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Research project into west coast maritime heritage stories to be ‘brought to life’ with collaborative match funding

West Highland College UHI’s Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research (CRTR) was recently awarded a grant from the Scottish Natural Heritage’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund for an ambitious and highly innovative digital project worth £350,000. CRTR can now announce that additional match funding has been committed by the college itself and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) which gives the whole project a value of over £500,000.

The ‘Coast that Shaped the World’ project will gather maritime stories from 20 destinations across the west coast – stories that shaped our coastal communities into what they are today and which convey how our maritime cultural and natural heritage helped to shape the world. The project is part of a new £5 million Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more high-quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets.

This is a community-led project, which gathers stories from the people within the communities themselves, with the intention of attracting people to come to the less-visited areas of the west coast of Scotland. The aim is to help sustain local communities and businesses, and to protect and share our rich natural and cultural heritage through these high-quality visitor experiences.

A website, app and programme of immersive and innovative digital exhibitions will be developed along the west coast of Scotland, using augmented and virtual reality for example, to bring the maritime heritage stories to life, in many cases where the event unfolded through GPS triggers. This will be complemented by a series of physical, inspirational and interactive installations in museums, galleries and heritage centres in west coast communities.

Led by the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, The Coast that Shaped the World is a large-scale collaboration between West Highland College UHI and the West Coast Waters (WCW) tourism initiative. West Coast Waters is a collaboration of 20 west coast destinations and tourism organisations collectively representing over 2,500 tourism interests across the west coast of Scotland. It is supported by the key public agencies and travel partners in the area.

Sara Bellshaw, Senior Innovation Manager at the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research manages The Coast that Shaped the World and CAPITEN, an INTERREG Atlantic Area marine and coastal tourism project which also partners with West Coast Waters.

Sara said,

“It is fantastic to have received this funding from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund and the additional match funding from WHC UHI and CalMac. There is a plethora of stories to be told and interpreted linked to the cultural heritage and spread of communities across the west coast, directly related to the maritime environment. The project will create a repository of important and influential narratives, helping to both keep these important oral, written and visual artefacts alive and to unearth hidden ‘gems’ that risk being lost.

“Many of the areas share story themes, from Gaelic language and culture, to Viking trading posts, world famous inventors, and departure points for mass emigration. Materials will be collected that help tell each story including music, film, imagery, artwork, augmented reality and prose.

“Sharing these stories will help visitors understand the culture and traditions of local life and what has made the place and community they are visiting what it is today. Combining these stories with practical visitor information aims to enhance the visitor experience along the west coast.

“Collaborating with communities, West Coast Waters, local destination organisations and industry experts is integral to this project, and we also plan to involve students wherever possible, including the Marine and Coastal Tourism students who are part of the School of Adventure Studies here at West Highland College UHI.”

West Highland College UHI has match-funded the project, as well as CalMac, a partner in the West Coast Waters tourism group. One of the focusses of The Coast that Shaped the World is to reinvigorate the seaways that served as our ancestors’ highways and encourage visitors to travel on lesser known routes.

Andrew MacNair, Head of Marketing at Caledonian MacBrayne said “So many people have seen the potential of themed years, particularly Year of Coast and Water but this project stands out as being one of those with a real lasting legacy. We are constantly reminded about the amazing tales and stories of the wonderful places on the network we serve and through this project we can help share these with a far wider group of people”

Carron Tobin, Coordinator of West Coast Waters commented “This project has so much potential. Just over a year ago when we scoped out the possibilities around the West Coast Waters collaboration ‘The Coast that Shaped the World’ was everyone’s favourite – a really exciting initiative which has scope to not just engage with our communities and their maritime heritage but to bring their stories to life and inspire current day travellers.

2022 will be Scotland’s Year of Storytelling and this project is the perfect bridge from Years of Coasts and Waters- allowing us to reach out and collect the stories in 2020, then narrate them digitally so we can inspire people out onto the roads less travelled to experience these stories first hand in 2022 – and beyond”.

The project runs until June 2022 alongside the 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters and the 2022 Year of Storytelling.

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