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Scotland from the Sky 2

Scotland from the Sky part 2 shares some of the amazing aerial photography in the archives of Historic Environment Scotland that inspired series two of Jamie Crawford’s BBC Scotland series exploring Scotland from above.

I very much enjoyed the task of selecting images from this amazing collection to create an exhibition to further illustrate the themes of ‘Scotland’s Coast’ ‘Industrial Scotland’ and ‘A wild land?’.

Scotland from the Sky
Scotland from the Sky - coast

Scotland’s Coast

Nearly half of Scotland’s population lives close to the coast. Aerial photography of the 11,500 miles of coast around mainland Scotland and the islands shows fishing, tourism and leisure and, in some areas, the oil and gas and renewable energy industries.

Scotland from the Sky part 2 shares some of the amazing aerial photography in the archives of Historic Environment Scotland that inspired series two of Jamie Crawford’s BBC Scotland series exploring Scotland from above.

I very much enjoyed the task of selecting images from this amazing collection to create an exhibition to further illustrate the themes of ‘Scotland’s Coast’ ‘Industrial Scotland’ and ‘A wild land?’.

Industrial Scotland

Aerial images also show the shifting patterns of industry across Scotland, in both rural and urban environments. From above, we get unrivalled sweeping views of the vast processing plants and factories of the 20th twentieth century and the railway network.

Scotland from the Sky - industry
Scotland from the Sky - wildland

A wild land?

From the air we see how the people of Scotland have lived, worked and changed this country of ours leaving no part untouched or unaltered by human activity, shaping the landscape into the views we know and love today.

There are images in this exhibition which will be personally relevant to each visitor, whether it’s Portobello beach in the 1960s or Glasgow before the shipyards closed. My personal favourite shows Aviemore railway station in the Cairngorms in 1932. The image shows a rural landscape with only the railway station, the Cairngorm Hotel, which remains today and the Aviemore Station Hotel, which burnt down in 1950. The forerunners of the tourist industry that has come to dominate the life of this Highland town and many family memories holiday memories for me and thousands like me.

The exhibition is running at Stanley Mills until Sunday 22 September 2019, other venues tbc.

If you haven’t been before, Stanley Mills on the banks of the River Tay is worth a visit anyway. Exhibitions present insight into the lives of the mill workers – mostly women and children – in one of the world’s oldest surviving factories. Built in the 1780s, the mill complex was altered many times to keep up with the industry’s changing demands, before it finally closed in 1989.

Please note the exhibition will be held on the top floor of the Bell Mill, which is only accessible by stairs.


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If the world were a village….

….a hands-on educational activity for 7-11 year olds

In spring 2015, I was approached by Global Renewables Lancashire Operations Limited about the design and manufacture of a hands-on activity as part of their education programme.

Global Renewables run waste recovery facilities (recycling) for Lancashire County Council and Blackpool Council. Their education team deliver a free environmental education programme to Key Stage 2 (7 to 11 year old pupils) at primary schools across Lancashire County and Blackpool designed to raise awareness and inspire behaviour change.

The brief described an activity, aimed at children aged 7-11, which would be used in the hands-on space at their education centre. The activity is based on the book: If the world were a village (Smith, D. J. and Armstrong, S, 2003).

The book is about the diversity of people who make up the population of the world. It also details the proportion of people who have and do not have access to different resources, for example food, water and sanitation. The whole population of the world is imagined as a village of just 100 people, each person representing about 67 million people from the real world. By learning about the ‘villagers’, who they are and how they live, we can find out more about our neighbours in the real world and the problems our planet may face in the future.

Finished activity in use

Finished activity in use

Hands-on space

Hands-on space

Prototype activity

Prototype activity

Using further sources, the education team at Global Renewables also condensed the British population to a village of 100 people and found the proportions of those who have and do not have access to certain resources. This allows us to compare the distribution of resources between the population of Britain and the population of the whole world.

The activity they wanted would visually represent the concepts discussed above to help children recognise that resources are not distributed equally throughout the world or between people. They also wanted prompts for further discussion and to encourage the children to consider why this is. Resource use, distribution and management fits in with their education aims and programme which is not just about recycling rubbish.

The education team had already created and trialed a prototype of the activity. Pupils used green blocks that represent 5 or 10 people to make bar charts to compare distribution of different resources between the world population and the British population.

This activity provided quite a challenge as the information they wanted to convey is quite complex for a hands-on activity. However, they had already completed a lot of prototype testing so had some clear ideas of what did and did not work. It was such a pleasure to work with a team who were so committed to the prototyping and evaluation process. I agreed to bid for the work and brought in interactives company FifeX who also brought a freelance illustrator to the team. We were delighted to be awarded the job and I went down to Leyland to meet the team and see how their education visits worked and get the feel of their other materials and the experience as a whole.

