Museum for the North

Timespan has been developing a collaborative model to changing its current museum exhibitions to maximise its collection, to strengthen local and international collaborations, and to focus on the concept of North. It’s an exciting time as we engage with community groups and work with creative professionals to design an exhibition that is of local relevance promoting a global outlook. 

Consultation and collaboration

The process of change was initiated with a six month community and visitor consultation involving over 600 people and 50 events. An evaluation report was produced that highlighted some key responses from consultees and guidance on developing relevant displays for Timespan in 2017.

Summarised responses:
Interactive and immersive activities for younger users of the museum
New object displays that better reflect ways of life in Helmsdale
Less text, more objects, better labels, locally relevant, more variety
Displays showing ‘making objects’ and how they were used
Local stories conveyed through oral histories, memories and different emotions
Remake introductory film slideshow from 1987
A fun and humourful approach to some stories, displays and interpretation
Roles for local people as history advisers, information guides and youth panels
Developing a programme of temporary displays for underused spaces
Developing better ways of communicating between Timespan and the local community
New relevant local themes e.g. sports, music and dance
Displays that convey a sense of local pride and can boost morale
Better use of heritage research assets in museum displays
Events connected to museum objects, displays and research
Stronger active connection to local groups and community assets

“The consultation outcomes succeeded in demonstrating a greater knowledge and understanding of the proposal to change in the museum, an increased sense of inclusion and involvement and elevated support for the museum and its changing role in the local community. It also accommodated and supported the “moving forward” process, that is a vital component required by community redevelopment and change.”
(Jacquie Aitken, Project Manager)

A review of the object collection has identified several themed groupings, e.g. sea and river fishing, and under represented areas, e.g. prehistory and Viking, as well as new discoveries. It has highlighted the potential for new collecting strategies to be developed. These new approaches will inform the development of layered narratives that cross time, genre, place and discipline, and to deliver a museum that accommodates local relevance, Northern identities and global appeal. The research will inform relevant organisational programmes, plans, and policies.


Museum development team

The museum development team is headed by Arabella Harvey (independent Museum Curator), Tom Smith (Designer, Lateral North) and Jacquie Aitken (Heritage Officer, Timespan). The team met in January for the first time to discuss the museum proposals, including design and thematic concept development.

These discussions, led to a new conceptual vision for the museum entitled “FROM HARBOUR TO HILL”. The new exhibits will look at both salt and freshwater communities, through a personal lens, addressing larger themes.

“The proposal takes, as a guiding principle, the idea of a narrative journey through the museum’s space. As a visitor enters the space, they experience a physical and informative journey from sea, to harbour and river mouth, upstream, inland. So far we have only worked on the first room in the museum, but our aim is to work towards re-displaying each of the other areas so the museum feels more unified, and so it tells the fascinating story of how Helmsdale has evolved over time. We have been intrigued by this diverse community, and it’s through a multitude of personal stories documented in Timespan’s incredible archive that its history and potential future can be examined. We’d love to see the museum become more interactive, and to think about how we can introduce some new, exploratory ways of thinking about the objects and information in the collection.”
(Arabella Harvey, Independent Museum Curator)

The designer, Tom Smith produced a design plan, which has been updated on an ongoing basis. It includes a display cabinet system (set of three), hanging interpretation panels (possibly referencing sail cloth material) and vinyl text and graphics.

“Building on the theme of interactivity, this museum space will explore Helmsdale and it’s relation to both fresh and salt water using a selection of local stories to set the scene.  Through a series of interactive cabinets and display methods the exhibition encourages the visitor to uncover information about Helmsdale and it’s historic maritime relations.  We hope our interactive approach to the design of this space can be the starting point for unifying the remainder of the museum and whilst strongly reflecting Helmsdale’s people and place.”
(Tom Smith, Designer, Lateral North)


Transitional museum exhibition

A transitional display of “From Harbour to Hill” was installed in the museum for Timespan’s “Making Museums” Symposium 9 and 10 March 2017. It provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the transitional spaces and provide feedback and input into the changing exhibition process.

The museum team would be delighted to hear from anyone who has information, objects or stories about the exhibition themes.