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Great Places, Falkirk

Heritage interpretation training, copywriting and editing

In late 2020, as the UK emerged from the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was approached by Falkirk Community Trust to work with them on elements of their Falkirk Explored App as part of the ‘Great Places’ National Lottery scheme.

My brief was to provide professional heritage interpretation support for local community groups developing heritage walking trails and audio guides for the mobile app.

The first group comprised ten senior school students (history ambassadors) working together on one heritage trail. For this group I designed and delivered a workshop about heritage interpretation for digital audiences (audiences who use mobile phones). Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in schools, this was delivered via Zoom.

The second group were a local history society group of volunteers working together on a different heritage trail. For this group, I produced a workbook introducing the fundamentals of heritage interpretation for digital audiences. I then provided consultation via email on their planning and copy editing of their final text. Again, due to COVID19 restrictions, this work was all conducted remotely.

Falkirk Explored

Falkirk Explored

Each of the trails designed by the groups included the overall route, 12-18 stops, text, images and audio. The workshop for the school pupils and the workbook for the history society both covered all aspects of interpretation at an introductory level. This included storytelling, writing for specific audiences, narrative ‘voices’, different perspectives, creating engaging interpretation, using images and writing for digital format / the App audience.

The two walks produced (available on the Falkirk Explored App) are the ‘Denny and Dunipace Heritage Trail’ and ‘Rough Castle Trail’.

Canal Encounters

In the summer of 2021, I was asked to work directly on the interactive App walk ‘Canal Encounters’ as an interpretation copywriter. This walking trail about the history of the Forth and Clyde Canal included augmented reality elements and community-generated content from school engagement.  I was asked to undertake the development of eight stories for the trail, related to the history of the canal, by collating research material provided by the client. I produced each story in two formats: written copy for the app and an audio guide script.

In 2022 I was finally able to try the full experience out with my son. We cycled the ‘walk’ from the Falkirk Wheel to the Kelpies and back again. It was a really fun day out.

Boy with bicycle with kelpies
AR Otter from Canal Encounters app


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Kilmartin Museum

Museums+Heritage Awards 2024 Permanent Exhibition – Highly Commended

Kilmartin Museum exterior and signage

Kilmartin Museum re-opened in September 2023 after a major £8m redevelopment. My role on the project as interpretation project manager began in late 2019. I worked closely with the very small core museum team over an eventful four years to develop their interpretive narrative, key messages and content. I helped the client to appoint exhibition designers Studioarc on a design and build contract and acted as the main point of contact between the client and design teams. 

The exhibition was shortlisted for best permanent exhibition in the 2024 Museums+Heritage awards and was awarded ‘Highly Commended’. 

The Museum’s new visitor experiences offer you the chance to journey back through 12,000 years. The exhibition uses the museum’s Nationally Significant collection, hands-on activities, new illustrations and replicas and audio-visual content to bring our ancestors’ stories to life in bold and captivating ways.

Museum website

Museums and Heritage Awards Highly Commended 2024
Kilmartin Museum interior

New building

The newly redeveloped museum was designed by architects Reiach and Hall. The new building links two existing buildings; a former manse where the old museum occupied the basement, and a steading where the cafe was (and will be again). The new visitor experience is now wheelchair accessible and offers views from the exhibition to the Glebe Cairn outside where key artefacts were discovered. The building also offers an enhanced welcome and orientation, shop, learning centre, labs and collection store. 

Showcase of Bronze Age pots

Nationally significant collection

The Prehistoric Collection at Kilmartin Museum is a unique collection of fundamental importance to understanding Scotland’s history. Many of the Museum’s objects were discovered or excavated at the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites and monuments in Argyll’s Kilmartin Glen, near to where the Museum building is located. The Museum’s setting in this landscape is important to the display of their collection, near the Upper Largie prehistoric site and overlooking an impressive cemetery of burial cairns.

Family friendly

The museum is a multi-sensory experience for all ages. It includes opportunities to get hands-on spinning fleece, grinding grain, decoding ogham writing and collecting stamps. 

