Exploring Lost Inverlael with Ullapool Museum

map of the Inverlael area

Museum Mangaer, Siobhan Beatson, tells all about this exciting new project that launched just before lockdown and is slowly building up steam.

Lost Inverlael: Finding Balblair is potentially one of the biggest projects Ullapool Museum has undertaken that did not require rebuilding walls or emptying the museum. It will certainly be the longest running project and in my opinion the most exciting. The involvement of archaeological activities combined with in depth research of the townships of Inverlael and Balblair and its people will bring the community together in a single mission to reignite local memory of the area and the lives of its inhabitants.

 There are several adjacent projects which include a cultural development of music and art, a recreation of the landscape and townships in Minecraft and a full digital interactive exhibit that will take a permanent place in the museum. The combination of the last two show how Ullapool Museum is stepping into the modern world and taking on new challenges to accent our engagement with the local community and our visitors which will hopefully develop an emotional connection to the project. With this blog we hope to involve our community and interested parties in the genus of the project, more recent events and how we plan to take the next steps.

The idea of exploring the history of Inverlael and Balblair was brought to us last summer by our now famous local historian Duncan MacKenzie, whose family had strong ties to the area. He had been brought up on stories of the Clearance of 1819/20 by Sir George Steuart MacKenzie of Coul. The folk tales of tenants being turfed out of their houses and having to set up a makeshift camp outside of Clachan church intrigued him to pursue the real story of the townships. He has spent many years playing detective and had conducted a significant amount of research on the land and in various archives. On the discovery of Land Tax records from the early modern period, he discovered that Balblair was valued considerably more than other townships in Lochbroom. This led to the educated assumption that Balblair, a township that had been all but forgotten even in the local community, had something significant to offer and was more notable than previously believed. A comment in some research read that Balblair was the largest township north of Dingwall. When all this evidence was presented to us we were all in agreement that we had stumbled upon an intriguing and previously lost story. We were eager to follow this up and Lost Inverlael: Finding Balblair was born.

In January we received confirmation of funding from Historic Environment Scotland, which gave us the green light for the project. In the early weeks of Lock Down we appointed the Archaeology team for the project. Highland Archaeological Services provided the best answers and foresight and we were thrilled to be able to offer a local company the opportunity to work with us. We also appointed Immersive Minds to the project who will conduct the recreation of the landscape and heritage in Minecraft (a block building computer game). We are very excited about this as it is something very different and gives us an opportunity to work with the local school children, and give them an opportunity to build parts of the landscape while learning about this history, culture and heritage through a very modern and familiar medium. The Crafting the Past website is available to look at which already has the preliminary landscape features. In June we were approached by Interface a consultation company who pair up digital projects with Universities to work in partnership. This has meant that we can look forward to developing an interactive museum display, which will be able to give our visitors all the details of the project in a user-friendly manner, with interactive maps, stories from the people who lived there, potential archaeology finds can be analysed and much more. The possibilities with this type of tech are endless and we hope to pioneer this use of technology for museums in the highlands.

The last couple of months have seen the start of the research programme of the project begin to take shape. Myself and our Reception and Admin assistant Arran MacDonald have started the groundwork for the more detailed research that will come later on. We have managed to collate a basic list of names in Family groups or individuals from the two eviction notices of 1819 and 1820. This gives us a good foundation on which to work on. Some interesting facts have emerged from this record, including the name of Lady Katherine MacKenzie (Ramsay) of Coul, who was the mother of Sir George Steuart MacKenzie. She is stated as the land owner in the eviction records, which we believe were left to her after her late husbands death to contribute to her upkeep. Further research into this is being conducted, including trying to find General Sir Alexander MacKenzie of Coul’s Last Will and Testament, which would confirm this theory.

We are excited to begin the project properly and we are working towards planning the community workshops for the winter period. This will involve bringing the whole team together including the schools and the archaeologists to develop a programme of workshops to inform the community of the details of the project and to involve them in various aspects of research, information gathering and potential volunteering opportunities. We hope to reach all aspects of the community from the youngest to the oldest and include all abilities and knowledge levels. 

While 2020 has had a shaky start, we hope that Lost Inverlael: Finding Balblair will bring a new enthusiasm and vigour to the end of the year. Which can take us into 2021 with a renewed outlook and endless possibilities.

Follow the project on their website – https://ullapoolmuseum.co.uk/elementor-1498/

Historylinks – the journey to reopening and beyond!

Historylinks – the journey to reopening and beyond!

When COVID-19 struck, Historylinks Museum was already in the process of preparing to open for the 2020 season. All was suddenly on hold and our Curator and Museum Assistant worked from home before eventually being put on Furlough. During this time the Trustees and Museum Committee began the task of altering the way the museum worked in terms of its digital output. It felt really important to make sure that the local community and potential visitors still had access to the heritage, but in a different way. Funding was granted from MGS to update and enhance our popular Image Archive and make it even more user friendly and accessible. It also enabled us to set up an online ticketing service and pre booked museum tours via our website for when we eventually reopened. We managed to engage more people with our Facebook Page. The local community have been very active in commenting on posts and sharing memories jogged by the images. It has also been possible to set up a digital platform that has enabled us to share film clips from our Archive easily. 

By the beginning of July, it was clear that the Scottish Government was going to allow museums to reopen and so it was time for the Historylinks team to make a decision. To reopen or stay closed? It was not a decision that was taken lightly, but consultation with staff and volunteers revealed that everyone wanted to take steps to open the doors of the Museum once again. A few volunteers have not able to return for the time being because they are still shielding but all were supportive of the plan to reopen. Museum staff were back at work on the 8th July and working towards a reopening date of 18th July.

Another grant from MGS allowed us to buy the appropriate equipment such as PPE, hand sanitiser and other items we needed in order to reopen safely.

The staff and committee members then worked together to create as safe a space as possible in order to welcome back visitors. The first thing in place was a Perspex screen at reception and adequate PPE for all staff and volunteers.

