Nurturing Sustainability in Highland Museums: A Climate Ambassador’s Journey

Nurturing Sustainability in Highland Museums: A Climate Ambassador’s Journey

We hear from Aila Schäfer on her journey as one of our MHH Climate Ambassadors:

Embarking on a six-month journey as a Climate Ambassador with Museums and Heritage Highland has been an interesting and insightful experience. Our mission is clear: to support museums across the Highlands in implementing environmentally sustainable practices. But how can we tackle such a big project in only six months? This blog post will delve into the process, progress we made so far, and our hopes and expectations for the outcome of this important project.

The Challenge:
Navigating the path towards environmental sustainability poses a considerable challenge for our independent Highland museums, especially those with limited resources, as addressing sustainability may seem overwhelming. Factors such as limited staffing, insufficient project funding, and the fear of venturing into uncharted territories can create barriers.

However, the importance of becoming more sustainable is accentuated by the contemporary call for funders to incorporate sustainability practices in their strategies and application processes. This adds a new layer of significance to the pursuit of environmentally friendly practices, making it not just a moral obligation but a strategic imperative for museums seeking financial support and longevity.

Despite the size or constraints each museum faces, tackling these challenges head-on is crucial and making a positive impact is achievable for every institution. As educational institutions, dedicated to serving communities, we bear a responsibility to ensure that our collections will be preserved for generations to come in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way. This commitment holds true regardless of the size or potential obstacles faced by our museums.

Climate Ambassador Training:
As a Climate Ambassador, I have actively participated in Ki Futures training sessions, immersing myself in a wealth of resources, including books, articles, and engaging video sessions. The monthly one-on-one meetings with our mentor have proven invaluable, guiding me through the large field of sustainability in museums. Together with my fellow climate ambassadors and our mentor, we have designed a comprehensive questionnaire for participating museums, which helps us to establish a foundational baseline for their sustainability journey.

The training program, has been instrumental in shaping our approach, as it offers a blend of theoretical insights and practical applications, providing foundational knowledge for developing a profound understanding of sustainability.

The guidance and materials provided during these training sessions have proven very beneficial, imparting structure our project, boosting the confidence of us ambassadors, enabling us to navigate this important initiative.

Progress and Expectations:
Our work involves creating tailored action plans and sustainability statements for each participating museum, drawing insights from their feedback. These resources will become part of the MHH resource bank, fostering a sustainable legacy beyond the project’s lifespan. It’s inspiring to witness the different measures already taken by Highland museums and we recognise the vast potential for further progress.

By distilling the information from our training sessions, combined with the specific needs and aspirations of each museum, we aim to provide practical, actionable steps that contribute to their long-term sustainability goals. The aim is for all participating museums, to be able to create their own personal roadmaps that address the unique challenges and opportunities each institution faces, based on our action plans.

A key aspect of our strategy is to ensure the longevity and accessibility of these resources. Therefore, we will finish the project with a toolkit for the Museums and Heritage Highland (MHH) resource bank. This repository will serve as a valuable archive for future initiatives.

It is inspiring to witness the commitment and innovation displayed by Highland museums in their current sustainability measures. From adopting energy-efficient practices to engaging their communities, many institutions are already making meaningful strides. The diversity of initiatives undertaken emphasises the potential for further progress and sets the stage for a shift towards sustainability within our Highland Museum community.

Sustainable Museums: Small Steps, Big Impact:
In the face of the urgent climate crisis, cultural institutions, including museums, are called upon to adopt sustainable practices. The magnitude of climate change necessitates a collective response, and even small steps taken by our museums in the Highlands can have a profound impact. By implementing simple yet effective measures, we can lower emissions, reduce waste, and demonstrate to our communities that sustainability is an achievable goal.

From embracing LED lighting solutions, which are known for their energy efficiency, to hosting zero-waste events, museums have the power to transition into green entities without undergoing drastic overhauls. These initiatives not only align with broader environmental goals but also serve as tangible examples of the positive influence cultural institutions can exert on environmental awareness.

Being one of three Climate Ambassadors with Museums and Heritage Highland has been a great journey so far, marked by challenges, growth, and networking with other professionals with a commitment to sustainability. Reflecting on the progress made and the path ahead, it becomes evident that the significance of this endeavour extends beyond our immediate goals.
As we conclude this journey in less than two months, the goal is not just to mark the completion of a project but to leave behind a sustainable legacy. The toolkit we are developing for the MHH resource bank will ensure the longevity and accessibility of the resources created. It is our hope that this collective effort, locally driven yet globally resonant, will contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for Highland museums.

This project is supported by Museum Galleries Scotland Forum’s Fund with thanks to National Lottery Players.