There’s also a children’s activity guide for sale in the shop full of activities to do in the gallery, at home and out in the landscape. The book was written and illustrated by the talented duo Abby and Owen

Kilmartin Quest children's activity book front cover

Managing the interpretation for the new museum has involved working with so many talented companies and individuals. Dr Aaron Watson created brand-new bespoke illustrations bringing to life the Neolithic and Bronze Age. He also created the ‘making things’ videos featuring Dr James Dilley making metal and flint tools, and museum education officer Julia Hamilton making pottery and spinning fleece. 

Replica rock art was made for the exhibition using innovative and experimental new techniques by Think See 3D. A facial reconstruction was created by Oscar Nilsson in Sweden based on the skull of a woman buried at Upper Largie in Kilmartin Glen about 4,000 years ago. The immersive, evocative audio-visual was created by Bright Side Studios and features sound by Pippa Murphy. 

It was a fantastic experience to work with all these and more (mount makers, lighting designers, joiners, artists and Gaelic language experts) and to manage the project on behalf of such a fantastic museum in such a magical place. 


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Catrine is a small village in East Ayrshire with a fascinating history in the textiles industry. Sadly, not many people have heard of Catrine, certainly not compared to the nearby and better-preserved World Heritage Site of New Lanark.

In 2012, I was appointed jointly with another consultant as ‘Interpretation Project Manager’ for an HLF-funded project to create the “Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre” (CEVIC). 

The centre was created via a community ‘right-to-buy’ application for an existing Manse and Chapel. A good summary of the entire project and the wider context in Catrine can be found in this article in the Daily Record newspaper.

Exterior view of the Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre, Catrine, East Ayrshire

  • The Catrine “Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre”

  • The Catrine “Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre”

  • The Catrine “Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre”

The project was entirely community and volunteer run.  The CEVIC is both a visitor centre and a community centre. It holds interpretation, digital archives, film and children’s activities as well as a locally-run café. It opened in 2017. 

My role was to create the (mainly digital) exhibits. All the content for the interpretation was developed with community groups and members, from the Audio-Visuals to the panels and digital exhibits, the website and even the GPS-enabled guided-walks delivered by smartphone App.

The walks were developed in community workshops  I ran with a group spanning three generations of local residents. Together we decided on the ‘must see’ points of interest and stories to be covered. This was followed up by a series of ‘test walks’ where we followed the proposed routes, finalising the directions and content for each stop. The app was built using software by a New Zealand based company called My Tours at the time and now called STQRY. 

Graphic Design throughout is by Tea and Type.

Catrine Community Education & Visitor Information Centre (CEVIC)

  • Interior view, Community Education and Visitor Interpretation Centre, Catrine East Ayrshire

    Catrine CEVIC

    Catrine CEVIC

  • Wall collage of historic images of Catrine, East Ayrshire

    Historic Images

    Historic images

  • Interactive energy bike exhibit, Catrine CEVIC

    Catrine Energy bike

    Catrine Energy bike

  • Interpretation panels, Catrine Community education and visitor interpretation centre

    Catrine CEVIC

    Catrine CEVIC interpretation panels

  • interpretation panels, catrine community education and visitor interpretation centre

    Catrine CEVIC

    Catrine CEVIC interpretation panels

  • children's activities at Catrine community centre

    Catrine kids activities

    Catrine kids activities

  • digital exhibit at Catrine community education and visitor interpretation centre

    Catrine digital exhibit

    Catrine digital exhibit

  • digital exhibit at Catrine community education and visitor interpretation centre

    Catrine digital exhibit

    Catrine digital interpretation

  • Catrine map

    Catrine map: Catrine Primary School / Tea & Type

  • Catrine CEVIC

    Drawings by pupils of Catrine Primary School

  • Catrine CEVIC

    Catrine CEVIC

  • Catrine Mill model

    Catrine Mill model

  • Catrine Mill model

    Catrine Mill model

  • Catrine Walks – community built heritage walk ‘app’

    Catrine Walks App

  • Walks App sample walks

    Example pages from the walks App


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Parasites: Battle for Survival

Developing digital exhibits to engage young people

How can museums use digital interactive exhibits to engage young people with cutting-edgescientific research? This was our challenge at National Museum of Scotland in the exhibition Parasites: Battle for Survival.

The other key partners involved in the development were the students and teachers of a local secondary school in Edinburgh. The exhibition curator and a museum learning officer visited the school multiple times with different exhibition ideas to consult the target audience. This gave us valuable input to develop the digital exhibits.