With all this in mind we created our ‘7 steps to safety’. The steps are displayed outside the building and again in reception so that people can read and take in the information before entering the museum. A short film about what to expect in terms of safety measures when visiting will be up on our website soon.

One of the most important points in the 7 steps is the requirement for visitors to wear a face covering and sanitise their hands on entering the building. We have automatic hand sanitiser stations on entry and around the building with paper towels and bin provided.

The reception and retail area here at Historylinks can form a bottleneck for visitors because as well as the way in, it is the way out! The answer to this problem is a traffic light system on entry. This means that our staff and volunteers are in complete control of the flow of visitors. They are able to work the traffic lights remotely from the counter to allow only one party of people at reception at a time. This takes the pressure off the volunteer and allows them time to record track and trace details, fill in Gift Aid forms and explain the one-way system around the museum.

Some things have had to change more significantly. We decided to implement a ‘no touch’ policy around the building in order to minimise any cross infection. Our interactive displays were removed and the children’s toys put away into storage. The addition of polite reminders not to touch the glass cases or exhibits ensures that people are aware of our policy as they walk around.

Having to close the children’s room was sad for us as we love having youngsters in the museum. So, instead of toys in the children’s room they have a fantastic animated film to watch made by local children about Dornoch’s mythical fairy bridge ‘The Gizzen Brigs’. In addition to this, they can see the amazing masks created by our Young Curator’s for their Halloween walk last October. Plus, they can enjoy our story labyrinth in the grounds of the museum.

The addition of a new outdoor exhibition called ‘Domestic Life’ featuring objects from the 19th and early 20th Centuries means that we have enhanced our exterior displays, giving visitors even more to enjoy outside.

Despite the restrictions in the museum we have gone ahead with our new exhibition of Katherine Gray’s dress from 1710 and the display of our East Sutherland Longhouse project featuring a scale model of a pre-clearance settlement. 

Since reopening we have had a steady stream of visitors. Everyone so far has been compliant with our new rules. Occasionally we might have to prompt someone to use the hand sanitiser on entry but this has not caused a problem. Numbers are running at about 60% of the same time last year.  

Visitors have commented that they feel the museum is well organised and volunteers have said that they feel safe with the new safety measures in place. The most difficult thing is having to turn people away when we are at capacity. Especially if it is raining! We do try to encourage people to come back and can generally estimate when we will have room for them.

We do keep a stock of disposable facemasks for people who have lost for forgotten to bring their own.

The main thing we have learned is not to rush entry to the museum. People are always eager to get into the museum but we do have to take quite a lot of information, especially if visitors are Gift Aiding their entrance fee. Taking time to make sure that all the information is accurate is imperative for track and trace and our traffic light system has been very valuable in allowing that to happen.

Our opening times have changed slightly to 10.30am – 4pm but we are still open 7 days a week.

www.historylinks.org.uk

www.historylinksarchive.org.uk 

Highland Museum Re-opening Plans

Highland Museum Re-opening Plans

Planning a trip to the Highlands and wondering if your favourite museum is open? Here is a comprehensive list that will let you know what their plans are, ways you can support them from afar and/or how to contact them to find out more. You can also check our map page to find out where they are – https://museumsandheritagehighland.org.uk/map

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**MUSEUMS THAT ARE OPEN NOW OR OPENING SOON**

Glencoe Museum

Museum of the Isles, Armadale Castle, Skye

  • NOW OPEN (reopened 6th August)
  • Until 18 October the museum will be open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 to 4pm.
  • Entry to the museum will be via timed ticket, purchased at the main ticket office. A one way system has been introduced with floor markers to maintain social distancing and hand sanitiser/handwashing facilities are available at entrance and exit. They are encouraging visitors to wear face coverings and are collecting visitor details to support NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect service as per Scottish Government guidance. Face coverings are required in our shop areas.
  • Audio guides will not be available at this time and the library is currently closed
  • All details and any changes to the above info will updated via our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Gairloch Museum

Ullapool Museum

  • NOW OPEN (reopened 1st August)
  • Opening Times will be – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 11-4, Saturday 10-5.
  • Customer details will be taken; 10 people Max inside the museum at one time; Masks to be Worn; One way system; Films shown on the hour; New Outdoor History Treasure Trail (both Adults and Children)
  • Can’t visit this year? Donate! Ullapool Museum Giving Fund – paypal.com/gb/fundraiser/charity/3920689
  • Website www.ullapoolmuseum.co.uk
  • You Tube https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ullapool+museum
  • Social media links – facebook, @ullapoolmuseum | instagram, @ullapoolmuseum | Twitter, @Ullapoolmuseum | TikTok, @Ullapoolmuseum

Historylinks, Dornoch

  • NOW OPEN! (did so, on 18th July)
  • Open 7 days a week from 10.30am to 4pm. 
  • Visitors can just pay at reception or prepay online via their website or book exclusive use of the museum after hours for £30 for a group of up to 8 people. www.historylinks.org.uk
  • They have a traffic light system in place and a limit to 10 people in the museum at a time. All visitors are asked to wear a face covering if their health permits and to sanitise their hands on entry. There is also a sanitising station half way around the museum. There is a one way system in place and people are asked not to touch anything.
  • They have some new exhibits including an outdoor display of domestic object from the late 19th, early 20th century, an 18th Century dress and a display about their latest community project funded by HLF of a preclearance site at Dalnamain, Dornoch. The display features a scale model of the settlement c1800 made by a Historylinks volunteer and the Young Curators.
  • Their Young Curators have also created an exhibition of masks that they made for a Halloween walk last year. Each mask depicts a character from Dornoch’s history and they have written the interpretation in their own words.
  • They also have 4 films for visitors to watch and a brand new children’s quiz.
  • Keep up to speed via their websites and facebook, www.historylinks.org.uk or www.historylinksarchive.org.uk or https://www.facebook.com/HistorylinksMuseum/

Tain District Museum and Clan Ross Centre

Tarbat Discovery Centre, Portmahomack

NOW OPEN for pre-booked visits – to book a slot and find out more about your visit, go to their website – https://www.tarbat-discovery.co.uk/visitor-information You can also make a donation to support them there if you can’t visit this year.