Unlocking Potential: The Impact of Student Internship Programs on Small Museums

Unlocking Potential: The Impact of Student Internship Programs on Small Museums

We’re delighted to welcome Aileen-Laura Schäfer (one of our climate ambassadors and former curator at Clan MacPherson Museum) to tell us about the benefits of working with international student interns and the process, if you think this would work in your organisation, for applying.

Two years ago, I found myself as the only person on site full-time in a small independent museum. Operating with limited resources, staff and volunteers, but a million ideas for projects and events, I shared a problem, many of us face across museums in the Highlands. Therefore, I decided to find a way that would not only enrich the museum’s capacity, but also provide a valuable and fair opportunity for young talent in the sector. After some correspondence with a German university, we initiated an internship program, welcoming two student interns, who worked with me at the museum full-time, for two months each, and the experience proved a great one for all involved.

The collaboration with the English department of the university, laid the foundation for an internship program that would benefit both the museum and the students. A crucial aspect, especially for a small museum like ours, was the provision of a scholarship from the sending institution, covering the living expenses for the student intern. This financial support made the program accessible to both, students who might not have otherwise been able to participate and a museum that could not have easily supported an additional member of staff. Recognizing the challenges and costs of finding lodging in the Highlands, I offered the interns to stay in my spare room, free of charge, during the time of the internship. 

Despite a tight recruitment schedule to allow enough time for the successful applicants to sort out scholarships, visas and get organised, we received a great response of 20 highly motivated applications in less than 14 days. Selecting only two interns was a challenging task. Taking time to get to know them meant gaining insights into their main interests though, and allowed for setting the stage for a personalised and enriching experience.

Four months later, the first intern finally arrived at the museum, with a huge suitcase and a lot of enthusiasm. The first week of the internship was dedicated to introducing the students to the museum’s regular activities and tasks, particularly in front-of-house responsibilities. They largely shadowed me during this first week, through which they also gained brief insights into behind-the-scenes activities and I tried setting time aside each day for them, to get familiar with the place and the exhibition and to chat about the different aspects of museum work. A crucial feedback session after this initial period allowed us to tailor their experiences further to their interests and to talk through the tasks, I had planned for them to get involved in, in the weeks to come.

The unique backgrounds of our interns added diverse dimensions to our small museum. One, an English literature student, became involved in literature-related events, the library, book-related objects, and publicity. Serendipitously, we were in the final stages of self-publishing a history book, and her contributions were invaluable to the successful launch.

The second intern, on the path to becoming a teacher, focused on kid-related projects. From designing a child-friendly museum guide to preparing events for school-visits and contributing to child-friendly museum interpretations, her impact on our educational initiatives was profound.

Their contributions did not end with their internships. Both interns, having become valued members of our team, continued to volunteer remotely after their official term. Their remote volunteering activities included social media, publicity and translations amongst other things, showcasing a sustained commitment to the museum’s success.

Beyond the tangible contributions of an additional full-time team member, witnessing their personal and professional development was immensely gratifying. As interns, their confidence grew, and their opinions were valuable additions to our team discussions. Moreover, the benefits of having interns extended far beyond these aspects. Despite initial concerns about the capacity for supervision and introduction with just one person on site full-time, the interns’ contributions proved to be invaluable. The time and effort invested in their onboarding and guidance were more than compensated by the fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and increased productivity they brought to the museum. Their involvement not only lightened the workload but also introduced novel approaches to tasks, enhancing the overall creativity and effectiveness of our operations. To me, the internship-programme showed in a great way that the addition of enthusiastic individuals can lead to significant positive outcomes.

For me personally, there were great merits too, as the introduction period, the creation of schedules, and the weekly feedback sessions prompted me to reevaluate and refine my work processes. Breaking down tasks into steps and engaging in regular reflections streamlined daily operations and the drafting of clear to-do lists, checklists, and procedure plans became second nature, which was immensely helpful for all our volunteers as well. 

The positive experience resonated so deeply that, without re-advertising, other students expressed interest in future internships.

The ripple effect of this program reached even further, as the following year the university organised an excursion with one of their seminars, bringing a group of 16 students to visit our museum for workshops and talks. This not only highlighted the success of our internship program but also solidified the museum as a valuable educational resource. As I reflect on this process, I can very much recommend any other small museums to consider inviting interns to their organisation. 

Finding an intern, the process

It all began with the creation of a comprehensive vacancy, detailing the nature of the internship and its requirements. Following the submission of the vacancy to the university and their distribution amongst the relevant students, the recruitment process unfolded. It involved the regular stages of shortlisting, communication with candidates, and interviews. Once the successful candidates were identified, a Letter of Acceptance, outlining the internship and most importantly, the exact dates, needs to be sent to the interns. This document is pivotal in facilitating their scholarship and visa applications, a process that spanned several months but required minimal direct involvement from the museum. It therefore is important that the following information is contained in the letter: exact start date, exact end date, any accommodation or pay, that the language for the internship will be English, the address of the museum, the line-manager of the intern and that the museum will not be able to aid with travel and visa processes.

