The Festival of Museums takes place over one weekend every May. It is designed to celebrate museums in Scotland through fun events while allowing museum staff to develop their planning skills. This year, the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses got involved with the festival for the first time to deliver something bigger than their museum had seen before.
The museum jumped at the chance to try something new. Caroline Taylor, Learning and Access Officer shares their experience of taking part.
"We wanted our visitors to engage with what it was really like being a lighthouse keeper, as this is a lost way of life due to the automation of lighthouses. We especially wanted to highlight some of the lesser known aspects of the job, such as the practicalities surrounding getting supplies, that keepers had to record the weather or that the boredom of working in remote places meant that they had to come up with various stories to entertain each other."
The festival came with the added bonus of working with their neighbours, the Fraserburgh Heritage Centre, for the first time. The two museums cover different interests and themes, but the Festival of Museums brought them together to share resources and plan for future collaborative projects.
The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses laid out these objectives when joining the Festival of Museums:
- Organise a bigger event than usual involving Fraserburgh Heritage Centre, the Museum and the Lighthouse site.
- Give visitors an insight into a unique way of life through a series of activities based around objects in the museum's collection.
- Reach a new audience by increasing the number of visitors from the local area, especially those that may not have been to visit the museum or the Heritage Centre before.
- Capitalise on this by showcasing the museum's volunteering opportunities at the museum and therefor increase the number of local volunteers.
- To give the staff and volunteers experience in planning and taking part in a large scale event.
Planning for the Festival of Museums began early. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses started working on it in September, during one of the museum's quieter periods. The first ideas came when the museum stumbled across a video.
"I had been doing some research about the duties of a lighthouse keeper for our educational resources and had come across a video online showing a training school for Trinity House keepers in England where they learnt how to do various tasks such as knot tying and bread making before they were sent out to lighthouses. This sparked the idea for an event which highlighted to visitors the wide variety of things that a keeper was expected to do. A Lighthouse Keepers’ Bootcamp seemed like the perfect way of encompassing these various activities and this was our starting point for planning."
Fraserburgh Heritage Centre was contacted early on and the two museums decided on issuing a joint ticket to the weekend's events to encourage people to visit both sites. Both saw the festival as an ideal way of attracting more visitors.
"We knew that, as this was a bigger event, we would need to apply for funding in order for it to go ahead. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses took charge of writing the funding application as Fraserburgh Heritage Centre is not an accredited museum. Attending the Festival of Museums funding workshop was very helpful for explaining the application process and seeing what other museums had done in previous years to help inspire ideas."
Devising a funding plan helped the two museums focus their aims and objectives. As part of the application they clarified who their target audience was and what activities they were going to run.
"Funding meant that we had to organise everything in advance so that when it came to writing our timetable of tasks after receiving the funding, we were clear about what we needed to do and when. Within the timetable we also included agreed dates and times for meetings between MoSL and the Heritage Centre so that we were constantly communicating and sharing ideas, as well as ensuring we met our deadlines. In addition to this we produced a marketing plan for the funding application which was linked in to this timetable and meant we had a clear and concise plan for reaching our target audience."
Lighthouse Keeper bootcamp
"Our Lighthouse Keepers’ Bootcamp was made up of a series of activities that helped to highlight the different aspects of a lighthouse keeper’s job. This not only underlined the importance of several items in our collection, but also brought home to visitors what being a Scottish Lighthouse Keeper was like and the range of abilities that they had to have."
The museums wanted to make an immersive experience, so they emphasised the idea of a bootcamp. Visitors were given a Bootcamp Card and they got a stamp for every activity completed over the weekend. They also added different ranks of lighthouse keeper, depending on how many activities you had completed, from Supernumerary to Principal Keeper, so guests had the top rank to aim for.
For the museum, the impact of the activities was obvious:
"It encouraged visitors to visit both sites to gain more stamps. Before they went home they could show their Bootcamp Recruit Card to the person at the front desk and they would receive a certificate with their name and the rank they had achieved written on it. All our visitors who took part achieved the position of Principal Keeper and most of them attended all ten activities."
At the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses the activities were:
- Making a weather vane to learn about how lighthouse keepers had to measure the weather every day.
- Building gears, to help visitors understands how the gears in a lens mechanism worked and how keepers maintained them.
- Storytelling, when storytellers would relay tales about the sea and lighthouses, while explaining that keepers used stories to keep one another entertained.
- Kelvin diesel engine demonstration to learn about how keepers used the engines to operate fog horns.
- Lighthouse tours, so visitors could experience what the lighthouses were like first-hand, gain a greater understanding of their work and watch radio enthusiasts contacting other lighthouses around the world.
Fraserburgh Heritage Centre's activities included:
- Knot tying, so that guests could learn about keepers securing equipment during landings.
- Pulley activity, to have a go at hauling boxes ashore as keepers would have done.
- Safety at sea, where visitors could imitate rescuing people from a shipwreck.
- Marine signal flags. an exercise using the flags used to communicate with ships.
- Marconi radio demonstration to learn about this crucial form of communication.
The museum identified that their target audience was local families. The emphasis on local meant that they could focus their advertising to the surrounding area.