We continued to use the bar-chart activity, as it was really popular with teachers who had tested the prototype on school visits. We re-wrote the facts and discussion points to really focus on each issue and also to elicit the most discussion and we chose a slider reveal mechanism to give the answers to these questions.

I’m very pleased with the final activities and the Global Renewables education team are too. They are very appealing, intuitive and tactile to use and I hope will form a key part of school visits for many years to come helping to raise awareness and discussion about these really important issues.

Prototype activity

If the world were a village of 100 people, how many have domestic electricity?

Prototype activity

If the world was a village of 100 people, how many would have enough to eat? And in Britain?

Make a bar chart

Make a bar chart

Slider mechanism

Slider mechanism


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Dark Skies, Kielder

Earlier this year, I worked with Abound Design who were commissioned by Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, on behalf of the Animating Dark Skies Project Partnership,  to produce indoor interpretation at their Kielder Castle and Tower Knowe Visitor Centre sites about the area’s ‘Dark Sky’ status and what that means, and to encourage visitors to the area to look at the night skies.

My role on the project involved researching astronomy content and producing exhibition text and related hands-on activities.

Light pollution was a key concept to communicate and the lack of light pollution can be a very powerful experience for city-dwellers visiting Kielder.

Something I was very keen to include in the exhibition was a large-format Planisphere. This is a map of the constellations as they appear at the night sky which rotates to line up the date and time and show would-be stargazers what to look out for.

We also included large-scale flip books telling the Myths of some of the best known constellations and showing the images they relate to alongside the actual shapes of the stars in the sky.

In this photo you can see a simple orrery we had built in order to show how and why the moon appears to change shape through the month. And, one of my favourite exhibits, two panels of touchable moon-surface 3d printed from NASA files!

Most people involved in Science Communication know NASA has a great resource of education materials, however until this year I didn’t know about their 3d printing files…. here’s the link if you’re interested – – these files can be printed for free by anyone with a 3d printer. Ours show the near and far sides of the moon and how these differ (the far side is very cratered whereas the nearside is smooth due to lava flows that filled the craters billions of years ago). A texture difference like this is a perfect use for a touchable model.

Kielder Water and Forest Park is a fantastic place to spend time outdoors, to learn about forestry and hydroelectric power generation, as well as ecosystems and nature. Now I’m pleased to say it’s also a great place to find out about stargazing.

Dark Skies, Kielder Castle Visitor Centre

Kielder Castle Visitor Centre

Dark Skies, Tower Knowe Visitor Centre

Tower Knowe Visitor Centre

Dark Skies, Kielder Planisphere and constellation stories

Planisphere and constellation stories

Dark Skies, Kielder Orrery and 3d printed moon surface

Orrery and 3d printed moon surface


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Organisational values in Interpretation

Common Cause and values-based communication

I first became aware of a values-based approach to communication and the ‘Common Cause’ work through the network that is now Learning for Sustainability Scotland. This approach really resonated with me as I followed National level political discussions about the value of culture and heritage in both Westminster and Holyrood.

These discussions reflect similar ones in the field of sustainable development around ‘ecosystem services’ – we have all seen the headlines – “Culture is worth £x-million to the Scottish/UK economy” or “ecosystems services are work £x-million”. I have myself produced reports and applications that state a business case for a project in financial terms, but it has always made me feel a little bit awkward.

I have always had a gut feeling that reducing culture or the environment to economics in some way takes away from the most fundamental reasons why we should be valuing these things in their own right. Finally, in Common Cause, I encountered a theoretical framework to describe exactly why I felt that the economic argument, rather than helping the case, can be hindering it.

“Common Cause” is an approach that looks at how humans use values to guide our behaviour, how values are influenced by communications and society and how working with a values‐based approach can assist organisations with their communication and interpretation. Research has shown that the values that people hold are remarkably consistent across cultures and societies. Research also shows that these values can be classified into ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’ values. “Intrinsic” values are inherently rewarding to pursue and are strongly associated with behaviours that benefit the environment and society, while “extrinsic” values are centred on external approval or reward and tend to make people more self‐interested.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh spatial

Universal Values categorised (top right = intrinsic / bottom left = extrinsic)

Experiments have found that values can be temporarily ‘engaged’, making people more likely to act on them and when one value is engaged, we are likely to suppress opposing values, making them appear less important (this is known as the ‘opposition effect’). Therefore, by emphasising how much money a particular behaviour might save an individual, one is actively working against the intrinsic value of appreciating nature for its own sake. Likewise, emphasising how culture makes money through tourism, acts against the intrinsic value of appreciating culture for its own sake and emotional wellbeing through connection with heritage.