Nearing the time of the internship a form sent by the university needed to be signed to confirm the details, and the consulate sent straightforward two-page forms to confirm visa details, at the beginning and end of the stay of each intern.

Throughout the internship, a structured process was in place to ensure ongoing communication and evaluation. Midway through, an Interim evaluation form from the interns’ university prompted a reflection on their performance. This involved answering multiple-choice questions and providing insights into their achievements. A similar comprehensive evaluation was conducted at the end of the internship. On the final day, each intern received a Letter of Recommendation, a common practice in Germany for future job applications. Interns are tasked with crafting an internship report resembling a diary by the university, but the museum has no responsibility in this. Regular feedback sessions, which, though not obligatory, can be a valuable practice contributing to a positive work environment.

If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

New film initiative aims to support Highland Museum & Heritage Sector

New film initiative aims to support Highland Museum & Heritage Sector

A new film training initiative aims to support museums and heritage organisations across the Highlands and Islands to deliver film training, screenings and cultural film festivals.

POETIC FILM SCHOOL aims to bring accessible and affordable filmmaking to people of all ages and skill levels; from first-time enthusiasts to experienced filmmakers, all who desire mentoring to hone their art form. The initiative has been brought to life by Sutherland born filmmaker Robert Aitken.

Robert is a writer, director and producer who has been making films about the people and places of the far North of Scotland for over a decade and delivering a successful programme of accessible film training for the last four years.

“I work predominately with rural Highland communities and have a deep understanding of people within landscapes, which has helped me develop a grounded placemaking approach to making films, and now with this new film training programme,” Robert says.

Robert’s latest film, The Dreaming Bog, an ecopoetic story about the bogs, mires ands peatlands of the Highlands, helped him to develop a greater awareness and understanding of the fragile economics, complex local politics and layered social narratives that underpin the anxieties of communities facing economic and potentially long-term environmental change in the far North.

To that end, POETIC FILM SCHOOL is a socially engaged filmmaking process (including smartphone filmmaking skills, scriptwriting, use of audio apps, editing, and final production etc.) and offers invaluable opportunities and support, especially for vulnerable local young people struggling with mental health issues and social situations. It can provide a creative outlet for anxiety and increase confidence and self-esteem.

There has also been a greater uptake by the older generation in digital activities since the Covid Pandemic, which can help combat isolation and loneliness. POETIC FILM SCHOOL aims to bring together In-Between Localities, Creatives (of all disciplines) and Young & Older People – here, there is great potential for intergenerational activities, including memory recording sessions, archival research and script writing.

Robert adds; “I embrace opportunities to reconnect people to their home area in the Highlands through filmmaking and engaging with communities, local filmmakers, writers, artists, researchers, anthropologists and historians etc. I enjoy sharing this rich and creative experience through mentorship and socially minded projects.”

Museums and Heritage organisations across the far North have faced challenging times of late, but this new film initiative offers a unique and timely opportunity to help support communities through a pivotal change in the area’s infrastructure and heritage. The ability to transition and capture this through engaging filmed stories, with a multitude of diverse voices, is at the heart of the training workshops on offer.

POETIC FILM SCHOOL also has a great team of researchers and cultural advisers to call upon, who can assist organisations work with their collections and archives, to help groups develop new scripts, stories and narratives embedded in their unique locality and culture. Over fifty screenings, film training events, and conferences across Scotland and International have already been delivered.

The film training is all about people; their past, memories and dreams for the future. But it’s also about people finding voice and expression through film-making and socially engaged research and creativity; to listen, learn and share about where they live and their place in the world.

“We are all having to adapt to new ways; adapting to the very real societal and environmental changes that local communities are facing whilst tentatively looking toward new ways of harnessing power and energy. As Caithness Makar, George Gunn, once told me, ’I want to tell modern stores about people in an ancient landscape’. That exactly sums up my approach.” Robert concludes.

POETIC FILM SCHOOL can offer now filmmaking training workshops for individual groups or collaborations of organisations working together to reduce costs and deliver one-off or multiple film screening events.

Now is a great time to get involved in film-training, so if you’d like to arrange film workshop and/or film screenings in your area, please contact Robert on:

For more information on POETIC FILM SCHOOL please visit:

Breathing Space

Breathing Space

We are delighted to launch the call-out for our second Breathing Space residency.

Breathing Space is a 2-day professional development opportunity for early to mid-career curator/managers. Curator/managers often find themselves focusing on the organisational aspects of their roles, caught up in a never-ending list of deadlines, unanswered emails, fundraising applications and budgetary concerns. The aim of this residency is to give them the opportunity to ‘take time out’ from the everyday to-do list, share their experiences, enrich their practice and explore in-depth issues, concerns, possibilities and opportunities in a safe non-judgmental environment. The weekend will be facilitated by Tamsin Russell and hosted by Nicola and Helen.