Reflecting on the whole process, I have drawn out these five top tips:

image caption here

Tip 1: Digital is not always the answer

My first task was to review the briefs. We had ideas for five digital interactive exhibits plus one large-scale AV. One of the most interesting things about this exhibition is that the topic is not simple. There are five parasites, each of which causes a disease, and each of which enters the human host via a different third animal. The most commonly known example is malaria. Malaria is caused by a microscopic parasite called Plasmodium, which gets into people via the bite of a female mosquito. The other four examples are even less familiar. It was tempting to use a digital exhibit to cover this information in an engaging way but our first step was actually to delete the proposed digital exhibit here in favour of back-lit graphic panels.

Tip 2: If the messages are complicated, make the game-play easy or familiar

Simplifying was a theme throughout, and I almost always find this on projects. When we wanted to show how public health workers often experience many set-backs during a campaign, we used the familiar format of snakes and ladders as an analogy for the experience.

In the ‘Under Attack’ game, we attempted to cover the very complicated way that the Malaria parasite attacks the human body in an arcade game. The key to making this game work was knowing where simplifying is OK and where to try to stick as true to the science as possible. We worked closely with our expert research scientists on this, sending them a series of sketches of the parasite at different life stages and explaining the reasons for simplifications we’d made.


Tip 3: Prototype

This one really is a non-negotiable. The digital exhibits were all developed by a small local company called Pixel Stag. They produced storyboards for us from our initial briefs, which we fed back on and they developed into prototypes. Time was extremely tight for testing these with museum visitors. So instead we invited museum staff with no connection to the exhibition or topic to try the prototypes. We are looking at three things during prototyping –motivation, usability and messages. This means is the game fun? can it be made more fun?, can people use it? is it clear what to do? and finally do people get the messages we intended them to?

Tip 4: Emotional engagement matters

Although it can be tempting to focus on content, the MOST important aspect of any exhibit is how it makes people feel. Our introductory AV shows some of the parasites under the microscope. We decided not to label any of these organisms. This AV is the entire ‘why’ for the exhibition: Why should I care about this ? So we focused on creating emotional engagement. We worked with Pixel Stag and animation studio Touzie Tyke on music, images and animation to create a spooky, threatening, ambience. Extremely brief headline text gives an instant and dramatic impression of the extent of the threat.


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Top Secret

This month (September 2019) I finally had the opportunity to travel to London to see an exhibition I had been working on from January which opened in early July when I was on holiday. This is one of the odd things about working on a freelance basis; sometimes you work remotely but quite intensively on a project then don’t see the opening day or see visitors enjoying it until months later.

In early 2019, I was asked to join the project team at the Science Museum Group working on an exhibition called ‘Top Secret’. The exhibition is about the work of British Intelligence organisation GCHQ and I was asked to help out with the more family-friendly elements of the exhibition. The subject matter which ranges from Bletchley Park code-breaking to Soviet spy rings and modern cyber hacking is fascinating to adults of all ages, but we were aware we would need a layer of more child-friendly interpretation to appeal to the whole family. The three main elements of the family interpretation were a children’s trail with in-gallery labels, a ‘puzzle zone’ where interactive puzzles could explore the kind of skills that are required to be an analyst or code breaker and a postcard with clues to find and a secret image to reveal. 

Science Museum, London, Top Secret

Science Museum, London, Top Secret

One part of my role was to assist the team with the 2D and 3D puzzles and be the main point of contact for the fabricators of the 3D puzzles. I worked with the team on the prototyping to ensure they were pitched at the right level and fun to complete and on writing labels which made them easy to use and focused on the skills involved. One of the biggest challenges was creating puzzles that were fun for all ages but accessible for children of age 8 or even below in some cases.

We developed some simple cipher wheels to allow visitors to code and decode secret messages. Some puzzles test the ability to find hidden words and make words out of random letters. Some test the ability to find patterns in shapes or numbers, while others are all about logical thinking and perseverance or memory. Others are just about looking at the world slightly differently.

Science Museum, London, Top Secret
Science Museum, London, Top Secret
Science Museum, London, Top Secret

For the trail of family labels, we settled on a character called Alice (Alice in Wonderland perhaps? there’s a bit of a subtle Lewis Carroll reference in there) to lead family visitors around the exhibition. There are ten of these children’s labels that encourage closer investigation of some of the objects and stories in the exhibition.

