Aberdeen’s only five-star visitor attraction, the Gordon Highlanders Museum, will re-open its doors this weekend.
It has been 15 months since the museum was forced to close due to the pandemic and although it has been challenging, they have decided to “embrace further change” moving forward.
The Lord Provost of Aberdeen Barney Crockett officially re-opened the museum on Monday in advance of the public’s return and was awarded a citation for the council.
Mr Crockett said: “For myself in particular, it is moving because of my family background, as my father was wounded alongside the Gordon Highlanders and that was on the citation that I was awarded today.
“Also, representing a city that has such close relationships with the regiment. I don’t think there’s a city anywhere in Britain that has such a close relationship, and I think that everybody in Aberdeen will be so proud of that and want to support the museum in its new venture.”
Transforming the museum
The Lord Provost and other invited guests were given a preview of the museum’s transformation which has focused on is visitors, described as the “lifeblood of the msueum”.
Mr Crockett added: “It’s fantastic for me to see, it really is a transformation. I think we’re seeing it move from being a fairly local, parochial museum to being something of real national and international significance, and I think that’ll be great for its future and the future of the area.
“People in Aberdeen have always been strong supporters of the museum, but with such an intensity of things to do here, it’ll be a massive attraction for the people in the area, and also for tourists. It’s a five-star attraction and we’re delighted with that.”
Opening speeches from the museum’s chairman, Charlie Sloan, and chief executive, John McLeish, highlighted the hard work and commitment of the museum’s trustees, staff and volunteers.
During a year that has been “challenging” for everyone, they have suffered due to the economic downturn and have been forced to make some “difficult decisions”. While closed to the public, they decided to “go big-ish” with their return and start work on an ambitious transformation plan.
Mr McLeish said: “We know that this place means a great deal to the people of the north-east and we can’t wait to show everyone the changes we have made during our enforced closure – all designed to enhance the experience of visitors old and new.”
The museum has received funding from Museums Galleries Scotland, the National Development Body for the Scottish Museums Sector and the Common Good Fund in Aberdeen to help it re-open following the pandemic.
A new bespoke cinema has been added to the museum which will screen a new introductory film highlighting the Regiment’s 200- year history. It also shows artefacts from the Museum’s Collection of National Significance which has not been seen by the public for more than a decade.
The film is narrated by actor Dougray Scott, who has a long-standing relationship with the museum. Although he could not be present for the reopening event, Mr Scott sent a video message from his current filming location in Canada.
He said: “In common with many across Scotland and beyond, my family history is part of the story of the Regiment.
“My grandfather, Lance Corporal John Paterson Morrison, fought with the 7th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders Regiment in World War I and this included the deadly battles on the Somme.
“He was one of the lucky ones – he came home – otherwise I wouldn’t have been born. I know he would want his story and that of his friends retold to younger generations as a warning from the past.”
Funding has been put towards the introduction of new audio guide handsets which provide a complete tour of the museum for the first time. Audio is available in nine different languages, including Gaelic and Doric, which Mr Sloan said he has been keen to introduce for a while. The Doric tour has been voiced by Gordon Hay of the Doric Board.
Visitors to the newly refurbished museum can also expect to see an updated welcome and retail area, an enlarged space for outdoor refreshments and a new cafe – Cognito at the Museum. The new partnership with Aberdeen’s Cafe Cognito was all about community and history for owner Nicky Turnbull.
Support from the public
Things were looking up for the museum when it was able to re-open in October last year, but unfortunately this only lasted 10 days before restrictions changed again. The previous opening can now be looked back on as a trial run for how the museum would be able to function within Covid restrictions.
Ruth Cox, curator of the museum, said: “The one takeaway for us was the support of the residents of Aberdeen and from the wider area.
“We were really touched that we were actually as busy as we were, admittedly in a controlled manner, and that there were so many people that came to visit us and came to say ‘we’re really glad you’re open and we wanted to come along’.
“Knowing that there is a place in the hearts of the people in the north-east for this museum was a really big take away and that definitely was the driving force for us wanting to get open again.”
Welcoming back visitors
The museum has been a popular spot for school trips, events and even weddings over the years, but it will be a while longer before these are able to return.
Mrs Cox continued: “We’re going to focus on getting open to the public in a safe and controlled manner to get started with. We’re a wee bit rusty showing people around, so we want to get open and make sure our volunteer tour guides are comfortable giving tours before we ramp things up again.”
“We’re doing a relaxed reopening day in July that we’re really looking forward to and we’re hoping that after the school holidays are wrapped up we’ll be able to start taking in small groups of schools that can come in and learn more about WW1 and WW2.
“We have a wee bit to go yet, but this very much the start of us on our journey to get back with a bang.”
The Gordon Highlanders museum will reopen to the public at 10am on Saturday June 12 and will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4.30pm each week. Visitors to the museum must pre-book tickets online.