New space will keep museum’s rare collection in Oban

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A rare story-telling collection spanning centuries is to get an improved home at Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds.

Argyll and Bute planners have now passed a multi-phase scheme to help the museum expand and in its first stage see some of the popular tourist spot’s steading buildings turned into state-of-the-art storage space.

The scheme will free more exhibition and indoor activity room in the museum itself and eventually see the creation of a new shop, courtyard cafe, workshop facility,toilets and offices – also in the steadings area.

The new environmentally-controlled storage area, currently cottages in a converted barn, will be made up of three rooms – one for textiles, another for archives and the last as a general store for objects that tell tales of lives long ago. Each of the rooms will need different humidity levels and temperatures, depending on its treasures. Plans will also include a work area for staff, volunteers and researchers.

It is hoped work on the storage space will start in the spring.

Jane Isaacson, sustainability and development manager at Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds, run by the MacDougall of Dunollie Preservation Trust, said: ‘We have a massively important collection. It’s rare in that it has been collected by one family and been present on this site for more than 800 years.

‘New storage is priority for us and will mean our collection can stay here in Oban. It would be a tragedy if it had to be stored elsewhere.’

One of the collection’s star objects is a pristine-condition cream satin dress about to be brought back from the National Museum of Scotland where it has been on loan and display this summer.

The dress, decorated with beetle-wings from India, was worn by Mary Jane MacDougall when she was presented to George IV at Holyrood in 1822. It has never been on show at Dunollie Museum before but will be on view from November 17.

Visitor numbers grew to 18,000 in 2018, putting pressure on every aspect of the Dunollie attraction, planners were told. The new facilities are needed to help the site live up to its potential, they heard.

A report of handling by a council planning officer confirmed the authority’s support for the plans saying it was an ‘imaginative and contemporary solution’.

It said: ‘The proposed development is considered to represent the sympathetic redevelopment of the existing steading/byre building to provide visitor facilities to support the expansion of Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds with the proposed new-build element considered to represent an imaginative, contemporary solution to provide the accommodation required for the museum facilities.

‘The development has been sympathetically designed with appropriate finishing materials to ensure it integrates well within the site and wider landscape with minimum impact on the natural and historic environment.’