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Queen’s Birthday Honours: Orkney man awarded BEM for decades-long service to arts and sport

Norman Rushbrook has received a BEM.
Norman Rushbrook has received a BEM.

An Orkney resident who has dedicated decades to arts and sport on the island has been included on the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Norman Rushbrook has received a BEM in recognition of his service to the arts and squash in his adopted home of Orkney.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” the retired lighting manager, said about finding out the news just a few weeks ago.

“It was not just me, I moved the levers but hundreds were working with me. The honours should cover all of us.”

Decades of work in the arts

Mr Rushbrook’s association with the arts world in Orkney stems back to the 1960s when he moved to the island from Edinburgh to work as a surveyor with the county council.

One of the first jobs he worked on was the conversion of the Orkney Arts Theatre on Mill Street, Kirkwall.

“While working, I said ‘I’m quite interested in stage lighting’ and then went on to do it for 50 years.”

He then became involved with the St Magnus International Festival, founded in 1977, and worked as their lighting manager until 2016.

“Working with the local authority on building schools and public buildings, we put in the ability to do stage lighting. I was able to influence that,” he said.

“Off the back of the festival, the stage crew started a company, the St Magnus Stage Crew. People could use us for our expertise, and we’d help set up gigs for anything in the county.”

Bringing squash to Orkney

The 85-year-old has also been recognised for his services to the sports world on the island, particularly squash.

“When I arrived in Orkney in 1966, there was no such thing as squash,” he said.

He shared that one of the locals had been at Cambridge and inspired some others to give the sport a go on a basic court at the Hatston Industrial Estate.

“We walked into this rectangular space and the floor was covered in tatties. It was being used to store potatoes but was built by the RAF during the war to keep the pilots in shape.

“It then became the Kirkwall Squash Club which was extended over the years, with four courts eventually. I was involved in the creation and the drawings for extensions.”

Mr Rushbrook, who still lives in Kirkwall with his wife, has taken a back seat in more recent years, but is still on the theatre committee – and continuing to enjoy Orkney performances from the audience.

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