We’ve been thinking about conversations around kitchen tables, in streets, in shops and in pubs a lot recently.
How can we get heritage and wildlife into those conversations?
We focus on ‘getting people thinking and talking about human heritage and wildlife‘. This has become my work-a-day definition of what interpretation is for, the goal and the measure of success. This is not original, it is based on embedding Professor Sam Ham’s work (especially in his book ‘Making a Difference on purpose’) in what we do. So, visitors’ conversations matter hugely to us.
We often work at attractions and the conversations visitors might have at them. Attractions put the spotlight on heritage and are important to cultural tourists and often, in a different way, to local people. That’s why I write about them a lot.
But we also look at what happens outside those hot spots because people don’t just think and talk about heritage in attractions, museums and libraries. They are at it all the time and all over the place.
If, as I think we do, we want at least some of that street chat to be about heritage we need to embed heritage in the streetscape.
Bushmills, in Northern Ireland, does this brilliantly. The common problem of declining high streets with neglected buildings, closed businesses and empty shop-windows has been tackled creatively with high quality art works that improve the appearance and recognise the industry and activity the streets have seen in the past.
There is humanity and humour in the illustrations. Just the sort of things people like to have in conversations. The courthouse is a good example.
The paintings give the building personality. We see the lawyers at work and other people associated with the building. Our sense of the place and its use changes. As viewers we have something to talk about, stories to speculate over.
Like all stories, there are at least two sides to consider. The windows give different perspectives.The second got us thinking and talking as we realised that quite possibly poachers came to the courthouse to trade as well as on trial. The door was best of all.
We remember Bushmills. It stands out for us from all the other small towns in the UK and Ireland where we have rolled up at the end of a working day to spend one night. That is simply because of the delight of discovering these images and their stories.
That’s the power of getting people thinking and talking. It is the potential of the streetscape as a means to make that happen.