As well as Alice’s trail there’s also a postcard which children and families can carry around the exhibition with more clues and questions which this time let you know which parts of the image to colour in to reveal a hidden picture.

Science Museum, London, Top Secret postcard
Science Museum, London, Top Secret postcard

The exhibition opened to the public in early July and runs in London until February 2020, appearing in Manchester later that year. It has been popular and well-received by visitors and now that I’ve had a chance to visit properly and look at all the objects and the work of my colleagues on the stories I wasn’t involved in, I can certainly see why. I highly recommend catching this if you can.


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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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V&A Dundee Scottish Design Galleries

One of the highlights of the Scottish cultural scene in 2018 was the opening of the V&ADundee. As the daughter and granddaughter of Dundonians, I felt extremely proud to haveworked on the project and privileged to work with the fantastic creative learning and community engagement team.

My involvement in the project was in the Scottish Design Galleries, where I helped the team to create the digital exhibits in ‘Design Unwrapped’ and the ‘Bridge Engineer’ hands-onexhibit.

V&A Dundee Scottish Design Galleries

Opening Night reception at the V&A Dundee

Design Unwrapped

Design Unwrapped is a table of four digital exhibits by ISO Design about the design process. There is a film about the co-designed S’up Spoon by 4c, a touchscreen about the design of the Original Hunter Wellington Boot, a film on a mirrored display case of jewellery by Scottish Designer Lynne MacLachlan, and a touchscreen about the innovative Scopas Lamp by Designer Neil Poulton and lighting company Artemide. The development of the four exhibits involved a combination of historical research and relationship building with designers and companies for the content.

The V&A team and I worked closely with the ISO Design team on narrative, script and text writing. And we all worked together to carry out user testing at three different points in the process. Due to the excellent work of the V&A Dundee team with various communities around Dundee, we wereable to get feedback from their Young People’s Collective and invaluable input from userswith a wide range of visual and hearing impairments.

  • User testing prototype exhibits

    User testing prototype exhibits
  • Lynn working on her jewellery

    Lynne MacLachlan during filming

    Lynne MacLachlan during filming
  • V&A Dundee Scottish Design Galleries

    Design Unwrapped

Bridge Engineer

The other exhibit I worked on was Bridge Engineer, the hands-on bridge building activity.The pieces for this were produced by FifeX, based just across the river in Tayport. Thisexhibit also had extensive user testing before opening. The V&A team brought in someparents and young children and a nursery class whom they had been forming relationshipswith. This gave us important feedback on the ergonomics for young children and the level ofdifficulty as well as learning messages and enjoyment.

Bridge Engineer

Prototyping in the workshop

Bridge Engineer

Bridge Engineer


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Aberdeen Music Hall Transformed

Aberdeen Music Hall reopened to the public with a series of community events on Saturday 8 December 2018. 

From 2016 to 2018 the Music Hall building was closed for transformation and renovation for a new generation. Over the past two years, I have worked on the interpretation plan and produced two digital exhibits. I also worked with music/theatre education consultant Alison Reeves to create education packs for primary and secondary schools and I have written scripts for tours of the building for a range of audiences. I hope these resources too will help engage a range of audiences with the stories and performances of the Music Hall; past, present and future.

The original ‘County Assembly Rooms’ building which the Music Hall occupies was built in 1820 when people of the city and surrounding area felt that Aberdeen needed a meeting place for events that was more respectable than a tavern or pub. In 1859, the Music Hall was added at the back of the County Assembly Rooms and was opened by HRH Prince Albert.

The main auditorium (below) is now refreshed and brightened, looking modern and fresh, comfortable and accessible for a new generation.

Aberdeen Performing Arts

Stepping In screen and Meet Me in the Music Hall

The first thing you see as you enter the transformed building is the Stepping In screen. Through the Stepping In screen, Aberdeen Performing Arts will work with local, national and international artists to commission and create a programme of digital art to welcome and inspire.  Meet Me at the Music Hall is the first commission for the screen. We worked with ISO Design to create a dynamic looping animation using the rich archives of Aberdeen’s Music Hall which we’ve spent the last two years collecting and organising.