Here's what they did:
"We took out a paid advert in the Press and Journal the week before the event and as part of this deal with them we had a free editorial article about the event in the paper the Thursday before the event. Stripe Communications also got us featured in the ‘Your Job’ section where two ex-keepers spoke about the demands of their job. Information about the event was added to online local events pages, including MiFraserburgh, VisitFraserburgh and Aberdeenshire Council What’s On"
"Social media was a big focus of our marketing plan. Museum of Scottish Lighthouses has a Facebook and Twitter page and Fraserburgh Heritage Centre has a Facebook page. We promoted our event to our followers using our social media accounts, but we were aware that doing this by itself would not necessarily reach a new audience."
"For the first time we decided to create a paid advertisement that would encourage people to respond to our event on Facebook. Our advert was targeted at parents (specifically those with toddlers, with pre-schoolers, with early age school children, with pre-teens and with teenagers) within 50 km of Fraserburgh."
The impact was immediate and Facebook emerged as their most successful tool. The museum received a lot of contact and extra Facebook likes through their ads.
Their campaign included:
- A video of a lighthouse keeper explaining the event
- Road signs on bright neon paper, up three days before the event
- An STV news report about the festival of museums
One initial problem that emerged when planning the event came when teaming up with Fraserburgh Heritage Centre. The centre had a membership scheme which allowed members to attend events for free. A solution was needed.
"We therefore had to create a system of different coloured tickets so that their visitors could get in to their part of the event for free, but would still have to pay our share of the ticket fee in order to come to our part of the event. This is something that we will have to consider when planning future events with the Heritage Centre."
Mapping the site
The layout of the museum can be confusing for first-time visitors, and the team behind the event were hoping for lots of new guests. They devised a map of the lighthouse and museum sites, but they realised this process could be done much earlier for future events.
"As part of our marketing plan, we were planning on taking out a stall at Super Saturday, a local market and fun day that takes place in Fraserburgh town centre. In previous years these had taken place on the first Saturday of every month. Unfortunately this year they changed it so that the first Super Saturday of 2016 actually took place on the same day as our Festival of Museums event."
"This took away some of our pre-event marketing and also meant there was a bit of a clash locally. We did our best to rescue the situation by having event flyers at the local tourism stall."
Documenting the event
"One of the things we would have changed is that next time we would have someone there especially to take photographs and possibly even film our event. We didn’t really have this for our Bootcamp, although one of our volunteers who runs the ‘Fraser fae Fraserburgh’ Facebook page took a few photos of the day that we used."
Engaging the visitors
One of the biggest successes of the Festival of Museums weekend was how much all the museum's visitors enjoyed the experience. This was down to the range and mixture of activities, which meant that there was something that engaged every different style of learning.
"It also worked well having the Recruit cards that were stamped for each activity, as this encouraged visitors to attend all the activities at both venues, and having the certificates also made the day more special more our visitors and gave them something to take home that reminded them of their visit and also made them feel like they had achieved something."
"Our museum and Fraserburgh Heritage Centre really enjoyed working together – sharing ideas and some of the preparation. We are planning to work with them again on a future event. "
Being part of the Festival of Museums also meant that the museum was being promoted at a national level. Such exposure is rare and was made possible by working with Museums Galleries Scotland and the PR company they had appointed.
Learning from the experience
Taking part in the Festival of Museums helped the museum to realise the income potential of such events. There's lots of potential for revenue in fun and engaging activities.
"We possibly won’t be able to have such a wide variety of activities all in one day, but during the winter months this year, we are going to plan a programme of big events."
Now they have some experience in running a project like this, they also know what works for marketing. Promoting and running big events in future will now be a lot easier.
Staff and volunteer experience
"Staff confidence has increased as a result of our participation in Festival of Museums. Our Learning and Access Officer now feels more confident in applying for funding for educational activities and events. Some of our volunteers have gained more experience and confidence in helping out with children’s events.
"Additionally one of our staff members adapted his usual lighthouse tour to fit in with the day’s theme. This was the first time he had had to do something like this and it gave him the confidence to do this again in the future."
The museum even managed to recruit a new volunteer for helping out with summer activities for children!
Taking part in the Festival of the Museums shouldn't exist in isolation. It needs to fit in with a museum's organisational and business plans. Ideally, it would also develop the museum's involvement in the National Strategy for museums, which encourages skills development, advocacy and enterprise within the heritage sector.
For the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, it impacted both their personal and the national strategies:
- They developed the skills of their staff, including one tour guide who learnt to adapt his tours for different audiences and others who learnt to work with children.
- The Learning and Access Officer gained confidence in writing funding applications, which will lead to more enterprise.
- Working with Fraserburgh Heritage Centre meany that they improved their infrastructure for collaboration, which in general improves the enterprise of the sector and gave them ideas for future work.
- The Learning and Access Officer went on to run further events, such as a Lighthouse Fun Day, in collaboartion with other local organisations. Through this, the museum built relationships, extended its sphere of influence and highlighted the importance of the museum within the community.
"We had the evaluation forms for visitors that Museums Galleries Scotland supplied us with for Festival of Museums that were located near different activities so that we could ask visitors to fill them in at their leisure. In addition to this, when visitors came to purchase their ticket for the event, we asked them if they had been to Fraserburgh Heritage Centre or the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses before and where they heard about the event so that we had that data from every group that attended the event."
"From our organisations point of view, the evaluation we had to fill in for MGS after the event was very helpful as it meant we assessed the success of the event in a different way than we usually do. We look at events in terms of the impact on our visitors and how they enjoyed it and in terms of how much money we have made from it, but it made us assess what the impact on our staff and volunteers was as well."
If you wish to learn more about the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and its involvement in the Festival of Museums contact ;
Caroline Taylor, Learning and Access Officer.