West Highland Museum, Fort William

  • Opening Friday 4th September
  • Open: Tuesday to Friday 10am to 2pm
  • To book, please email: info@westhighlandmuseum.org.uk or telephone: 01397 702169 or 07985 251335 between 9am and 4pm (Monday – Friday)
  • Require face coverings, following of a one way system, no-touch policy, and will be taking customer details 
  • If you can’t visit this year, you can still support them: Website has a donations button, see below.
  • Follow their FB page to find out more about their digital projects and their Jacobite digital heritage trail.
  • http://www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk/
  • https://www.facebook.com/WestHighlandMuseum/
  • Twitter: @WestHighMuseum

Timespan, Helmsdale

  • NOW Open
  • Open Monday – Sunday 10zm – 5pm
  • Please note, the museum and cafe capacity have been reduced, to ensure social distancing. You can book your slot in advance by contacting them on 01431 821327 | enquiries@timespan.org.uk
  • Please see our new reopening visitor guidelines to keep you covid-Secure and their community, staff and team safe.
  • Their latest online exhibition Real Rights explores land use and ownership, colonial history and climate change in the Iron Age, during the Highland Clearances and at the height of the herring fishing boom at Helmsdale.

Cromarty Courthouse Museum

  • Open on Saturdays and Sundays during August and September from 12am until 4pm. Admission is free.
  • Staff and volunteers will be on hand to advise you on your route through the Courthouse and they will ask all visitors to use the hand sanitiser provided, wear a suitable face covering and maintain social distancing. 
  • More details on their website – http://www.cromarty-courthouse.org.uk/ or Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CromartyCourthouseMuseum/ 

Groam House Museum, Rosemarkie

  • NOW OPEN
  • Opening times: Thursday to Sunday from 1:30 – 4.15pm
  • Booking is essential, only 1 group in at a time,  maximum of 6 people in the group,  half an hour slots. You can book online at their website, www.groamhouse.org.uk or by phone at 07799 663984. 
  • Face coverings will be required.  Guided tour will be offered.
  • Even if you can’t visit this year, you can still engage in their work and support the museum. Ways to donate and see the work they are doing can be found on their website.
  • Their exhibition this year is ‘Book of Kells; Mysteries Revealed’ which is being put together in conjunction with Thomas Keyes.  
  • Web site: www.groamhouse.org.uk Facebook: GroamHouse Twitter: Twitter @ Groamhouse

Highland Museum of Childhood, Strathpeffer

NOW OPEN. times vary and booking is preferred so please call 01997 421031 or e-mail info@highlandmuseumofchildhood.org.uk when planning your visit. Also check their website. highlandmuseumofchildhood.org.uk 

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore

  • NOW OPEN ( opened 29th July)
  • Opening times – Wed – Sunday 10.30 – 4
  • Booking system to be made public on Monday 27th – https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/
  • Face coverings required in the toilets and shop
  • Donations link on booking system and on website

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

The Highlanders Museum, Fort George

Will be reopening on 11th September! More details to follow. Check their facebook page for updates – https://www.facebook.com/thehighlandersmuseum 

Mallaig Heritage Centre

NOW OPEN!
Follow them on facebook https://www.facebook.com/mallaigheritage/
Visit the website for latest info http://www.mallaigheritage.org.uk/

NTS sites including Culloden Battlefield

  • Culloden is NOW OPEN (reopened 1st August)
  • They will be open 10 to 4 Wednesday – Sunday and are asking people to book online to come into the exhibition.  https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden/events
  • Brodie Castle, Inverewe gardens, Glencoe and Glenfinnan will be opening shortly. Check back for more details.
  • Abertaff House and Hugh Miller’s Cottage are staying closed for now

Russian Arctic Convoy Museum, Loch Ewe

  • Opening on a limited basis from Wednesday 12th August, Wednesday’s through to Saturday, until 31st October, 2020.
  • All visitors should pre-book a visit slot. Please contact the museum on 01445 731 137 or via e-mail at exhibition@theracmproject.org giving your name, phone no. & size of party.
  • Visits are limited to a maximum period of 1½ hours, beginning at either 10.00, 12.00 or 14.00
  • Entry fees remain the same as 2019 (adults £4, 12 to 18 £3). Payment preferably by contactless. Due to the closure since April, and the additional costs incurred in now opening with COVID-19 measures in place, any donations will be gratefully received.
  • Social distancing should be adhered to at all times during your visit. Face masks will be mandatory throughout the visit. If you do not have your own mask these will be available at reception at cost price. Please use the hand sanitizer provided at time of entry and during the visit.
  • Visit the website here – https://racmp.co.uk/

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**MUSEUMS STAYING CLOSED OR STILL DECIDING**

Nairn Museum

  • Staying Closed for the season
  • Currently working on a project titled – ‘Retail Therapy: Shops and Businesses in the Historic Market Town of Nairn’ which will involve a mixture of volunteers and locals. The aim is to gather memories, stories and photographs of Nairn shops and businesses to add to their archive, and they hope to have an exhibition on this next season.
  • Video tours of their exhibition spaces and current exhibition ‘A Woman’s Place: Prominent Women from the History of Nairn’ are being worked on and will be posted on social media.
  • Facebook link : https://www.facebook.com
  • Website link is: http://www.nairnmuseum.co.uk/ and you can also DONATE via the website to show your support!

