SUE WILSON reports on the Wrigley Sisters efforts to find a new home for their culture centre in Kirkwall
THROUGHOUT the 1990s and beyond, the Orkney duo of fiddler Jennifer Wrigley and her guitarist/pianist twin Hazel were one of Scotland’s most successful young folk acts, touring extensively around the world and releasing four increasingly acclaimed albums. They were based in Edinburgh during this time, until the birth of Jennifer’s son Magnus in January 2003 prompted both sisters’ return home to Orkney, where they planned to continue their careers on a different track, primarily through teaching.
“We were both so homesick after all those years of travelling,” Hazel remembers, “but after having such an amazing time playing Orkney music around the world, we also wanted to try and put something back into the scene here.” Their first small step towards any larger ambitions was to look for a venue where their respective students could meet: “It just seemed daft to be always teaching the fiddlers and guitarists separately, when they could be learning to play together as well.”
In 2004, they rented a ground-
We see this as something that could still be realising its potential in a hundred years time: that’s why we have to get it on a sound long-
Now renamed as The Wrigley Sisters’ Centre of Music, the premises today incorporate The Reel, a comfy and popular café which converts to a bar on weekend evenings, hosting a lively Saturday-
There are now 26 staff on the payroll – mostly part-
Four years on from those makeshift beginnings, however, not only are the building’s capacities being stretched to their limits – so are the Wrigleys themselves. “We came back to teach, and to recharge the inspiration that had sent us off in the first place,” Hazel says, “but suddenly we’ve found ourselves running this huge business. It’s great the way it’s taken off, but it just swallows all our time, and ultimately that’s just not sustainable, for us or for what we’re trying to do.”
Indeed, a typical day at the Centre will find both sisters constantly on the go, morning till night, be it staffing the music shop, serving coffees and lunches, teaching students, ordering stock, fielding phone-
Additionally, the building itself has several major drawbacks, chiefly its lack of disabled access and soundproofing. The requisite conversion work, particularly to install a wheelchair lift, would be dauntingly costly, an investment the Wrigleys are understandably reluctant to undertake on the basis of their current temporary lease, and especially now that they could really do with somewhere bigger.
The perfect solution, however, could be just a stone’s throw away, across the corner of Kirkwall’s main street from the Centre’s current site, in the shape of the former tourist information centre, vacant since Visit Orkney decamped to its new purpose-
“The building’s ready to go – we could just move straight in,” says Hazel, as the sisters await the outcome of their application to take over the premises, due to be considered by Orkney Islands Council (OIC) next month. “We really need somewhere in the centre of town, so it’s within walking distance for kids coming from school – if their parents have to ferry them about too much, it’s just another disincentive. Plus the café and bar need to be somewhere people can just drop into, without making a special trek to get there, otherwise you lose that whole organic social side to it.
“This place is also exactly the right size – it would give us up to ten teaching rooms – it’s got good access already, and it’s also got loads of space out the back: we could have café tables outside in the summer, and ideally we’d like to build another study space there, a kind of combined education centre and social history museum, to link in with the music teaching.”
She remains cautious, however, about the likelihood of these plans reaching fruition. “There have been surveys showing that local people want the building kept for public or community use,” she says, “but Orkney College are also interested in taking it over, as well as commercial landlords. And even if the council offered it to us, but at a commercial rent, we’d need a fourfold increase in trade to cover that, which – if it was feasible at all – would inevitably take away from the other things we want to do with the place.”
It’s worth noting that the Wrigleys’ application for the building is their first recourse to any form of publicly funded support, other than approaching Highlands and Islands Enterprise for help in planning their proposed move and expansion. In order to retain the current operation’s independence and its multi-
This refers both to the cogs in a machine, whose individual movement drives that of others within the mechanism as a whole, and the communal drinking vessel – akin to the Scots quaich – known traditionally in Orkney as a cog. Components within The Cog would include The Reel café/bar; the music school; a shop and information point known as The Stop, which would publicise and promote music events around Orkney, as well as advising on tuition; The Wrigleys themselves, as resident professional performers and tradition-
By partially separating out the more commercially-
It would also enable different parts of the enterprise to access relevant sources of funding, be it for service provision or business development, without either falling foul of the public/private divide, or being subsumed by external policy objectives.
Additionally, the openness and fluidity of The Cog’s structure would encourage the development of creative and business relationships with other cultural and educational bodies in Orkney, according to the twin overall aims of nurturing local traditions and heritage within the islands, and increasing their national and international profile.
It’s a radical vision, but no less an inspiring one, with the potential not only to create a world-
“We’re very aware that what we’re trying to do – promote Orkney’s culture and its cultural growth, and help secure its economy – is much bigger than Jennifer and me,” Hazel says. “We see this as something that could still be realising its potential in a hundred years time: that’s why we have to get it on a sound long-
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