Glencoe Folk Museum Redevelopment Project

Glencoe Folk museum building

This year Glencoe Folk Museum has embarked on its most ambitious redevelopment project since moving into its current premises in 1972. Based in two 18th century heather-thatched crofters’ cottages (Cat B. listed) the museum, founded in 1967, chronicles the rich and exciting history of the Glencoe and North Lorn area between the 17th-21st centuries. 

Our collection of c6,000 objects includes unique Jacobite-era artefacts such as a boot belonging to Captain Robert Campbell (the man deemed responsible for Glencoe’s infamous massacre), a chair once belonging to Bonnie Prince Charlie himself and the Clan Donald christening gown. Our social history collection covers local life and work including crofting, domestic life and the Ballachulish slate quarries. Largest of all the objects, and presently in storage, is a rowing boat formerly used by local clans to transport coffins to the burial island Eilean Munde. We are hoping to place the boat on display in 2020 to coincide with the Year of Coasts and Waters and to serve as a pilot display for the redevelopment.

The museum celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and has not been substantially altered for a number of years. Some of our displays are now showing their age, particularly the outside lean-to display of agricultural objects which will soon be threatening to dismantle itself without external intervention. A redevelopment gives us exciting opportunities to reinterpret the museum’s stories to modern standards for the first time, expand the exhibition space and allow more of the collection to be displayed in a stable environment.

We have enjoyed increasing visitor numbers over the last five years, with 7,000 visiting in 2019 including a significant proportion of international visitors. Retail revenue has also seen a dramatic increase thanks to improvements made to the museum’s shop. However, as is so often the case in the heritage sector, the museum remains financially unsustainable and survives in part through investments made from the estate of its founder, Barbara Fairweather M.B.E. A key objective of the redevelopment will be to address the museum’s long-term sustainability, increasing revenue and reducing costs to ensure the museum continues to educate and entertain visitors from around the world for the next fifty years and beyond. 

A redevelopment manager was appointed in June 2019 to develop the project and secure funding. The project is presently in its early stages, our current major development points being:
-To remove existing non-listed structures from the outdoor display area and replace with a new visitor reception and exhibition building, leading into the 18th century cottages.
-Improve visitor accessibility and facilities with a new entrance, levelled floors, raised/widened doorways and installation of toilets.
-Create a larger, purpose-built shop to encourage increased visitor spend and contributing towards the museum’s sustainability.
-Renew exhibitions throughout the museum, produced by exhibition specialists with greater language options and interactive features. In particular we hope to improve interpretation of the cottages themselves and represent a contemporary dwelling on the night of the 1692 massacre.

-Convert byre outbuilding into Community Exhibition Gallery – creating flexible space for local groups to produce displays and allowing a programme of changing exhibitions to encourage repeat visits.
-Commission new STEAM curriculum linked schools programme, cementing the museum’s place in local education.
-Develop a nearby field owned by the museum into a collections store and curator’s accommodation, replacing the current unsuitable store/accommodation in Ballachulish village.

We are very keen that the museum’s ultimate users have a say in its continuing development and one of the first tasks of the project has been to consult a range of stakeholders, visitors and the local community, staff, volunteers and the museum’s board of trustees. 

Local engagement has included interviews with B&B and café owners, care homes, drama groups, colleges as well as focus groups with local community and parish councils. This has been a fascinating exercise in assessing awareness of the museum’s existence and activities, the extent to which individuals and groups have interacted with the museum in the past, including barriers to engagement, and ask what people think the museum’s role in the community should be. This will be an ongoing process of consultation and feedback throughout the project.

Our ongoing visitor has produced useful results concerning what visitors like about the museum as it is and what improvements could be made. The results overwhelmingly indicate that visitors like the quirky charm of the museum and its historic buildings, wanted to learn more about the Jacobite era, the massacre of Glencoe and daily life in the area, and there is considerable demand for toilets! The findings from the visitor surveys are being fed into exhibition design briefs and architects’ plans.

The hardest part of any project isn’t deciding what to do, it’s working out how to pay for it. As well as committing substantial amounts of the museum’s reserves we have been invited to submit a Development Phase application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and are simultaneously developing bids to the Garfield Weston and Wolfson foundations. We are also working on how to attract sponsorship for the project and for the 2020 season hope to roll out a package of sponsorship offers and rewards to suit all pockets, from opportunities to sponsor display cases and entire exhibitions to a new ‘adopt an object’ scheme aimed at the quirky gift market.

As will be obvious this is a large project which is only beginning to take shape. At the time of writing we are in the midst of drafting funding applications, liaising with architects for outline building plans, making initial enquiries for planning permission and listed building consent as well as compiling an exhibition design brief for circulating to potential museum designers. Exciting times!

There’ll be more news of our developments soon; watch this space…

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