Glenfinnan Station Museum – Not sure of plans yet. Call ahead – 01397 722295

Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill

Are not reopening this season. You can still support them and engage with their work by visiting their website – www.strathnavermuseum.org.uk 

Wick Heritage Museum

Laidhay Croft Museum – Not opening – visit their website http://laidhay.co.uk/

Dunbeath Heritage Museum – Not currently open – follow their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DunbeathHM/

Brora Heritage Centre – Not sure of plans. Check their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/broraheritage/ 

Invergordon Museum – Are not opening this season – keep up to date on their news via their website http://www.invergordonmuseum.co.uk/

Grantown Museum – are still deciding. Check their website https://www.grantownmuseum.co.uk/

Elgin Museum

Re-opening Gairloch Museum – A familiar journey

Re-opening Gairloch Museum – A familiar journey

Almost exactly one year ago, staff and volunteers at Gairloch Museum were putting the final touches to their new museum before its official opening. Scroll forward a year and the picture is a similar one.  After a very successful first nine months, during which it welcomed more than 10,000 visitors, the museum was forced to close for almost four months due to coronavirus.  Staff were furloughed and only returned to work at the beginning of July, after the Scottish Government announced its accelerated timetable for restarting tourism.  Since then it has been all hands on deck to get the museum open.  It has taken three weeks but we are almost there.

The first stage of the process was to set up a task force for reopening.  This has been led by Curator Karen Buchanan and includes front of house staff and volunteers with responsibility for retail and maintenance.  A risk assessment identified that the museum could reopen subject to some changes, the majority of which were in the areas of ticketing and cleaning.  It was also necessary to review display areas taking into consideration the risk of spreading Covid-19 through touch.

In order to reduce contact between visitors, it was decided to assign groups of visitors (e.g. families or couples) to slots and to introduce a one-way system for their circulation.  The display areas can accommodate a maximum of one group in each of the five galleries at any one time.  Using this system, groups should not come into contact with one another other than at pinch points such as the entrance and staircase.  Here barriers and passing places have been used to separate two directional traffic.  Consideration was also given to how to ensure only one group is using the toilet and shop at a time.

It was decided to use the Art Fund’s ‘Art Tickets’ booking facility for advance booking of slots.  This option was chosen as it is free for museums to use, and was a system we had already considered being involved with.  Art Fund have been overwhelmed with new users of Art Tickets, but have done a fantastic job getting us onto the system quickly and signing us up for training webinars.  As we open, we will be taking telephone and email bookings, but hope to transition soon to Art Tickets when we are more confident in using it. We will try to accommodate those who have not pre-booked and turn up on spec and they will need to supply the details required for Test and Protect.  From 9-10am we will only allow 2 groups in and reserve these slots for members and vulnerable people.

We have gone for a two prong approach as regards touching objects. We have signed just about everything.  Either it is OK to touch a display (this applies to interactives), or it is not (e.g. open display objects).  We have made it clear that touching interactives is at visitors’ own risk, and provided sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and bins next to them.  We feel that the signage we have used is user friendly and well designed in communicating the rationale to the visitors.  In one area where there are a lot of open display objects, barriers have been placed in front of the displays and new labels attached to the barriers.

We will not be able to allow visitors to use the film theatre in the museum. This is a great shame, as our film is so popular.  But it is 25 minutes long and the room it is shown in is poorly ventilated.  We have obtained permission from the film maker to publish clips from the film on Vimeo and we aim to do this, though it is unlikely to be achieved before we reopen.  We will also produce a large poster to go into the doorway of the film theatre that will advertise the film and have QR codes linking to the Vimeo clips.  We have also considered using QR clips to link to an area on our website which would house the sound clips from our listening posts.  This will take longer to produce and we will work on it once we are open.

Quite a few of our front of house volunteers have chosen not to return to help out at the museum for the time being.  However, we have managed to get enough volunteers to open 4 days a week 9-5.  In fact, it has been a good opportunity to recruit and train new volunteers.  We will have one volunteer on the desk and one upstairs stewarding groups.  Our FOH supervisor will meet and greet.  

One of the significant hurdles to reopening was getting hold of the materials we needed such as barriers and hand sanitiser dispensers.  We eventually got the latter after about a 4 week wait but one of our volunteers eventually had to go to Inverness to pick it up.  Barriers could not be obtained in time so they have been borrowed from a local contractor in the meantime.  We have installed a wall mounted or free standing hand sanitiser in every gallery, at the entrance, in the stairwell and outside the toilets. We have also placed one on the way into the shop and are grappling with instructions to visitors on touching shop produce.

It has been time consuming producing the information that we need to get out to visitors in its various formats and for different distribution channels.  We have had to change our opening hours on all the platforms that people use (e.g. Google Business, Visit Scotland etc.) as well as our own website.  We have dedicated a special page on our website to provide advance information for visitors and have also tried to get this out through social media.  We managed to recruit a volunteer to produce a film for us to guide visitors through the new systems in the museum.  This required storyboarding and recruiting people to take part in the film.  

With hopefully everything in place now, we are looking forward to reopening and to seeing how visitors behave in the museum under these changed circumstances.  We are well aware that we need to be flexible and respond to visitor feedback.  We will use our museum stewards to assess the effectiveness of the measures we have put in place and to feed back to us.  Wish us luck!

Find out about opening times and how to book here – https://www.gairlochmuseum.org/

COVID-19 and a Volunteer Run Museum

drawing of external image of wick museum

We are delighted to welcome Ian Leith, Chair of Wick Heritage Museum, as our guest blogger for this month, writing about the challenges being faced as a volunteer run museum in the midst of a pandemic.

Background

The Wick Society is wholly led and run by Volunteers. The Board of Trustees are all volunteers and each of our services are delivered through a bank of skilled, committed and dedicated volunteers. 

The Wick Society has responsibility for the Wick Heritage Museum, the Johnston Photographic Collection, Wick Society Boats and our oral history project, Wick Voices. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government restrictions the Board, in conjunction, with the volunteers, decided NOT to open Wick Heritage Museum this year, nor has it been possible to launch our flagship, the Isabella Fortuna. 