What does this mean for site Interpretation?

This approach, arising from the work of psychologists and developed by communications experts at leading charities, has a lot in common with some of the tools and techniques we use in interpretation. When we interpret, we aim to provoke an emotional connection with the visitor and to enable them to make their own meanings from the information and experience we offer them.

Consistent interpretation and communications for any organisation must begin with the organisation’s Mission and Values. From that point we can identify key messages for communication. Values are a ubiquitous presence in advertising, media, politics, and third sector campaigns. For me, knowledge of the work leading to the ‘Common Cause’ handbook about how intrinsic and extrinsic values can work is a valuable addition to the interpreters toolkit. By taking care to avoid the ‘opposition effect’ within our interpretation for any given site we can ensure that we are supporting and reinforcing the values we want to communicate rather than unintentionally undermining them.

One of the clients I put this approach into practice with this year was the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. I was employed by the Garden to work with staff on an Interpretation Strategy and used this opportunity to explore with staff what they felt the Values of the organisation might be and how these might be communicated to visitors. The workshops we held to try to choose key values were lively, stimulating, challenging and enormously good fun. Staff from widely differing backgrounds and professions came together and explored the many facets of the organisation and its role in the 21st Century.

I would urge any organisation or interpreter to read the Common Cause handbook and think about how it might apply to your work.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh glasshouse

Glasshouse at RBGE


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Exciting Funding News at Kew Gardens

I am very pleased to share the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have awarded £14.7million for the restoration of the historic Temperate House at Kew Gardens.

This is particularly exciting news for me as I spent most of last year from early Summer into the Autumn working for Kew on this funding application. In May 2012 I responded to an invitation to tender for the interpretation content research which led to a much larger involvement than expected right through to October 2012.

On appointment I visited the gardens a number of times, speaking to the Community Engagement, Learning, Horticulture, Ethnobotany, Marketing and Digital Media teams. What I discovered at the existing Temperate House was a place and collection with an incredibly exciting potential. It is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, covering 4,880 square meters and up to 19 metres high. Some investigation revealed that the plants shown there display the richness of the plant kingdom across all the inhabited continents of the world and could be used to tell stories about Kew’s role in global plant conservation, sustainable development and maintaining biodiversity.

The CEVIC (Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre)

Temperate House (from Treetop walkway)

Kew Gardens chilli interp

Chilli interpretation panel

In August, based on the success of the content research contract, my role was extended to include delivery of an Interpretation Strategy including visual representations of the potential interpretation.

The main challenge for the Interpretation was the vast range of plants and the fact they come from such different parts of the world. Also the word ‘temperate’ does not really excite most visitors. Confusingly, it has slightly differing definitions in horticulture and world geography and is more often a zone defined by what it is not (polar or tropical) than what it is.

Although individual plant stories were already well told in the glasshouse, the key themes behind the selection and display of the plants and the organisation of their layout was not clear to visitors. In addition, Kew has ambitions through this project to really push forward their interpretation and community engagement and broaden their existing audience.

Plants in the Temperate House illustrate well the important role that plants play in people’s lives all over the world and stories of exploration and travel from the earliest plant hunters to modern-day field-work and conservation projects. Working with the community engagement staff, we analysed the current Kew audience and target under-represented audiences to see how the information we have about those groups might help us structure the Temperate House to enable engagement with a broad cross-section of visitors and future visitors.

This work, along with the Kew brand guidelines and working with the newly identified plant stories enabled us to identify three key themes for the plant stories as well as a layout which complemented the horticultural needs of the displays and an aesthetic with broad appeal.

Kew Gardens tea kidspanel

Tea interpretation panel for children

Design team Bright3d successfully pitched to create the visuals for this aesthetic and interpretation plan. They refined our ideas and visualised them in some fantastic sketches that show the potential visitor experience and how the interpretation could work sympathetically with both the plant collection and the historic building.

As acknowledged by HLF the project:

“…will not only enable vital conservation of the Grade I listed heritage building, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world, but will result in a more inspiring public display for visitors and help broaden awareness of the importance of plants through learning and engagement programmes with community groups”.

I am very pleased that the HLF have recognised the huge potential of the Temperate House project, and I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Kew team on their hard work and wish them all the best for the next phase of fundraising and delivery, and thank Bright3d for their work with us.

Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, says:

“This project represents a real step change in the way in which Kew will communicate and bring to life why plants matter, why saving them matters and ultimately why Kew’s science and horticultural expertise matters.”

“We want to use the Temperate House to open up visitors’ minds and imaginations to look at plants and Kew in a new light.”

More info:


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