Heritage stories to be brought to life in £500,000 research project

Still in very early stages, the heritage stories to be told will be found by local partners in areas like Ardnamurchan. The lighthouse is placed at the most westerly point of mainland Britain and has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849. It is being considered as a possibility. Photograph: West Coast Waters

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West Highland College UHI’s Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research (CRTR), based in Fort William, can now bring heritage stories to life in greater detail with match funding.

Original funding of £350,000 came from Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, and match funding has been committed by the college and CalMac to bring the figure to over £500,000.

The Coast that Shaped the World project will gather maritime stories from 20 destinations across the west coast – stories that shaped our coastal communities into what they are today and which convey how our maritime cultural and natural heritage helped to shape the world.

It is part of a £5m Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more high-quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets.

This community-led project gathers stories from local people and hopes to attract more people to the less-visited areas of the west coast.

Senior innovation manager at the CRTR Sara Bellshaw is managing this project. She said: ‘There is a plethora of stories to be told and interpreted linked to the cultural heritage and spread of communities across the west coast, directly related to the maritime environment.

‘The project will create a repository of important and influential narratives, helping to both keep these important oral, written and visual artefacts alive and to unearth hidden gems that risk being lost.

‘Many of the areas share story themes, from Gaelic language and culture, to Viking trading posts, world famous inventors and departure points for mass emigration.

‘Materials will be collected that help tell each story, including music, film, imagery, artwork, augmented reality and prose.

‘Sharing these stories will help visitors understand the culture and traditions of local life and what has made the place and community they are visiting what it is today.

‘Combining these stories with practical visitor information aims to enhance the visitor experience along the west coast.’

The project will develop a website, app and programme of immersive and innovative digital exhibitions along the west coast of Scotland.

Using augmented and virtual reality, for example, the maritime heritage stories will be brought to life, in many cases where the events unfolded through GPS triggers.

This will be complemented by a series of physical, inspirational and interactive installations in museums, galleries and heritage centres in west coast communities.

Collaboration is integral to the project and the college hopes to involve students where they can.

Led by the CRTC, the Coast that Shaped the World is a large-scale collaboration between the college and the West Coast Waters (WCW) tourism initiative.

WCW is a collaboration of 20 west coast destinations and tourism organisations collectively representing over 2,500 tourism interests across the west coast of Scotland.

Carron Tobin, coordinator of West Coast Waters, commented: ‘This project has so much potential.

‘Just over a year ago when we scoped out the possibilities around the West Coast Waters collaboration The Coast that Shaped the World was everyone’s favourite – a really exciting initiative which has scope to not just engage with our communities and their maritime heritage but to bring their stories to life and inspire current day travellers.

‘2022 will be Scotland’s Year of Storytelling and this project is the perfect bridge from Year of Coasts and Waters- allowing us to reach out and collect the stories in 2020, then narrate them digitally so we can inspire people out onto the roads less travelled to experience these stories first hand in 2022 – and beyond.’

The project runs until June 2022 alongside the 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters and the 2022 Year of Storytelling.