However, the Johnston Photographic Collection and Wick Voices are both online resources and continue to be available.

We are also making use of our websites, social media and more recently YouTube channel. This has allowed a certain public presence to be maintained. 

Now, with restrictions being slowly eased and a determination on the part of many to return to a normal situation, guidelines are being issued for museums and other visitor attractions to consider re-opening. The challenges facing the Wick Heritage Museum in terms of social distancing, PPE and hygiene were considered by The Wick Society Board on 25th June 2020 with the decision taken to NOT open during the 2020 Season.

The following considerations and discussions were used to come to the decision.

Consultations and Discussions

A number of virtual meetings and forums have been and continue to be attended. These give an indication of the universal challenges and opportunities that the Wick Society must consider. 

Many museums both nationally and regionally are preparing to open at some point over the next few months. Some, depending on their layout will find it relatively easy to implement the necessary controls and restrictions. Others are looking at alternative approaches to their layouts and/or offerings. 

One of the major differences between the Wick Heritage Museum and many others, is that we are wholly run by volunteers. Museums that have employees are in the more ‘fortunate’ position of having qualified and on-site staff to plan and put in place the necessary conditions. 

As we are wholly voluntary, we have to rely on the goodwill and availability of volunteers to take on considerable tasks. By the very nature of heritage volunteering, many of our teams are in older/vulnerable age categories and possibly more susceptible to health risks.  

The basic options we were faced with are:

Open

Open on a limited basis

Remain closed for the season

Look at ways of taking the museum and its stories out-with the Museum walls. 

Factors to consider:

Do we have capacity in terms of volunteer availability and desire to engage? 

As explained many of our volunteers are older and cannot be put at risk

Can we achieve the necessary social distancing guidelines?

The Wick Heritage Museum is made up of a series of small rooms with narrow corridors and stairways and a one way system is not practical.

The guided tour was a key element of our offering. This would not be possible.

What will the local community expect from us?

From general discussions the community at least understand our decision and welcome our intended approach of taking the ‘Museum Beyond the Walls’

Do we have the resources to make the required social distancing and hygiene rules work?

With the Museum closed there is little income and any major expense in terms of resources threatens our reserves.

What will visitors expect in terms of hygiene and safety?

In this we have no real idea. We know what would be required of us, but it is difficult to predict the expectations of any visitors.

There is a genuine fear in the North of Scotland that visitors will see that we have been relatively free of the virus and therefore may not be overly responsible. Admittedly this is more of a perceived fear than a known reality.

How will our longer-term viability and credibility be affected by opening or not opening?

The Wick Heritage Museum has been a recognised visitor attraction and if visitors are disappointed to find the museum closed, this could affect our reputation.

What can we do ‘outside’ of the Museum to provide a heritage experience for both locals and visitors?

We have always recognised and received great support from the local community and while our ‘Museum Beyond the Walls’ concept is for everyone, we see this period as a new opportunity to engage with local people as well as tourists.

The decisions before us therefore were as follows: 

Open:

The Disadvantages:

Considerable amount of preparation required 

Cost of preventative and protective materials (some small funds may be accessible)

Difficulty in recruiting volunteers

Unable to do guided tours

The Advantages”

We provide the service people will/may expect

Income

Opening on a partial basis:

The Disadvantages:

Probable closure of some sections of the Museum

Compliance would still need to be achieved

The Advantages:

Some income

Provide ‘something’ for visitors

Not Opening:

The Disadvantages

Loss of credibility

Loss of income

The Advantages;

Time to properly prepare and make any necessary changes for 2021 Season

Opportunity to approach our heritage from a different perspective.

New Ways – Alternative Approaches

Create a concept of the Museum Beyond the Walls

We already have the Johnston Photographic Collection and Wick Voices, online.

Create a heritage map detailing and exploring the stories behind our local heritage, throughout the town.

Consider the use of the Museum Courtyard and the exterior of the historic Herring Mart as activity/display spaces (weather permitting)

Work with local shops and the Town Centre Development Trust to utilise empty shop windows as display areas

Work with other museums/attractions in the area

Continue to create online and social media content

Wick is classed as a ‘heritage’ town, so this provides an opportunity for visitors and locals to explore and understand the history and heritage of the Royal Burgh of Wick.

Lost At Sea

Lost At Sea

Despite the current lockdown restrictions Strathnaver Museum is continuing to carry out community research projects and are appealing for members of the public to submit their stories about those ‘Lost at Sea’ along the north Sutherland coast.

As part of the Year of Coast and Waters Strathnaver Museum will be staging a digital exhibition ‘Lost at Sea’ exploring the stories of those who lost their lives at some of the wreck sites to be found along the north coast. These include the SS Ashbury (1945), fishing disasters at Kirtomy (1910), the 1890 storm which saw losses of fisherman from Port Vasco, Portskerra and Melvich, alongside the Portskerra drownings of 1848 and 1918 and ‘The Thorvaldsen’ (1858).

The most recent disaster the team are researching is that of the SS Ashbury. It represented the worst loss of a merchant ship during World War II not due to enemy action. The steamer foundered and sank at the mouth of Talmine Bay with the loss of the 42 strong crew on 8th January 1945.

The SS Ashbury had been traveling as part of a convoy from Lochewe, but falling behind, it became unmanageable in heavy seas. Twenty-six bodies were recovered with fourteen of the crewmen buried in war graves in Thurso Cemetery.

In 1910 the village of Kirtomy was devastated when a fishing boat was swamped within sight of the harbour. Three boats had been out taking in their creels when they were caught in a sudden storm. Two boats were able to make the safety of the harbour but the third, the “Rival”, sailing against the storm was swamped and sank. All five crewmen were lost that day leaving behind four widows and five children.