`Please read the call out below or contact Nicola on for more information.

Treasurer Required!

Treasurer Required!

Are you looking for an opportunity to make a real difference in communities across the Highlands? Are you interested in a great career development opportunity? Are you looking for a fulfilling role in retirement? Do you have some experience in financial control and budgeting? Then we want to hear from you! This is a great opportunity to work with a young organisation looking to develop and grow in its work supporting museums and heritage organisations across the Highlands.

Museums and Heritage Highland (MHH) is a charity formed in March 2019. We are a strong, supportive voice for heritage in the Highlands. Our members include museums, galleries and heritage organisations of all sizes from across the region. We work to promote collaborative working and capacity building; promoting partnership opportunities that support our members in achieving their purpose and to be sustainable and resilient in challenging times. Why work with us? Watch the video below:

The Treasurer is one of the designated offices of the Board of Trustees of MHH, along with the Chair and Secretary. In addition to the normal duties and responsibilities of a Trustee, the role of treasurer is to maintain an overview of the organisation’s financial affairs, ensuring its viability and ensuring that proper financial records and procedures are maintained. The Treasurer reports at each meeting of the Board of Trustees on the financial position of the organisation, and advises of any significant issues of which the Board should be aware.

If you are interested in this role, then please get in touch with our chair, Dan Cottam for a discussion. Full details on the role can be found below.

Climate Ambassadors Wanted!

Climate Ambassadors Wanted!

We are looking for three Climate Ambassadors to work with us on supporting the museum community in the Highlands to implement environmentally sustainable practices.

Our Highland museums often tell us that environmental sustainability is a priority for them, but that they can find the topic too big and a little overwhelming at times. ‘Please just tell me what I need to do,’ is a statement we often hear. After exploring some ideas as a group, we believe that the best way to meet this challenge head on is to upskill three passionate individuals in environmentally sustainable practices that are specific to our region and context. And to do this we will work closely with Ki Futures –  an international coaching and training network, connecting cultural practitioners across the world with real, sustainable action.

Our MHH climate ambassadors will be invited to join the Ki Futures program for a tailored 6-month program to learn about sustainability and how to support member museums in implementing their climate, energy, and waste goals. This innovative partnership is tailored specifically for our climate ambassadors program and has been designed in collaboration with MHH and Ki Futures.

This is a 6 month, paid role, giving each ambassador the time for training, study and work without it impacting on their other commitments. The full brief for the role is below and please do get in touch with any questions you may have.

This project is supported by the Museums and Galleries Scotland Forum’s Fund with thanks to National Lottery Players.

Six museums from across the Highlands and Islands launch new experiences on Smartify!

Six museums from across the Highlands and Islands launch new experiences on Smartify!

From uncovering Cromarty’s historic links to the Transatlantic slave trade to following a blue plaque walking tour revealing the individuals that made Stromness the town it is today, an incredible range of unique Highland history is now available worldwide.

Made possible thanks to a unique partnership between XpoNorth Digital, Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s specialist digital support programme for the creative and heritage sectors, and Smartify, the world’s most downloaded museum app, six Highland museums are now live on the global stage.

They are Inverness Museum and Art Gallery; Gairloch Museum; Highlanders’ Museum; Cromarty Courthouse Museum; Clyne Heritage Society (Brora Heritage Centre), and Stromness Museum, Orkney.

Selected earlier this year to take part in the initiative, the chosen six have been busy preparing to digitise either parts of their collection or unique experiences since then. The process has transformed their ability to use digital tools and is also expected to result in employment opportunities and increased income generation in the future.

Now, after six months and an incredible effort from local teams and partners, audiences around the world can access the treasure trove of their offering through the Smartify app, and engage with archives, artifacts, tours and memories from across Scotland’s north.

These include the opportunity to explore Cromarty Courthouse Museum’s Building on Slavery walking tour, with the help of an audio guide that takes visitors around Cromarty and uncovers the town’s historic links to the Transatlantic slave trade, featuring authors David Alston and Nicole Bontemps. Visit Cromarty Courthouse Museum on Smartify here.

Those interested in tracing the lives of the individuals and stories that defined the town of Stromness will be able to enjoy Stromness Museum’s ‘Blue Plaque’ walking tour, following it to discover local buildings and the people who lived in them. Surgeon John Rae, for example, is put under the spotlight as a prolific explorer who navigated the Arctic in the 1800s, while poet and dramatist George Mackay Brown is featured as an eminent writer whose work was distinctly Orcadian in character.

