minute journey is the only sailing to Orkney which passes the iconic sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy.

More than just a business, Serco NorthLink Ferries view ourselves as a member of the local community, serving key sectors within the Northern Isles economies. These include the agriculture, aquaculture and tourism markets, carrying the equivalent of over 43,000 freight trailers and over 300,000 passengers per year.

A Northlink ferry sailing

MV Hjaltland leaves Hatston near Kirkwall in Orkney to sail for Shetland. Credit: NorthLink Ferries 

Have you taken part in a Themed Year before and why did you decide to get involved in Year of Stories 2022?

We have taken part in all of Scotland's Themed Years so far. Some examples of the work we have done included creating posters containing information about Orkney and Shetland's best beaches, wildlife, and Scotland's lighthouses for the Year of Coasts and Waters. For the Year of Young People, we recorded island youngsters reading out our safety announcement, and much more.

We find the Themed Years offer great inspiration to showcase different aspects of both our service, and our island destinations.

What sorts of activities have you been doing to celebrate Year of Stories 2022?

Book front cover with a sailing paper boat in foreground and northlink ferry behind

Onward, Voyager book cover. Credit: NorthLink Ferries

For Scotland’s Year of Stories we:

Ran a short story competition, with four prizes, one for the best short story set in Shetland written by an adult, a prize for the best short story set in Shetland written by a child, another prize for the best short story set in Orkney written by an adult, and finally a prize for the best short story set in Orkney written by a child. We received 52 superb entries, which have been compiled into a downloadable publication, and the competition was judged by 'Shetland' crime writer Ann Cleeves. These can be viewed on our website..

We created a video centred around the poem, A New Child: ECL by George Mackay Brown which can be seen on YouTube

We worked in partnership with Orcadian storyteller Tom Muir and released six Orkney folk tales and six Shetland folklore stories on our website. Three of these stories were illustrated by local artist Ellen Forkin, and two appeared as Year of Stories posters on NorthLink ships and in our ports. Two of the stories also appeared in our on board magazine, Northern Lights.

'Share your story' complementary postcards were available on board, along with a 'share your story' postbox. These encouraged those returning from Orkney or Shetland to write holiday tips (highlights and hidden gems) for others. The postcards were then posted in the post-boxes on the ships and the tips were shared online

We created a children's activity sheet, with a special pull out - a tick sheet called 'things to spot in Orkney and Shetland' to help children tell their holiday story.

What feedback have you had – has it been worthwhile taking part?

It has been very well worthwhile taking part. The postcards have been very popular; it’s great to hear about the time folk have spent on the islands, and lovely to hear other voices speak enthusiastically about their visit. If passengers choose to take the postcard away rather than post a tip, we were pleased too as the ship pictured on the front of the postcard is a great reminder of their holiday.

We were also overwhelmed by the positive response to the short story competition, from the unexpected number of entries, to Ann Cleeves, who so very kindly gave her time to read the entries and choose winners. The folklore posters look very eye-catching on board our ships, and the George Mackay Brown video is very moving and was very positively received.

Would you recommend that other organisations take part in a Themed Year?

Very much so. It allowed us to highlight a lesser-known aspect of the islands - the folklore, and also encouraged our passengers to tell the story of their time visiting the islands. The themed years encourage our creative teams to think outside the box, which spurs us on to create great marketing material for NorthLink and for Shetland and Orkney.

You can find out more about NorthLink Ferries on their website. 

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