One of the worst local fishing disasters occurred twenty years previously when a storm swept into Scotland catching many fishing boats out at sea. Three boats from this area, the ‘Excelsior’, ‘Lively’ and the ‘Diadem’ were lost along with the lives of 20 of their crew.

Nearly all of the seven crewmen on the local boat “Excelsior” came from the small hamlet of Port Vasco. The other two boats the “Lively” and the “Diadem” were crewed by fishermen from Portskerra and Melvich. A memorial on the road to Portskerra harbour commemorates the local fishermen who tragically lost their lives at sea in the storms of 1848, 1890 and 1918.

The museum holds 3 objects relating to one of the earliest tragic shipwreck stories to be explored as part of the research project.

The Thorvaldsen with a crew of 12 and 2 passengers left Cardiff for Trondheim in Norway with a cargo of coal on 26th February 1858. The 300 ton Norwegian barque was captained by Hans Berg accompanied by his English wife Eleanor, who was one of the passengers.

From leaving port the ship was beset by heavy gales which led to them mistakenly thinking they were off the coast of Shetland when in fact they were heading towards Strathy Point. On the evening of 9th March Captain Berg, seeing land, ordered the anchor to be let go. Unfortunately, this action resulted in the ship swinging round broadside, her mast going over, tearing out the ships side and breaking the hull in three pieces.

The scene was witnessed by a crowd on shore but with the nearest boat, a coble, being 4 miles distant a rescue attempt was delayed. Four local men bravely rowed the coble to the stricken ship but it took three attempts before they managed to reach and bring ashore the 4 exhausted survivors. Captain and Mrs Berg are buried in Strathy graveyard.

The Board of Trade awarded bronze medals to the rescue party, one of the recipients was Angus Macdonald. His grandson, the late Angus Macdonald of Bettyhill, donated the medal to Strathnaver Museum.

The figurehead of ‘The Thorvaldsen’, sculpted by Hans Michelsen (1789-1859), a student of Bertel Thorvaldsen, an internationally famous Danish sculptor based in Rome, is displayed in Strathnaver Museum.

The final item relating to ‘The Thorvaldsen’ is timbers from the hull of the ship which forms the roof over the croft house display. The cruck frame was retrieved from a croft house in Strathy when it was renovated in 1985. Several of the neighbouring croft houses had adapted parts of the hull to use as roof timbers. This demonstrates just how important the reuse of materials would have been for people on the coast, particularly for scare materials such as wood.

Researcher and Strathnaver Museum Director, Robert Mackay said: “There are many fascinating stories attached to these wreck sites and we are keen to explore these further. We would like to hear from descendants who may have personal family reminiscences about the men and their loss so we can uncover the stories behind the names”.

If you have a family story about these events Strathnaver Museum would like to hear from you. Please contact the team at genealogy@strathnavermuseum.org.uk to submit your stories or to get more information.

Dè tha dol? What’s happening?

cut our puppet of a girl doing a cartwheel. coloured in orange, yellow and purple

Many of our museums are still working hard behind the scenes to ensure their audiences can get their heritage fix and connect with each other. We are going to do a wee series shining a spotlight on what’s happening. This first blog shines the spotlight on the Museum of the Isles at Armadale Castle, Skye, West Highland Museum in Fort William and Groam House Museum, Black Isle .

The Museum of the Isles at Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye, is keeping audiences engaged online. With education staff unable to deliver the weekly family sessions, they’re posting family activities to do at home on the website instead: https://www.armadalecastle.com/family-activities-to-do-at-home/. They are also sharing lots of content on social media, with a popular ‘object of the week’ post featuring artefacts from the galleries and museum stores. Traditional music is an important part of Armadale Castle’s activity, so they are also regularly sharing highlights from the castle’s piping and clarsach competitions held on Facebook. [eg https://www.facebook.com/ArmadaleCastleSkye/videos/2501800346710409/]. And with the museum being situated in a stunning garden location, there’s regular garden tips too [https://www.armadalecastle.com/seasonal-garden-tips/]
And if you’re intrigued about what a curator gets up to in lockdown, have a look at this #MuseumFromHome video! https://www.facebook.com/ArmadaleCastleSkye/videos/1143750272645277/
Follow them here –
https://www.facebook.com/ArmadaleCastleSkye/
https://www.instagram.com/armadalecastleskye/
https://twitter.com/ArmadaleCastle

While the West Highland Museum in Fort William is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic they are focusing on improving their online content to engage with their existing social media followers, support local communities, and develop new global online audiences.
They already have a popular Facebook page with almost 2.8k followers where they regularly share content about collections, local history and links to interesting stories.  They have re-launched thei Twitter account and will be posting to this regularly.  They have also started Pinterest and Instagram pages to share their collection with the world.
Since the Museum has been closed they have launched a blog, featuring a good variety of guest bloggers who showcase their collections and local history. They have recently launched a podcast and the first series focuses on local communities in the Fort William area and they will be working with Edinburgh University Museums to develop an online learning project about Scottish folklore for children.
In the longer term they are in the process of developing a new website and are looking to start video output with the launch of a YouTube channel.

https://www.facebook.com/WestHighlandMuseum/?ref=bookmarks
https://westhighlandmuseum.wordpres.com
www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk
https://www.buzzsprout.com/966610/3590722?fbclid=IwAR0XP5A26qaI68uZbouoMd-YRqUgehbCHKR_LpXBoc1mvgwPW1DNay50Qmo
https://twitter.com/WestHighMuseum
https://www.instagram.com/west_highland_museum/
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/whm1922/