Gareth Squire, Administrator at Stromness Museum said: “The opportunity to bring the stories associated with our collections to a worldwide audience and the ability for Smartify users to enrich their visit using the app, will help raise the Museum’s profile as a ‘must visit’ destination in the Highlands and Islands. The unique ability to engage with our audience with the Blue Plaque Trail through Stromness, which links directly to our collections, is a further positive benefit to our integration with the app and it is hoped this will further increase our visitor numbers and profile”. Visit Stromness Museum on Smartify here.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders’ Museum has shone a light on their collection’s little discussed colonial past by producing a ‘Hidden Histories’ audio guide. Freya Samuel, Digital Engagement Curator at the Highlanders’ Museum, said: “For small, independent museums, physical space can be a limitation which impacts the stories that we are able to tell. Smartify lets us share extra content in a really seamless and accessible way, and it’s also easy to create and share new content, that encourages our visitors to come back again and again. Highland history is now being showcased alongside a world-class selection of museums, and is given an equal presence on the platform. The app really champions small museums and values the stories they have to tell, and we’re excited about sharing our heritage with the world.” Visit The Highlanders’ Museum on Smartify here.

Visitors can also use an audio guide to delve into the eclectic local collection at Brora Heritage Centre, which has showcased their highlights ranging from mining tools and medals to ice skates and bricks. Visit Brora Heritage Centre on Smartify here.

Gairloch Museum has produced a series of ten mini videos that will be showcased on the Smartify platform and shared on social media, that tell the story of the local landscape and its connection to the museum. Visit Gairloch Museum on Smartify here.

An unmissable experience has also been created by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, who have developed an audio tour to guide visitors around the star objects of the collection including ‘rondello’, a round fiddle invented by Highland-born musician Alexander Grant. Visit Inverness Museum and Art Gallery on Smartify here.

Nicola Henderson, Digital Heritage Specialist at XpoNorth Digital, added: “Months of hard work on the part of the six museums involved has culminated in a milestone moment as the museums’ offerings go live. This partnership with Smartify is not only an example of XpoNorth Digital’s commitment to facilitating innovative ways of working for creative organisations in the region, but also demonstrates the huge potential of digital methods, in terms of both amplifying the area’s history around the globe but also forming networks closer to home. Smartify will help the region’s museums to unravel further layers of the stories held within their collections and give them a newfound appeal to audiences both new and old.”

Thanos Kokkiniotis, Director and Co-Founder of Smartify said: “We are delighted to be working with XpoNorth Digital and the museums on this important and ground-breaking project. One of the reasons we started Smartify was to make the kinds of digital tools that were once previously only available to the very biggest institutions accessible for all. It’s great to see that happening here in Scotland with organisations that are so passionate about Scottish heritage and culture.”

Smartify is available on iOS and Android from the App Store and Google Play respectively. It’s also available on the web via For more information on XpoNorth Digital’s work to support creative businesses in the Highlands and Islands, visit

The legacy of ‘The Coast that Shaped the World’ project

The legacy of ‘The Coast that Shaped the World’ project

Katie Murray, project officer for ‘The Coast that Shaped the World’ project, reflects on its legacy and how it can continue to serve the west coast heritage and tourism sectors. 

Attendees of the ‘Sealladh’ conference in April will remember that COAST is a UHI-led project that uses stories to encourage travel to less well-visited sites across the west coast and islands of Scotland. 

The project employed a team of local story gatherers, from Wester Ross and Lewis in the north to Arran and Kintyre in the south, to uncover stories deeply rooted in place and of significance to locals. This was supplemented by opportunities for the wider public to share stories, through an online survey and during a series of digital workshops organised by region or theme. 

The result was a bank of over 1300 stories celebrating the communities, heritage, culture and environment of the west coast and islands of Scotland. Almost 400 of these were curated, mapped and published on a website and app. The stories were also used in four small pop-up exhibitions that toured heritage and community venues and ferry terminals throughout 2022. 

The stories are intended to encourage users to find out more about the subject and the area they come from. Where relevant we include the source of the story, or direct readers to books, websites or local heritage institutions where they could find out more. For example, those interested in delving deeper into the story of the ambush at Highbridge, the first armed conflict of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, are directed to a blog published by West Highland Museum.  A story about open-air preaching site ‘An Cos’ references the wooden pulpit box used during services on display in Gairloch Museum.

One aim was to help alleviate overtourism at some of the busier sites, encouraging visitors to explore other places that have a rich heritage but which have remained off the beaten track. One of the most important ways we have done this is by seeking out stories that are not widely known, and geotagging these to a relevant site, monument or memorial. This is published in the form of a digital map available on both our website and in the app. We hope the stories will spur the curiosity of visitors and motivate them to see the sites where events happened for themselves. 

All of the stories are published on the website. They can easily be found and accessed from here- as well as the digital map, they are also sorted by theme or subject matter such as ‘Jacobites’, ‘Shipwrecks’, and ‘Archaeology.’ This is also the best place to share stories from if you want to use them on your own social media to alert your followers about other local heritage sites.

