In the last 20 years Montrose Basin Visitor Centre has had a few minor and one major refurbishment. Some worked very well, others not so much. Many of you may remember what it looked like when we opened on the 27th June 1995.
Then in 2004/5, we were lucky enough to be granted more funding and the Centre changed again. Mud man was removed and in went world of tides and the history drum.
In 2007 improvements were made to the children’s corner by former Scottish Wildlife Trust ranger and artist, Jan Hendry.
Fast forward 8 years and Regional Visitor Centre Manager, Caroline Hendry has been working tirelessly on getting funding for the latest enhancement project. Fortunately Heritage Lottery Funding granted us the bulk of the funding in November 2015. So with this new grant funding we have been able to kick start the process of redesigning the interpretation in the Centre.
Personally I have been on my own journey of learning about what makes good interpretation.
What do people want from a visitor centre? How do people learn? Is there a place for high tech interactive learning in a Centre like Montrose Basin?
My first professional experience of interpretation was my attendance at a Sharing Good Practice event at Battleby in Perthshire. Run by Scottish Natural Heritage it was aimed at people like me who had designing interpretation as part of their job description. From this experience I learned that knowing your audience was a key element of designing interpretation. Not an easy thing when there are so many different types of people that use our Centre.
So my first challenge was to redesign our annual Visitor Centre surveys and add in questions about the current interpretation and the visitor demographics. I wanted to see if there was anything that was really loved by our visitors and that would be a mistake to remove. The migration globe was in the forefront of my mind as it is such an imposing piece of kit and it actually turned out to be the most liked by the visitors. So surely that means that it has to stay, doesn’t it?
I also found out who uses our Centre; tourists, locals, amateur birders, twitchers, amateur photographers, families, school and community groups. The list is long, a huge range of people all looking to get something slightly different from their experience. How do you cater for everyone? Can one size fit all?
From the surveys I now know who uses the Centre, what interpretation is used and what age group needs more encouragement to visit but how can new interpretation in the Centre benefit the staff?
Fortunately, our design company has been very good at helping us realise the Centre’s full potential. To begin with, they asked the staff some simple questions. Where do you sell memberships? Where do you tell people about the walks on the reserve? How do you currently use the Visitor Centre? These simple questions got us thinking about what we currently do and where there was room for change. Not such easy question to answer when you have worked in the same environment, with the same interpretation for a long time.
However, we quickly realised that this was our chance to dramatically change the Visitor Centre and bring it into the 21st Century.
Watch this space for more developments…
Visitor Centre Assistant Manager