THE SWORD OF DONALD CAMERON OF LOCHIEL

Groam House Museum have launched Black Isle Scarecrows!  The idea is simply to make a scarecrow, display it for your neighbours and passers-by to see, then, if you would like to, take a photo and post it to their new Facebook group ‘Black Isle Scarecrows’  https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlackIsleScarecrows/ 
A traditional scarecrow is made with threadbare overalls and stuffed with straw or anything else you can find – maybe old newspapers or plastic bags.  The secret to making the best possible scarecrow is being creative to recycle, reuse and repurpose old clothes and other props you already have.  During lockdown we all have time to have a good rummage around the house, shed or garage where I’m sure you will find all you need to inspire you!  
They are also continuing work on looking at how to present the work of George Bain online and are inviting feedback from all on this. Find out more here http://www.groamhouse.org.uk/index.asp?pageid=709546&fbclid=IwAR3WV5LgMWgrK3Np3og51kpY6aeyYzP7FVL2EDkMxbpzxtL1mHVGZWVEc_g

Covid-19 Resources and info

Covid-19 Resources and info

To support museum staff and volunteers at this time we are launching our first digital Heritage Cafe‘s  – we thought it may be useful to have an online space where we could come together, share advice, ask for support or just have a natter over a cup of tea? On Friday 10th April , we would like to host two Zoom sessions for you to join us. One at 10am and one at 2pm. Just for an hour or so. If you would be interested in taking part, drop Nicola an email here and we’ll send you a link to the session.

Collections security – It is important to check with insurers on this, but if it absolutely essential for you to check on collections from time to time, please see the template letter from Groam House Museum. It is important to ensure safety of staff and volunteers in the first instance, but if one person is making as few trips as possible and preferably by foot, taking all necessary precautions such as hand-washing etc, then it is possible to do. some pandemic guidance can be found here – https://icom.museum/en/covid-19/resources/recommendations-for-museum-conservation/?fbclid=IwAR3bmuPF9p5ZGrlN3bmoXC9qSyVEisva1h783r7scJmAK5LlUy0ADOI6UyI

The first XpoNorth Heritage Hangouts were a great success and thanks to all who took part. If you would be interested in taking part in one – you can still get in touch and I’ll add you to the list for the next round. They are an opportunity to discuss different ways you can utilise technology to engage with your audiences; develop digital experiences; create immersive content and/or how to monetise content. email nicolahenderson@xponorth.co.uk

On monetising – one thing we discussed with many museums last week was using Patreon https://www.patreon.com/ It is a bit like an online friends subscription service and a place where you could add special content for your members etc. if you would like to know more don’t hesitate in getting in touch!

And finally some more links to useful information at this time and a link to free measuring social impact courses which could be extremely helpful going forward:

MGS updated that all accredited museums will have their award status extended for 12months. – https://www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk/accreditation-recognition/accreditation-scheme-frequently-asked-questions-faqs/?utm_content=buffer8ae31&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

MGS have also launched their emergency funds to support the sector through this crisis – https://museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk/stories/mgs-announces-new-funds-to-support-scotlands-most-vulnerable-museums-and-galleries-and-to-support-digital-and-home-working/

AiM are hosting fee online advice surgeries – https://www.aim-museums.co.uk/coronavirus-support-resources-online-advice-surgeries/?utm_content=buffer93f8c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

NLHF have launched their emergency fund – https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/news/heritage-emergency-fund-launches-help-sector

More NLHF info https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/blogs/how-we-will-be-helping-heritage-community-during-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic

Some useful resources from an email from the Archives NRA Jiscmail list here https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=ind2003&L=ARCHIVES-NRA&P=R85448

AiM – https://www.aim-museums.co.uk/coronavirus-resources/

Creative Scotland – https://www.creativescotland.com/what-we-do/latest-news/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-advice

Third Sector Resilience Fund – https://scvo.org.uk/support/coronavirus/funding/for-organisations/third-sector-resilience-fund

XpoNorth resource library – https://xponorth.co.uk/resources/covid-19-coronavirus-resources

Free social impact courses from Just Enterprise – https://justenterprise.org/demonstrate-social-impact/e-learning-impact-measurement/

Internationalising Our Culture and Heritage Course – https://xponorth.co.uk/resources/our-culture-and-heritage-international-market-opportunities-elearning

OSCR guidance – https://www.oscr.org.uk/guidance-and-forms/covid-19-guidance-for-charities/2-funding-and-finance/?fbclid=IwAR0XTEG5EbBEif6kLv-OUiAYuCHIkDlTe6JFcZ4pZMUsWxq2ZRFJ6xg5PKk

Visit Scotland Market Intelligence – https://www.visitscotland.org/binaries/content/assets/dot-org/pdf/marketing-reports/visitscotland-market-intelligence-290420.pdf

Social Distancing Toolkit for Museums https://www.designbyccd.com/wp-content/plugins/pdfjs-viewer-shortcode/pdfjs/web/viewer.php?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.designbyccd.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2020%2F05%2FCCD-x-Smartify-Re-mobilising-Museums-White-Paper-1.pdf&dButton=true&pButton=true&oButton=false&v=1.5.1#zoom=auto





XpoNorth Heritage

xponorth logo

XpoNorth launch Museum and Heritage Support Programme

We are really excited to launch XpoNorth Heritage as a dedicated support strand for the Highlands and Islands Heritage community. This support programme is unique in structure and will be completely driven by the needs of the sector; it will also interface with XpoNorth’s wider specialist advice programme, encouraging deeper cross-sectoral interaction that will lead to new and innovative ways of working. You say what you need and the programme aims to help you find a solution!  

So, what it is and what can it do for me?

The heritage programme aims to offer support through providing additional capacity and expertise to help turn your ideas for building more resilient organisations into actions. The programme will help the Heritage sector to develop ideas that will attract new and/or diversify existing audiences, investigate the potential to create new income channels or build capacity within your organisation by creating new connections across the creative industries. We all know that there is a great range of skills and expertise across the sector and there are many excellent ideas as to how we can change our ways of working in order to become more resilient in difficult economic times – and in the face of a climate crisis. However, for many of us the offer of a helping hand and advice can be enough to bring the idea to fruition. This programme hopes to help you with that. You may have a story you want to tell using new technology, or an event programme that you want to encourage more people to engage with remotely or an innovative new product idea. Whatever you are thinking, get in touch and we can chat through how we can help you reach your goal. 