The Walls have Ears

The other digital commission I worked with Aberdeen Performing Arts on are the touchscreen terminals in the foyer which invite you to explore some of the performances and personal stories that make up the building’s rich heritage. Based on the well-known saying ‘the walls have ears’ and celebrating the notion that the fabric of the building has absorbed the events of 200 years of history, the content of the touch screens will also available to experience via mobile web. Digital media company Surface Impression worked with our archive and themes to create ways to explore the photos, audio and video stories of past events and experiences.


For the first time in its history, the 200-year-old building has three lifts, allowing access from the basement to the balcony for people with restricted mobility. The front steps lift is particularly impressive in the way it allows access while maintaining the visual elements of the listed building.

Opening Day

For me, the opening day was a really strong reflection of the spirit of the Music Hall, including events for and by all sections of the community. A highlight for me was the Nevis Ensemble ‘street orchestra’. 


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Explorer Backpacks

It’s every family’s hope that their days out will be full of fun and making great memories. But those of us working with Heritage sites should ask ourselves; do the families who visit feel truly welcome? Do they have fun? Is it clear there is stuff for them to DO?  My brief from Historic Environment Scotland was to investigate ideas for activities to help families make the most of their visits and to try them out.

The first phase of work was background research and benchmarking. I talked to staff about site-specific challenges at castles and I looked for suitable comparator organisations or sites. Historic Environment Scotland sites already cater for families with quizzes, interactive features in exhibitions, some games and costumes, plus events. But there was an appetite to extend this by investigating three new ideas; ‘backpacks’, ‘an activity cart’ and ‘outdoor games’.

Of the three ideas, backpacks had the most research available and I put together a report looking at best practice in this field.

This led us to decisions to:
  • Choose a maximum of six activities

  • Choose activities with a range of target ages

  • Choose things a child can start to use immediately without instruction

  • Cater for the whole family, not just children.

  • Include exploring tools

  • Encourage creativity, art, imagination

  • Balance active learning with play

Historic Environment Scotland

Our Pilot Activities

Our plan was to develop the three different ideas then try them out in different combinations at three castles; CraigmillarTantallon and Blackness.

We decided that the backpacks would be marketed as for ‘families’ rather than groups or children: one per family rather than per child. And we would design the contents to appeal to a wide range of ages and activity preferences (‘something for everyone’).

We commissioned a logo for both the Explorer Packs and the Activity Cart that was designed to work in white on a solid colour background that could be the recognisable colour to indicate family activities. Bright red was chosen as the background colour as it is bright, gender-neutral, family friendly and widely available. Drawstring backpacks were selected for compact storage, lightweight and to be able to be worn/carried by people of all sizes.

After mapping out the sort of things we wanted families to DO in the castle; explore, laugh, observe, be creative, tell stories, we settled on the following contents:

  • Binoculars
  • Wind up torch
  • Jester hat
  • Puppets (2)
  • Musical Instrument (1 or 2)
The contents card is designed to put parents at ease. It lets them know how many items they need to keep track of (not too many) and gives inspiration on how to use them based on what we wanted to help families do at the sites; Play, Imagine and Explore.

Historic Environment Scotland

Activity Cart

We spent some time looking at various ways in which ‘make and take’ activities are delivered in museums and for HES learning groups and thinking about the challenges our outdoors sites. Our key question was: What is the art cart itself for?

The answer we settled on was that it was to be storage and presentation of materials and a key aim was to communicate a ‘family friendly’ message to visitors to the site. Therefore the key principles of the design brief were:

  • Visually appealing and exciting for families

  • Gives a sense of ‘something going on’

  • Easy to wheel about an open, grassy site

  • Flexible contents

  • Needs to be able to be left outside.

The final solution was designed and built by Old School Fabrications who have a lot of experience in this area and were able to meet our brief.

Historic Environment Scotland - activity cart

Outdoor Games

The aims for the outdoor games were to increase enjoyment and dwell time at the sites. We chose three games to develop:

  • Quoits in an archery/ shield format built to our specification by Old School Fabrications.

  • Skittles; easier than the quoits for younger children to get involved.

  • Noughts and crosses; a more thoughtful pursuit, strategic and similar in mood to the outdoor chess sets that have been used elsewhere but which are less accessible to families with younger children.

