This year, Glencoe Folk Museum embarked on its most ambitious redevelopment project since moving into its current premises in 1972. Based in two 18th century heather-thatched crofters’ cottages, the museum, founded in 1967, chronicles the rich and exciting history of the Glencoe area between the 17th-21st centuries.
Our collection of around 6,000 objects includes unique Jacobite-era artefacts such as a boot belonging to Captain Robert Campbell (the man deemed responsible for Glencoe’s infamous massacre), a chair once belonging to Bonnie Prince Charlie himself and the Clan Donald christening gown. Our social history collection covers local life and work including crofting, domestic life and the Ballachulish slate quarries. Largest of all our objects, and presently in storage, is a rowing boat formerly used by local clans to transport bodies to the burial island Eilean Munde. We are hoping to place the boat on display next to coincide with Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters and to serve as a pilot display for the redevelopment.
THE REDEVELOPMENT – TIME FOR CHANGE The museum celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and has not been substantially altered for a number of years. Some of our displays are now showing their age, particularly the outside lean-to display of agricultural objects. A redevelopment gives us exciting opportunities to reinterpret the museum’s stories to modern standards for the first time, expand the exhibition space and allow more of the collection to be displayed in a stable environment.
We have enjoyed increasing visitor numbers over the last five years and welcomed over 7,000 visitors in 2019, including a significant proportion of international visitors, drawn by Glencoe’s stunning scenery and dark history. Retail revenue has also seen a dramatic increase thanks to improvements made to the museum’s shop (and the introduction of a card machine!) However, as is so often the case in the heritage sector, the museum remains financially unsustainable and survives in part through investments made from the estate of its founder, Barbara Fairweather M.B.E. A key objective of the redevelopment will be to address the museum’s long-term sustainability, increasing revenue and reducing costs to ensure the museum continues to educate and entertain visitors from around the world for the next fifty years and beyond.
A Redevelopment Manager, David Rounce, was appointed in June 2019 to help develop the project and secure funding.
The project is presently in its early stages, our current major development points being:
-To remove dated structures from the outdoor display area and replace with a new visitor reception, exhibition building, purpose built gift shop and much-needed toilet facilities.
-Improve visitor accessibility with a new entrance, levelled floors, raised/widened doorways.
-Renew exhibitions throughout the museum, produced by exhibition specialists with greater language options and interactive features. In particular we hope to improve interpretation of the cottages themselves and represent a contemporary dwelling on the night of the 1692 massacre.
-Convert byre outbuilding into Community Exhibition Gallery – creating flexible space to display exhibitions by local groups/artists, run activities, hold talks etc.
We are very keen that the museum’s users have a say in its continuing development. Local consultation has included interviews with B&B and café owners, care homes, drama groups, colleges as well as focus groups with local community and parish councils. This has been a fascinating exercise in assessing awareness of the museum’s existence and activities, the extent to which individuals and groups have interacted with the museum in the past, including barriers to engagement, and ask what people think the museum’s role in the community should be. This will be an ongoing process of consultation and feedback throughout the project.
Our visitor surveys have produced useful results concerning what visitors like about the museum as it is and what improvements could be made. The results overwhelmingly indicate that visitors like the quirky charm of the museum and its historic buildings, and wanted to learn more about the Jacobite era, the Massacre of Glencoe and daily life in the area. There is also considerable demand for toilets! We are keeping this in mind as the project develops, ensuring that, in modernising and improving the exhibitions, we do not take away from the museum’s current selling points.
Obviously this is a large (but very exciting!) project which is only beginning to take shape. We are currently in the midst of drafting funding applications, liaising with architects for outline building plans, making initial enquiries for planning permission and listed building consent, as well as putting together an exhibition design brief for circulating to potential museum designers.
This is a great opportunity for our little museum, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds! We will keep you updated as our redevelopment project progresses, so watch this space…