How will it work?

If you have an idea for meeting challenges or creating new opportunities, and would like support in developing it further and/or access to specific creative industries experts (such as digital, retail, publishing, storytelling, sponsorship etc) then please fill out this form – https://xponorth.co.uk/sector-support-programmes.  One of our team will then get back to you to discuss your project and what kind of support you need. Essentially by filling out the simple request form, you get a commitment to provide you with an advisor who has time to work with you to develop your idea or put you in touch with the relevant expert to support your project. It is important to note that this programme is not about telling the sector what it needs – it is about you telling us what you need. It may be specialist advice on a product you want to develop, or how best to cultivate and engage new and existing audiences; a key area for the project is also the potential for the introduction of new technologies to enhance physical customers experiences or leverage exciting remote interaction. You may be looking to better articulate your story and the provenance around it, or how to demonstrate the value of your idea to key stakeholders.

Anything else?

Accompanying this central element of the programme will be a series of events looking at examples of where experiments with new technologies or creative industry partnerships have helped the heritage sector identify new income streams and/or attract new audiences and inspire ideas. If you have a project you would like to share with the sector, then please do get in touch – nicolahenderson@xponorth.co.uk. There will also be opportunities to access training and skills development as part of the wider XpoNorth programme.  

Nicola will be planning some visits to discuss the programme with you and to ensure it best meets the sector’s needs so please expect an email in the near future – in the meantime if you have any questions do not hesitate in getting in touch nicolahenderson@xponorth.co.uk.

Nicola Henderson who is working with XpoNorth on the Heritage Support Programme

 XpoNorth Heritage is supported by HIE, Museums Galleries Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Creative Scotland

Armadale Castle opens doors for new season and launches new bar-bistro

view of armadale castle with trees behind and grass in front

Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum opens its doors for the new visitor season on Monday 2 March. The Visit Scotland 5 star visitor attraction has extended its opening in response to Skye’s growing popularity as a year-round destination. The castle gardens and museum will be open Monday-Friday during March and November, and daily from April to end October.

Also opening on 2 March is a new bar-bistro. Armadale Castle has teamed up with Z’s Amazing Kitchens to bring a new dining experience to the historic stables building. Open daily from morning until late, the Armadale Bar and Bistro will serve classic dishes with a modern twist with an emphasis on locally sourced produce. 

The south Skye attraction has also announced a busy programme for all ages and interests. Highlights include a monthly marketplace selling plants, produce and crafts and a Jacobite Day in August with costumed re-enactors. In the museum, a new exhibition on Clan Donald castles by the sea has been specially produced to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. 

Armadale Castle particularly welcomes families and this year has reduced the price of under 16s entrance ticket to signal this commitment. Local residents continue to enjoy special reductions, and annual membership is also available.  Family activities on offer this year include a weekly baby and toddler group, Easter treasure hunt and family fun sessions in half term and holidays. 

On Tuesday 24 March, local businesses are invited for a unique afternoon experience of what Armadale Castle and Z’s Amazing kitchen will offer in 2020. There will be the opportunity to meet the teams, swap leaflets, network with other tourism businesses and take a garden or museum tour. See the Armadale Castle website or social media for more information.

Zsolt Balogh of Z’s Amazing Kitchens commented: ‘We are very excited about the new additions to our portfolio and we are looking forward to opening on Isle of Skye, where both locals and visitors can be assured of a great atmosphere and outstanding service. Z’s Amazing Kitchens is an award-winning, independent, family-owned business with a clear vision: to bring something unique and engaging to the restaurant industry and make a permanent mark on Scotland’s culinary scene. At Armadale Bar and Bistro we will be offering contemporary bistro cuisine, blending traditional flavours with modern cooking methods and exquisite presentation.’

Sue Geale, Museum Manager and member of the Management Committee, commented: ‘We had another great season last year with increased numbers of visitors and much positive feedback. We’re greatly looking forward to opening on 2 March and welcoming both local friends and visitors from around the globe.’

2020 programme at a glance

For more information see www.armadalecastle.com/events. Further events to be announced.

Monday 2 March: Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum open Mon – Fri, 10am – 3pm; Armadale Bar and Bistro open 10am – late.

Thursdays from 5 March, 10.30am – 12.00: Family activities in the museum. During term time:‘Museum Monkeys’ baby & toddler group with games, stories and songs. During half term and school holidays: Family fun for all ages, with art & craft activities. 

Tuesday 24 March, 2 – 5pm: Open afternoon. All tourism businesses welcome. 

Monday 30 March – end October: Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum daily 9.30 – 5.30 pm

Saturday 21 March: Junior Clarsach Competition.All welcome to hear young musicians.

April – May: Rhododendron and Bluebell Festival. Garden tours and trails.

Saturday 11 April: Coastal Castles of Clan Donald exhibition opens. Temporary museum exhibition linked to Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, runs until end November. 

Thursday 2 – Monday 13 April, 10am – 5pm: Easter Treasure Hunt. Family fun in the gardens and museum. 

Saturday 9 May, then 2nd Saturday in the month up to September: Monthly marketplace. Crafts, produce and plants on the lawn outside the Stables.

Friday 12 June, 7pm: Piping competition. Five pipers compete in theannualDonald MacDonald Cuach Piobaireachd Competition. 

Saturday 13 June, 2.30pm: Clarsach competition. Three harp players compete in the annual Princess Margaret of the Isles Senior Clarsach Competition. 

Saturday 15 August Jacobite Day, 11.30 am – 4pm. Watch costumed re-enactors and join in Jacobite themed activities.

September – November. Scottish Tree Festival. Garden tours and trails.

2 – 27 November  Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum open Mon – Fri, 10am – 3pm