Blackness Castle also has draughts from last year.


Evaluation and Feedback

After running the backpacks at Craigmillar, Tantallon and Blackness Castles through the season, the Activity Cart at Craigmillar Castle and the outdoor games at Craigmillar and Blackness castles, we set up evaluation. Feedback was gathered in the signing-in process for the backpacks and via on-site interviews at Craigmillar castle.

Families interviewed and who filled in pack-return comments slips were universally extremely positive about the games, cart and packs. Families with children up to 12 and occasionally 17(!) found the packs to be a positive addition to their visit. Parents felt the packs really increased their children’s engagement with the site and were fun and exciting. The binoculars and torch were the most popular items, but all the items were mentioned as a favourite by some respondents.

This word cloud represents the comments about the backpacks:

Visitors told us they felt the packs really contributed positively to their experience. Families came out wearing their crowns, with colouring and shields to make at home, and with stories to tell of who had been best (and worst!) at each of the games. There was a lot of laughter in the exit interviews – and that has got to be the best measure of success for this project.

We are now looking forward to extending the activities out to other sites for the 2019 season, and I am working on ideas for an explorer pack for Abbeys/Cathedrals. 

This blog was first posted in a slightly shorter form on the Historic Environment Scotland blog 

Historic Environment Scotland CastlePack WordCloud


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Exploring electricity at Cragside

Before 2017, I was only dimly aware of Cragside House and Estate. I had driven past about five years ago on a holiday in Northumberland, googled the site, and made a mental note to visit next time. If I’d had any idea what lay beyond the NT ticket booth that day I would most certainly have stopped and paid the entrance fee!

In early January 2017, I pulled together all my previous electricity related exhibits and activities in order to apply for a piece of work with the National Trust at Cragside House and Estate. They were looking for a consultant to develop a new learning and engagement programme to complement the re-opening of the “Electrical Room”. I was interested because I have been watching developments at the National Trust closely since the launch of the ’50 things…’ campaign. Over the last few years, the idea of a ‘National Trust visit has changed; no longer limited to the over 50s who enjoy a scone and some decorative arts, NT visits are now all about family, sticks, wellies and mud, fun and playing. 

National Trust, Cragside House

National Trust, Cragside House schools

Setting up for school session on static electricity

One thing National Trust visits are not often about is Science. But at Cragside, the science stories are spectacular. So with my experience with electricity demonstrations and science communication, and being interested in the National Trust’s engagement with family audiences, I was excited to work with them on this learning and engagement programme for both schools and families. The first time I visited the site it was closed for the filming of The Current War starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison; which felt very relevant. The next time I travelled down (only 2 hours drive from Edinburgh!) I was able to explore the House and Estate in depth and was absolutely blown away by the beautiful environment and the stories.

There are a number of components to the electrical stories of Cragside and Lord Armstrong. After research and consideration, I decided to divide the material into three stories. One would be about understanding the electrical lamps in the library – the famous lamps built by Lord Armstrong, using bulbs just invented by his friend Joseph Swan. This involved a hands-on exploration of basic electrical circuits and bulbs as well as creating working models of the copper lamps.

National Trust, Cragside House
National Trust, Cragside House spark

The second story was the generation of electricity. How electricity was and is generated and how Armstrong generated power in the late 1800s. His forward-thinking ideas about fossil fuels vs. Renewables, and what the future looks like for electricity generation in the UK. And finally, there’s the story of Armstrong as “Magician of the North” and his high voltage experiments to create and photograph electrical sparks in air and water.

We ran our first family workshops in Science Week in March and evaluated the response from visitors. We ran another workshop and some in-room demonstrations over the Easter Holidays when I began to get a sense of the popularity of the site and what it means to local and tourist visitors. In June, we tested the workshops for KS2 with local schools. And just recently we finalised the self-guided resource for KS3/4 and interested visitors.

Overall, it was a fantastic project to be involved with. I was so pleased to be able to help the staff of Cragside to increase their own confidence with this subject matter as well as find ways to engage their visitors with the science of electricity and give a bit more of a sense of Armstrong the scientist. And I will definitely be back at Cragside in 2018, with my family, as a visitor!

National Trust, Cragside House trail


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