Glencoe Museum talk retail and sustainability

Glencoe Museum talk retail and sustainability

We invited Catriona, curator at Glencoe Folk Museum, to talk to us about the journey they have been on with the Steps to Sustainability programme.

In 2021, we were successful in our application to take part in Steps to Sustainability – a programme run by Social Enterprise Academy and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The aim of the programme was to support organisations through a specific project of their own choosing, through a combination of workshops, facilitated sessions, discussions and networking. Following successful completion of the programme – and delivery of a presentation outlining plans, costs and profit – each organisation was awarded £5000 towards their project, with a further £5000 promised further down the line, provided we could evidence that our project was a success.

We chose to focus our project on our gift shop. An issue we have always had (and maybe something other Highland Museums can relate to) is a lack of funds at the start of the season to invest in shop stock, and not wanting to risk spending money on products that might not sell well. The money from this programme allowed us the freedom to experiment with new lines, commission our own bespoke products based on objects from the collection, cover high “minimum spend” for new sellers, and put in much larger initial orders to keep us well stocked.

With the first £5000, we commissioned Paper Houses Design to create a pattern inspired by our Spitalfields Silk Dress (as featured in Highland Threads), which we then had printed on tote bags, tea towels, mugs and silk scarves. We also invested in local artist Lilli (Discover & Draw), who uses the local landscape to inspire her work, and sells items including mugs, bags, cards, stickers, water bottles and coasters. Finally, local model-maker Jodie created Ballachulish Goddess keyrings for us, based on our replica. These were probably the most popular out of all of these items – a completely unique and quirky souvenir of the area and the museum!
Seeing how each of these products sold allowed us to determine how to spend the remaining £5000. We could see that visitors appreciated unique items which had a strong Glencoe connection – whether to the museum, the community who created them or to the landscape. Our most unique selling point is our museum cottages, so we decided to commission “museum bothies” – little thatched ceramic double-cottages in the style of our museum. These were created by Glenshee Bothies, and we also invested in their pre-existing coloured bothies, tin-roofed bothies and single-cottage thatched bothies.

We also invested in some local businesses: we bought a range of soy candles from the Glencoe Candle Company, local heather honey from Jahama Estate, a selection of loose-leaf teas made just along the road in Mallaig and jewellery by a local crafter. We were also able to stock up on more Ballachulish Goddess keyrings and more items from Discover & Draw.
Finally, we expanded our children’s range. This is something I feel that the gift shop has been lacking for a while, but sellers seemed to have quite large minimum orders and minimum spend for new retailers. The funding allowed us to stock a wide selection risk-free. We opted for Living Nature soft toys of local wildlife and a range of retro ‘pocket-money’ toys such as slinkies, cup-and-ball, pick-up-sticks and spinning tops.

I have to admit that I found the programme itself a little time-consuming, though I was the only member of staff at the time (colleague was furloughed) so was trying to juggle a lot of balls and hadn’t quite realised what I was signing up for. It consisted of two back-to-back full day Zoom sessions each month for 3 months plus extra optional courses on things like marketing or retail, one-to-one mentoring sessions and also time spent preparing the presentation. It was all really useful stuff though, and for organisations with dedicated members of staff running e.g. the gift shop or café, this should be much more manageable and shouldn’t cause any issues! The organisations taking part in the same round as us – which included the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, Dundee Transport Museum and Mary Burgh Halls – all agreed that it was extremely useful to be able to connect with other museums running similar projects, and to get advice and discuss problems with peers. I also found that our mentor was extremely knowledgeable and full of great ideas for taking things forward after the end of the programme.

So, despite the long sessions, this programme was absolutely worth it for us. Our gift shops sales and profit have increased remarkably; in June 2022, we saw a 190% increase in profit from the gift shop compared to June 2019, and every other month has been at least 50% up on 2019. I put this down to having a retail offer that is unique, thoughtful and local, giving visitors the opportunity to purchase souvenirs that they can’t get anywhere else – and we wouldn’t have been able to create this offer without the funding and support from the Steps to Sustainability programme.