In contrast, the app is specifically designed for users to experience and explore the stories while out and about. As well as the digital map, there is a ‘Find Nearby Stories’ function to allow for the easy discovery of content while on the move. Some of the stories have also been recorded by professional storytellers. It makes for an atmospheric outing, to read or hear a story being recounted while standing on site, or at a memorial or heritage centre. 

While we will be winding down our digital presence, our Facebook and Instagram pages will remain live and represent an awareness raising campaign promoting stories and place spanning almost two years. Around a third of the stories were also published here and can still be searched and shared directly. We have also co-curated a series of COAST themed trails, on Arran, in Lochaber and in Wester Ross, which have been published by ‘Spirit of the Highlands.’      

While the main exhibitions have been dismantled, individual panels containing the text of stories are being distributed throughout the west coast and islands for display in public, community and heritage venues so that visitors will continue to discover them while on the move. As far as possible we have sent the stories ‘home’ to their community of origin, for the benefit of locals and so that visitors can learn more about the area. Look out for these in, amongst other places, on Canna, in Glencoe, on Islay, on Skye and on Lewis. The website also hosts a virtual exhibition replicating the original displays for people to explore from home.

The contribution of the heritage sector has always been integral to the project, to showing support through the application phases to working with story gatherers and providing information and images. This is one reason why we were delighted to get such a positive response when we presented the final outputs during the Sealladh conference back in April. It’s been an eventful few years since the project began in 2019 and we are slightly in shock that this stage is coming to an end. We hope that COAST leaves a strong legacy and the west coast heritage sector will continue to be served by what the project has created. The website and app will be live until at least 2030. The stories are still there to be discovered and enjoyed- and ideally utilised to help visitors access and understand our rich west coast heritage, and to promote both the sites featured and the wider areas they belong to.


COAST has been part-funded by the ERDF Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund administered by NatureScot, with match funding from Calmac and UHI West Highland. The project is managed by UHI. Rural Dimensions and Lateral North were contracted as project coordinators, and Lateral North created the exhibitions. Whereverly were contracted to develop the website and app. The project ran in conjunction with Visit Scotland’s 2020 Year of Coast and Waters and the 2022 Scotland’s Year of Stories.

For more information email

Pathways to employment – an exciting part of Museum of the Highlands

Pathways to employment – an exciting part of Museum of the Highlands

A year ago, when starting to consult Highland teachers on priority areas in their work, ‘pathways to the workplace’ and ‘careers education’ were raised frequently in these conversations. In this blog, Rosie Barrett (digital education specialist) discusses our approach to integrating these priorities into our object based learning model for Museum of the Highlands.

Supporting young learners to access future employment features in many school development plans for the region. The Scottish education system has long been committed to providing a comprehensive and well-rounded education for young people. A crucial element of the Curriculum for Excellence, known as Planning for Choices, focuses on equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about their future career paths. At a basic level, most of us would agree that preparing young people for their future is what teaching is all about.

We worked hard on this as a project team throughout, constantly pushing ourselves to develop activities that helped with the skills and qualities that young people need in the 21st century, including critical thinking, creativity and empathy. However, I was also intrigued about whether we could take this even further.

Selecting a starting point

All the objects found on Museum of the Highlands are divided into one of five chosen themes. From the initial teacher consultation, it was clear one of these themes should focus on employment – we call it ‘World of Work’.

Deciding to create a section on the website dedicated to the world of work meant when staff and volunteers across the fifteen participating museums were selecting objects for the project they included objects that could support this theme and tell of how Highlanders made a living over the centuries and what the working world looks like today. 

In this theme a focus on the Ballachulish slate quarry is drawn out. A pair of leather quarry-workers boots may look unassuming at first, but the metal inserts on the toes and heel produced an unusual ‘tack’ sound when walking and they were referred to as tackity boots – a term still used today.

Once objects were selected we could be quite playful with them. Staff at Glencoe Folk Museum recorded this unusual ‘tack’ sound for us for the activity ‘What’s that Noise’. Now, teachers can play the recording for their class and guess what is making the strange sound. For a moment, you’re right back, hearing sounds that the people of the past heard. It’s a great way for pupils to learn about local industry and the life of quarry workers. It’s also a route into discussing other issues about the workplace, such as health and safety, what other features working boots have to protect the wearers, or even design features of footwear today.

A series of fun quizzes also allows younger children to be introduced to a range of historic jobs by asking ‘Could You Survive?’ These activities explore topics such as working in a coal mine, as a lighthouse keeper or in the fishing industry.

Raising aspirations through expertise

We were keen to address raising aspirations for Highland learners. We wanted to showcase some amazing career opportunities while supporting schools to fulfil the Curriculum for Excellence. One element stood out for us – “Effective teaching harnesses the experience and expertise of different professions to make specialist contributions.”

