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Bressay Shift

Rex Fearnehough surrounded by his belongings. Photo: Charlie Umphray

“I’m 79 and I shouldn’t have to live like this.” So said Rex Fearnehough, who is trying to carry on while council workmen install new storage heaters in his sheltered accommodation in Bressay.

The work, which involves upheaval to six properties in the Glebe Park scheme, started two weeks ago and is due to last three months in total.

In order for the work to begin, Mr Fearnehough has had to clear his loft and his walk-in cupboard. All his possessions are now piled in his sitting room, which doubles as his bedroom.

He said he was not warned when work was due to start, and the chaos is so bad that he is calling for alternative arrangements to be made.

His bedsit-type room, which measures 10 feet by 20 feet, is the only living space in his single-person unit, apart from a compact kitchen and small bathroom, which is adjacent to the walk-in cupboard.
The scene in the room in which he spends his days with his blind sheepdog Jock is, he admits, shambolic.

Furniture and musical instruments (music is his hobby) fill the room and boxes of tools and books spill on to every surface. Only one corner of the couch can be cleared for seating. The television and computer are almost lost among the possessions and there is only just space on the floor for the dog’s bowls.

Mr Fearnehough, who has two heart conditions and suffers from depression, celebrated his 79th birthday on Tuesday. He does not know how he will endure the mess until January.
He said: “I can’t even clean [the room]. I have to move everything to vacuum. I’ve never lived like this.”

All six of the sheltered homes are being affected because the council workmen have to lay wires for the adjoining properties simultaneously.

Although he fears his 94-year-old neighbour across the road will be “disturbed” when work starts on her property, Mr Fearnehough maintains he is suffering the most. Two of his neighbours are away and the others, who have not lived there very long, have less “stuff”.

Mr Fearnehough has been in his property 15 years and said: “I’m the only decrepit one of the residents in ‘Death Row’.”

During his time in Glebe Park the former merchant seaman and engineer has indulged his hobby of making musical instruments – his grandfather was a jobbing musician who played fiddle and accordion.

The instruments include intricately made African koras and a selection of guitars and drums.

He said: “I’ve always liked music and I’ve got to do something. I’m teaching myself to play the guitar.”

These musical creations comprise just some of his possessions, which all have to be moved whenever the workmen want access.

The radiators, which are to be removed, are under the window, which involves negotiating a barricade of things.

But the installation of the new storage heaters, which are being stored in the scheme’s communal passage, is not as simple as taking one heater out and putting another one in the same place. Heater are no longer allowed under windows – in case the curtains catch fire.

Mr Fearnehough hurt his knee while shifting the large bookcase out of the walk-in cupboard. He said the workmen might help him if he asked, but they said if they moved things he would never find them.
The workmen were “very good” but the problem was space.

He said: “I’ve got nowhere to go, I haven’t got another room. I can’t leave the dog. I realise some things have got to be done, but they’re being done with the normal council inefficiency.”

To make matters worse some of his possessions have overflowed into the communal corridor – and a member of the public complained they were a fire risk.

Mr Fearnehough cannot see why he was given more notice of the start of the work – it had been “threatened” for two years – and why alternative accommodation could not have been sourced “for the ones who want it”. A caravan would suffice, he said, or even a room on an accommodation barge.

He said the council had not so far offered practical help, although two people from various departments had been to see him. They tackled him about stuff in the corridor – he admitted it was his – and they had promised to do something. But nothing has happened.

He said: “I’m angry that it’s not only me but other people have been and will be disregarded.”

He blamed council departments for not talking to each other.

“They haven’t planned it [the work] right. If I’d known when they were coming I’d have asked for help. We’re still paying rent, there’s been no reduction.”

He blasted the council for the lack of anyone to take responsibility. He said he had contacted fellow Bressay resident Michael Stout, one of the three Lerwick North members who represent the isle.

Mr Fearnehough said the councillor had been helpful, although the problem had been referred back to the council.

He said: “I worked in big business as an aircraft engineer and had to sign off aircraft and take responsibility for hundreds of people’s lives.

“One of the fellows in the council, when I asked questions, just shrugged his shoulders. The council didn’t plan, and didn’t decant residents.”

In any case, he regarded the whole replacement programme as “stupid” in a time of austerity.
“When I was an engineer you didn’t just rip something out when it became obsolete. No-one could give me an answer why they are changing the heating. It’s so frustrating.”

He added that he thought government policy was to look after older people.

However, there could be a solution – in the form of an old boiler house within the sheltered housing complex. The boiler has been taken out and Mr Fearnehough has identified the space as a “perfect” workshop where he, and others, could keep their tools. But the council has to agree to this.

SIC housing chief Anita Jamieson said she could not discuss individual cases but the council was very aware of Mr Fearnehough’s circumstances.

Mrs Jamieson said: “Sheltered housing tenants have the sevices of community housing support workers.

“We have done a number of these contracts, and a team goes out and explains how the work will happen and introduces the contractors. At the end of the day we’re trying to improve properties.”

She added: “We wouldn’t do decants for this type of work.”

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