Round 3 of the Steps to Sustainability programme is starting  in October 2022. You can find out more here.



Design work is rapidly advancing on Glencoe Folk Museum’s £1.3m lottery-funded redevelopment, scheduled to open in 2023. Peter Drummond architects and Mather & Co. exhibition designers are working with staff and the local community to create a vibrant attraction, fit for the 21st century whilst retaining the traditional look and much-loved charm of the original.

Founded in the 1960s by members of the community, the Museum holds over 6,000 artefacts and chronicles daily life in the Glencoe area between the 17th and 21st centuries, telling stories relating to themes such as industry, conflict, childhood and sport, as well as Jacobite uprisings, Clan history and of course the Massacre of Glencoe. The redevelopment plans include the erection of a new building at the back of the Museum’s historic listed cottages, creating a new reception area, gift shop and exhibition space. Improving visitor access is a key priority, as is improving the display conditions of the more vulnerable objects in the collection.

A highlight of the new displays will be an immersive, state-of-the-art projection and audio feature placing visitors in a MacDonald cottage on the night of the infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe. This emotive exhibition will bring to life the personal stories of the Massacre and give a clear understanding of the religious, political and cultural environment that allowed such an atrocity to take place.

Project Director, David Rounce, said;
 ‘There’s a lot of work ahead, including fundraising and shortly seeking planning permission, but we’re well on-track to make a museum that will be a real hub for local heritage – bringing Glencoe’s unique history to life for the community and our visitors from around the globe’.

The redevelopment will also restore the Museum’s listed 18th century cottages, the only surviving genuine heather-thatched structures in the area. Funding from the Pilgrim Trust has been secured to renew the thatch and help the Museum ensure its long-term preservation. It is planned to complement this traditional natural roof with a new “ living” roof on the extension.

Catriona Davidson, Curator, added;
 ‘We’ve been talking about this project since I started working here over 5 years ago,  so it’s really exciting to finally be able to share our plans  as everything comes together! Behind the scenes we’re busy researching, choosing artefacts and gathering stories. We’ve also been running community consultation sessions – we really want our museum to reflect the community that created it so it’s important to us that we are sharing as many local voices as possible”

Highlights of the Museum’s collection include a “coffin boat” once used to transport bodies to the Clan burial island of Eilean Munde, a beautiful 1740s silk dress, woven at Spitalfields and passed down the generations of a local family, a replica of the mysterious bronze-age Ballachulish Goddess and a large genealogical chart depicting the branches of Clan Donald. 

The Museum will open for the 2022 season on Saturday 2nd April. 

Kickstarting Glencoe Folk Museum

Kickstarting Glencoe Folk Museum

In this month’s blog we have invited Catriona, curator at Glencoe Folk Museum, and Connor, a Kickstart Trainee at the museum, to tell us how the Kickstart scheme has been working for them.

The Kickstart Scheme is perfect for a small museum like ours. At a time when we are beginning to work towards our Redevelopment Project, having another pair of hands to take on ongoing work like covering the front desk, cataloguing our collections and carrying out research has been invaluable. My colleague David and I both made our way into the heritage sector through similar schemes, so we are delighted to be able to give someone else the opportunity to gain the experience needed to start their museum journey!  Connor started with us earlier this year has been a major asset to the organisation. 

Hi! My name is Connor and I am the Kickstart Trainee at the Glencoe Folk Museum. As a Kickstart Trainee, I am working at the Museum for 6-months to get a taste of what it is like to work in a Museum and the Heritage sector. I’m very excited and grateful for this opportunity as I love to study history and I plan on working in museums in the future. 

The Kickstart Scheme is a government-funded programme aimed at 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long term unemployment.

One of the reasons why I am enjoying this opportunity so much is because I don’t have a set role in the museum. My role can change day to day as I could be greeting visitors one day and cataloguing our collections the next. I’m thoroughly enjoying this as it is allowing me to get a much greater idea of what it is like to work ‘behind the scenes’ of a museum than if I was simply there to greet and direct visitors. 