A really exciting part of the project was a set of careers videos, called ‘In Their Hands’ – the clue is in the name. We were very privileged to work with experts in their fields, men and women with fascinating careers who were able to offer some unique insights into the historical objects in the museum collections. We literally placed the objects in their hands to see what they made of them. 

The resulting videos challenged those of us in the museum sector to see these objects in different ways, but also genuinely support by highlighting careers through our video content. By setting careers within a clear historical context, we were able to look to how they might develop in the future, too.

When we asked a judge to explore items from a historic courtroom, we also discovered why and how the Law evolves. When an anaesthetist explored the transformative role of chloroform in surgery, he was able to provide insights into the workings of the medical profession, and the principles and priorities that underpin careers in that sector. Other professionals included an archaeologist discussing an archaeology technique from the past that went wrong, a geologist talking about famous Highland geologist Hugh Miller based on a carving he made, and an award-winning writer exploring how she was inspired by a Highland glen. 

We hope the videos will be inspiring for young learners – and we hope they’ll be well used. We worked with a class of young people from Ullapool High School to find out what they wanted to know about careers. They were keen to find out how hard it is to get published as a writer. They wanted to know how many people a judge had sent to prison and what the worst conditions a geologist had ever worked in. If you’re intrigued, you can find the answers in the ‘In Their Hands’ section of the website.

The stories we tell.

Good career guidance can also help students to overcome barriers and stereotypes that may hinder choices, including those based on gender or socio-economic background. In response to this, we included stories of real historic Highlanders from a range of fascinating backgrounds and careers. 

Visitors to the Museum of the Highlands website can explore the inspirational story of Megan Boyd. Known to many through the 2013 film Kiss the Water, Megan was an expert salmon fly-tyer, much in demand including by royalty. She challenged gender stereotypes within her lifetime but also worked very long hours. We were able to explore her story and open up discussions about the working world today – the difference between a job or a vocation, for example, the importance of being ourselves, and healthy attitudes to work-life balance. 

Another inspirational female featured is Red Cross Nurse Janet Adams. We focused on just one aspect of her long and varied career, when she supported in the aftermath of Hurricane Janet during the 1950s. Another story shares the unusual mountaineering career of Hamish MacInnes, inventor of an ice axe known to have saved many lives. This story poignantly explores the impact of old age on this famous Highland character.

A lot of my work as an education consultant is based around how we can move passive learning experiences (like reading a story), into more active ones (engaging with a story at a deeper level). We were able to do that through Museum of the Highland by making the stories interactive, incorporating a range of questions into the text. We tried to make these fun, engaging and thought-provoking. Crucially, in many cases there are no right or wrong answers to the questions, just lots of opportunities for young people to decide how they feel about the topics.

What is crucial about all these reflections on careers is that they give young people the chance to decide how they feel about their own attitudes to work, whilst opening up a world of possibilities of careers in the region through museum objects.

The Museum of the Highlands project was funded by Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland and is sponsored by Ilum Studio

Towards decolonising the curriculum – through museum learning.

Towards decolonising the curriculum – through museum learning.

Decolonising is an important topic for museums and for schools. Recently,  teachers from across the Highlands have contacted their local museums seeking support with the process of decolonising the school curriculum. Rosie Barrett, one of our education specialists, talks through our approach to decolonisation on the Museum of the Highlands platform.

A little over a year ago, when I started a consultation process with Highland teachers to inform the development of Museum of the Highlands, teachers were at various stages of their work with themes of anti-racism, Empire and slavery. 

Many were following guidance in the report, ‘Promoting and Developing Race Equality and Anti-Racist Education’ published by Education Scotland. This report focuses on ensuring young people can grow up in an inclusive and supportive Scotland. As part of this, there is a clear awareness of the need to interrogate the past. 

When I met with staff and volunteers from the fifteen museums that formed Museum of the Highlands, it was clear we wanted to seek, self-consciously, to share underrepresented voices, celebrate diversity and hold ourselves to the highest standards. We knew we couldn’t provide all the answers, but by sharing Highland collections responsibly we could provide stimuli for healthy debate around difficult topics. 

The complex interconnections of objects in museum collections with colonialism, and how to approach this in our work, was not something we took lightly – as a project team we spent more time discussing and debating this element of our work than was spent on the other themes together. In this blog, I explain our approach in more detail.

Same objects, different views

A key partner museum in the project for this theme was The Highlanders’ Museum at Fort George. This museum holds the largest military collection outside Edinburgh, including many of the objects represented in the section ‘Colonialism and Conflict‘ on Museum of the Highlands website. 

For example, a bugle that once belonged to Drummer John Alcorn of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Bugles have been used by the military throughout history for communication and to unite troops. This particular instrument was used to sound the Advance for the Highland Brigade to charge at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. During this conflict, British forces intervened in Egyptian affairs in what is now interpreted as an attempt to secure British interest in the Suez Canal.

