Walk into the Timespan Museum and Arts Centre in Helmsdale, on the coast of Sutherland, and you are greeted by well-presented public spaces; a shop, café, gallery and areas displaying historical artefacts. Put on a virtual reality headset, however, and you can step into the past – as the spot on which you stand is transformed into what it looked like nearly 200 years ago, as a bustling fishing port.
Down, into the courtyard where dozens of barrels containing cured herring, on which the economy was built, are stacked. And out, along the river to the North Sea, where two hundred boats gave work to around 500 men, drawn from crofters displaced by the Highland clearances and east coast fishermen who had been encouraged to move to lend their expertise. Onshore, around 700 women would gut, clean, and salt thousands of barrels of herring.
“It’s a novel use of technology allowing you to become immersed in the local history,” said Jo Clements, archive development manager at Timespan, “at the same time as telling a bigger story about Scotland, the clearances, migrant labour, and so on. Our tagline is ‘a meeting place between our past, our present and our future’. Advances in 3D technology and the digital literacies associated with computer gaming, make it possible to open up the past and explore it in exciting new ways.”
Timespan’s focus is on relationships with people and long-term creative development; it believes in “new ideas and creative exchange, in access to excellence, technology and innovation, in promoting education and facilitating vibrant community dialogue. We aim to challenge perceptions of what can be delivered by a cultural organisation rooted in the distinctive, but fragile, socio-economic ecology of Sutherland, a large, rural and remote area.”
The new virtual reality feature is the result of a collaboration between Timespan and St Andrews University. In 2013, the two hundredth anniversary of the Kildonan clearances, Timespan created a programme in which virtual world technology was used to facilitate community engagement, enhance visualisation and encourage new thinking about the past. It included an installation where users can navigate through a reconstruction of the pre-clearance Caen township, which was just outside Helmsdale, using natural gestures and presented on a 25-foot screen.
Then, as part of its 30th anniversary last year, Timespan, which has been supported in its growth by Highlands and Islands Enterprise since 2007, invited two students from St Andrews to be their ‘geeks in residence’. They have been working on a project that looks at the history of the building. “So, rather than being presented with static pictures and information panels, you can put on a headset and be transported into the open yard, or out to look down the river, as these places would have looked back then,” said Clements. “The key is the immediate engagement you have with the past of the place where you are standing; it’s a simple concept but really striking.”
Showcasing Scotland to the world
Social enterprise initiatives headed for New Zealand
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is supporting two organisations – the St Kilda Centre (Ionad Hiort) and the Tomintoul & Glenlivet Development Trust – to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch, New Zealand, this September.
Ionad Hiort will be showcasing its long-standing collaboration with the Glasgow School of Art which began with the creation of a 3D visualisation of the islands. St Kilda is the UK’s only double designation World Heritage Site – for both its cultural and natural landscape – and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris selected Ionad Hiort as its case study in remote access to World Heritage Sites.
The collaboration between Ionad Hiort and the School of Art, supported by HIE, has led to a significant design innovation research and teaching programme across the Western Isles. Ultimately, Ionad Hiort aims to create a world-class interpretation and research facility, based on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides and using cutting-edge remote access technologies to offer a new, unmatched and affordable World Heritage visitor experience to those unable to make the sea voyage.
The Tomintoul & Glenlivet Development Trust was established in 2012 after a period of community consultation on how best to address economic decline which had been experienced locally. Earlier this month, Rosanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform visited the recently asset transferred museum hostel and museum and landscape projects among the initiatives supported over the past five years by HIE.