I hope to find employment in the heritage sector in the future so this opportunity is giving me invaluable experience and a perspective that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. I still have a long way to go but these 6 months at Glencoe Folk Museum will set the wheels in motion for me.

My favourite aspect of history is that of 19th and 20th Century military history; everything from the uniforms to the kit and weapons. I have a fair amount of knowledge in regards to military equipment and items from that time but what I have the most knowledge in is firearms from that time. That is why I was thoroughly excited to have the opportunity to research and identify old, obsolete firearms from the 1850’s-90’s and a de-activated one from the Second World War that are in our collection. This is one of the best pieces of experience that I have gotten to date as this is the type of history and museum work that I love and would like to work in once I have the necessary qualifications.

Once I have completed my placement at the Museum, my plan is to join the Royal Navy as my main career path. As I have said, I’ve always had an obsession with the military and since I have grown up around boats and a nautical lifestyle, the Navy was the clear choice for me. One of the biggest reasons that I have chosen the Navy as my main career path is due to the education opportunities that are available. When I was in school, I wasn’t a very academic student as I preferred hands on learning to studying for hours on end. This led to me not getting the qualifications that I was hoping for and denied me the ability to enter University straight out of High School. The Navy allows you to study for a degree alongside your military service so I plan to study for a History degree during my service career.

Once I have left the Navy and gained my Degree, I plan to work in military oriented museums such as the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and The Tank Museum at Bovington. These particular Museums stand out to me as they often incorporate Re-enactment and Living History events into their displays and this is an aspect of the heritage sector that I think is an incredible idea and is one that I intend to take part in and enjoy.

All in all, I am beyond excited to be working at the Museum and once again I am so grateful to Catriona and David for giving me this opportunity that will give me a taste of, hopefully, what my career will look like in years to come.

Reflecting on Highland Threads

Reflecting on Highland Threads

Catriona Davidson, curator at Glencoe Folk Museum, writes about being part of the Museums and Heritage Highland Network and getting involved in the Highland Threads Exhibition.

Being part of Museums and Heritage Highland has been fantastic for Glencoe Folk Museum. As a small museum with only one full-time member of staff (myself, though the past couple of years we have employed a Redevelopment Manager), having access to the resources, expertise and advise of staff across a range of Highland museums has been invaluable. 

Highland Threads is a great example of how MHH has helped smaller museums. We chose to put forward our 18th Century Spitalfields Silks dress for the exhibition, partly because it is the most beautiful item of costume in our collection and partly because it required more work than can be done with just one member of staff. The dress has been on an inappropriate and unsuitable mannequin for years: it was the wrong shape for the style and was putting strain on the already damaged silk. Previous attempts to remove or improve the dress led us to the conclusion that once it was removed from its current mannequin it would not be going back on, and we didn’t want to handle the fragile material more than once. That meant that before we did anything we needed a suitable replacement mannequin, the assistance of a conservator to direct us in how to handle the dress and to make a condition assessment while it was loose, the input of someone who could tell us how the dress would have been worn so that we could fashion the mannequin appropriately, plus funding for all of the above! So, when Highland Threads came along, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to achieve something that we had been working towards for years, while also getting to contribute to a fantastic collaborative project. 

Another unexpected bonus for us was that we discovered more about the history of our dress. This dress has very little provenance other than that the silk was woven probably in Spitalfields in 1740, and it was being used as a dressing up costume (and was put in the washing machine!) before being donated to the museum in the 1970s. However when MHH took on the services of Rebecca Olds, a Dress Historian with particular expertise in 18th Century costume, she was able to read the history of the dress in its stitches, tucks and threads, painting a detailed picture of a well-loved gown that was passed down through different generations and fashions. It is so much more than we ever expected when we joined this project, and certainly much more than we would have likely achieved by ourselves.   

Seeing our dress up on the website alongside beautiful, intricate and fascinating items from other museums makes us really feel like part of a Highland museum community, and we’re so grateful to MHH for creating opportunities like this for small museums. 

You can visit to see the full exhibition and support Highland Museums.