It was an important object for us to share. A key aspect cited in the report on promoting race equality in schools is the need for “questioning the source of content and the viewpoints represented”. By looking anew at objects like the bugle, we were able to see beyond the traditional narrative; it wasn’t a case of changing the story, but of looking at a more rounded picture.

Our description of the bugle now directly references two viewpoints – “To the regiment, this instrument may be a symbol of military success, but to the Egyptian people it is more likely to signify the loss of independence and the start of 71 years of colonisation.” 

As with so many of the stories and objects, we saw this as a starting point to reassess some of these moments from the colonial past. Visitors to the website can explore a range of colonial objects up close too, through the activity ‘Object in Focus’ which shows objects from different angles and invites viewers to speculate about what they might be.

Colonial objects in surprising places  

The inclusion on the Museum of the Highlands website of The Highlanders’ Museum opened up this theme for us. However, we also found objects in many less obvious collections – across the Highlands some objects had been collected in the colonies in unclear circumstances, objects that had contributed to Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade, and even toys exploring the Empire within the collection of the Highland Museum of Childhood. 

The board game ‘Ups and Downs in India’ is definitely ‘of its time’, and a strong reminder of Britain’s colonial presence in India during the 1930s. It was produced by Homeland Training College in 1930, most likely for the children of people relocating to India for work. Players would move around the board, landing on squares featuring activities such as ‘preaching to the people’ and bible translation, as well as challenges in the form of monsoons and uprisings.

By including objects like this in the project, we wanted to demonstrate the way that colonial history was intertwined with so many aspects of Highland life – in fact, the more we looked, the more it became clear that the theme of colonialism and Empire could be found pretty much everywhere. 

The issue of looting.

Many objects currently in British museums are known to have been acquired in circumstances that would not be acceptable today, this includes some objects in Highland collectionsCurrently, the museum sector is asking questions about how we share these objects, and, in some cases, how we can repatriate them. In our work, we needed to ask an obvious and uncomfortable question – should we include looted objects on the Museum of the Highlands website? 

Objects and their descriptions allowed us to be open and upfront about ethical questions around sharing looted objects, and the difficulties we encounter interpreting them. The wording in the object descriptions is chosen to clearly explain the difficulties. 

The inclusion of a shield originally belonging to an unknown Abyssinian soldier (from present-day Ethiopia) engages directly with the issue of looting. After the looting of Maqdala by British forces, several objects from the palace made their way to Britain’s shores. Through an interactive story, website users are encouraged to think about the circumstances in which the shield was taken, explore how the news from Maqdala was received in Britain at the time, and question the fate of the object today. High school learners using the website are encouraged to consider a range of issues surrounding this object and form their own opinions. 

Slavery and Reflection

The guidance published by Education Scotland is very clear: “To understand the full complexity of decolonising, it is important to remember that racism is rooted in colonialism when Western countries justified the enslavement of people.” Acknowledging the legacies of slavery is an important part of our work on this project. Young people can take part in a range of activities on the website which address colonialism across Highland museum collections.

When developing Museum of the Highlands, we knew there would be lots of stories to celebrate, but also some, such as those involving slavery, that would be heavy with tragedy. 

One activity I’m proud of is called ‘On Reflection’ – these PDF activity sheets provide ways for schools to explore different, sometimes difficult, topics. They include discussion questions as well as the opportunity to design or create a memorial as part of the reflection process. Having the time to think and reflect is so important to young people’s development – sometimes we can be in such a rush to learn that we forget that thinking and processing what we have heard can take time, especially with sensitive history. 

Several of the ‘On Reflection’ activity sheets explore colonial themes. One celebrates Harlem Renaissance poet Claude Mackay – his Scottish surname is very revealing, shockingly given to his enslaved grandparents by their owner. Another ‘On Reflection’ directly commemorates the victims of the Transatlantic slave trade, supported by an interactive story exploring the Transatlantic crossing, based on the lives of workers on a plantation owned by Highlander James Fowler. Born in Rosemarkie around 1762, James emigrated to Jamaica at the end of the century when the island was a major centre for the production of coffee and sugar. Back in the Highlands, James was presented with a beautifully-engraved snuff box from the East Ross Volunteers – he had been their First Lieutenant after returning from Jamaica. 

The story of the snuff-box, now in Groam House Museum, is a painful example of how individual primary sources do not give us a full picture of a person’s life. By sharing the lives of the plantation workers too, we’re able to give more of the story and question how people like James were able to take part in the slave trade. 

We hope these activities support young people to form their own opinions about difficult, sensitive and, at times, controversial issues. 

Finally, and not for the faint-hearted, we’ve included a ‘Big Question’ debate activity entitled ‘Should Britain apologise for the British Empire?’.

This project was funded by Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland and is sponsored by Ilum Studio.