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Shetland Arts is proud to announce that this morning (Friday 27 July) it took part in All the Bells, a UK-wide project celebrating the first day of the London 2012 Olympic Games, as the UK’s most northerly participant.

This morning at 8:12am, the aptly named Belle Spence, alongside 40 others of all ages, rang a bell for three minutes as quickly and as loudly as possible on Skaw beach in Unst, Shetland’s most northerly Isle, heralding the beginning of the Olympic Games across the UK. This was broadcast live on BBC Radio Scotland via live satellite uplink and was also recorded by BBC Radio Shetland.

Prior to ringing the bell on Skaw Beach, Belle appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show, talking about the unique part she and her fellow community members were set to play in this nationwide project.

Belle being interviewed

Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, aka All the Bells, is a project created by Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed. Creed attended the Slade School of Art in London and has had numerous solo exhibitions and projects around the world. All the Bells was commissioned by the London 2012 Festival to welcome the beginning of the Olympic Games.

The project saw bells ringing simultaneously all across the UK for three minutes this morning. This included church bells in more than 5,000 locations, school bells, town hall bells, bicycle bells and doorbells. The bell used by Belle to ring in the games is an antique, handheld bell, kindly loaned by the Unst Boat Haven, which was originally used by the Baltasound Herring Station to signal when fish were going to be auctioned.

Work No. 1197: All the bells - Skaw Beach - Unst (Artist: Martin Creed) from Shetland Arts on Vimeo.

During her interview on the Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show, Belle expanded on the story behind the bell: the Baltasound Herring Station was actually a floating fish market which took place on board the Lunde, a Norweigian boat, in the 1900s, which moored in the entrance to Baltasound.

Baltasound is in Unst, the most northerly populated island in the UK. Sited on a 12 by 5 mile area and with a population of approximately 700, the land remains unspoilt and visitors are always welcomed.

Belle Spence lives in Unst, near to Skaw Beach. She is an enthusiastic marathon runner and is the driving force behind Shetland’s yearly record-breaking fundraiser, Relay for Life. Belle was also a torchbearer when the Olympic Torch visited Shetland in June.

Belle was accompanied on the beach by 40 other people from Unst, including her own family. Her family members also rang antique bells with unique back stories. They rang school long-handled bells, one from the Westing School which shut down in the mid 1940s, another from the Haroldswick School, which shut down around 15 years ago, and another from the Baltasound School.

Bell ringers on the beach

Belle said: “It’s been amazing getting to take part in this. I felt very special being asked to be a torchbearer and now I’ve also got to ring this bell to signal the start of the Games; I’m really pleased to get to be both the UK’s most northerly torchbearer and the UK’s most northerly bell ringer.” She added that it is very important for local communities to feel involved in the Olympics and this project did just that.

Shetland Arts’ Director, Gwilym Gibbons, said: “It’s fantastic to have been part of an historic moment in which the whole of the UK came together to ring in the start of Olympics, and there is something very special about being part of the moment on the UK’s most northerly beach with members of the Unst Community.”

Shetland Arts has made sure that this special moment has not gone undocumented by working with local sound artists to capture the unique soundscape of the 40 bells, including school bells, sleigh bells, crystal bells, and cow bells, ringing with the sound of the waves, wind and wildlife in the background.

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