Case Study: The Whithorn Trust

Shared by Julia Muir Watt, Development Manager, The Whithorn Trust 

Name of Organisation/Project

The Whithorn Trust

Funding/Partners Involved

HLF, DG LEADER, Hugh Fraser Foundation, Holyrood Trust, Robertson Trust, DG Sustainable Development Fund, Friends of Ninian and Whithorn.

Background Information

Our organisation was established in 1988. The project was to build a full scale Iron Age roundhouse to connect Christian history of Whithorn better with the Iron Age context, give a full scale interpretation to recent archaeological finds of roundhouses locally, train local people, increase family interest in our site and change the demographic of our visitors, have a high profile visitor destination and a multi purpose venue for our outdoor site, and sustain local jobs, including those at our own visitor centre.

Our site is a remote rural location in Wigtownshire, off the main holiday and tourism routes, and we suffer from a variety of types of deprivation – particularly access deprivation, low educational outcomes and income and employment deprivation. Our site is also a Scheduled Monument which led to challenges with permission and the site is a secluded one, with low access, restricting entry to large plant and deliveries.
Our organisation, like many, has a declining level of support from our local authority and we are seeking ways to become independent of grant aid – this was the first of several projects to start us on the road to sustainability.

Inclusive Growth Outcomes sought

1) Provide training for local people and transferrable skills – during construction and in open public workshops
2) Increase educational attainment at local schools by providing exciting heritage engagement opportunities
3) Support local jobs across accommodation, catering and visitor attractions by increasing footfall, dwell-time and increasing the profile of Whithorn on a regional and national stage.

Actions Taken

We built a full-scale Iron Age roundhouse, to archaeological specifications and won national awards ( Heritage Angels 2017).

We provided public engagement in the form of ancient crafts workshops and made a documentary about manual craft skills across the ages in our area, including interviews with those still engaged in traditional crafts.

We trained three people in thatching and green woodwork, one of whom went on to become a full-time thatcher. We also provided training to Historic Environment Scotland employees.

We provided activities for schools throughout.

We obtained national news coverage for the high profile archaeology involved.

We linked closely with the archaeological dig and increased volunteering during the excavations.

Challenges Encountered & How Overcome

We had significant access problems for physical plant but used the goodwill of local farmers, who transported items from a stockpile on a local farm, using tractors instead of lorries.

We had difficulty finding a main contractor for groundworks, but our local authority provided assistance, found a contractor and offered to create the Construction and Design Management plans and act as health and safety supervisors.
We had planning issues, owing to the sensitivity of the site but we had the support of the local authority who convinced Historic Environment Scotland and provided backing for our lease of the ground.

We had a limited budget, despite all the funds raised, and made use of local volunteers and artists who assisted with labour. All materials for the roundhouse were donated by local landowners, thus saving our budget.

Assessment of Impact & Future Opportunities

Our visitor numbers rose by well over 10% in our year of opening. Some categories of visitor, eg children and families, rose by a much larger percentage.

We engaged volunteers to carry out costumed guided tours and research their costume and daily life in the Iron Age.

Our visitor attraction became much higher profile, we obtained much local publicity, and more local groups came.

We use the venue for community activities such as Santa’s Grotto, thereby overcoming barriers between the town and the archaeological trust.

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