DLNET Conference 2021: When the going gets tough, the tough get….filming? Engagement in the time of covid.

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Lisa Peter

Tracy is Visitor Services Officer for East Lothian Council Museum Service.  She has been welcoming visitors to attractions for more than 25 years, with experience ranging from the British Museum to the Henry Moore Foundation. She first became involved in digital marketing while developing www.visitcolchester.com in the early 2000s and is now responsible for social media across Dunbar Museums and for managing www.jmbt.org.uk, a hub for visitor information and learning resources for John Muir’s Birthplace. During pandemic lockdowns when physical spaces were unavailable, our digital resources had to step up. Developing these has been both educational and rewarding.


When the going gets tough, the tough get…filming?

Tracy Robertson, Visitor Services Officer, East Lothian Council Museum Service


We are a Visitor Services Team, we deal with visitors. In March 2020 physical visitors disappeared, literally overnight.  We were now a team of highly trained and talented Visitor Services Staff and no visitors. Furlough was not offered within our local authority. We had to ensure we were gainfully employed while keeping our, now virtual, visitors engaged with the Museums.

During that first lockdown, I worked with one Museum Assistant to create the ‘Home 100’ section of the website. I also worked with the artists who were supposed to be holding temporary exhibitions during that period, doing regular online posts, and created a new ‘online exhibitions’ section of the JMB website.

We published a series of blogs on the history of the Muir buildings in Dunbar and another series based on the provosts of Dunbar.  We emerged from lockdown 1 with new knowledge, new online resources and staff who felt useful and engaged, as we had recognised skills they didn’t always get the chance to utilise in more normal times. 

We reopened our sites in August 2020, and worked from then through until Christmas welcoming visitors within covid guidelines.

January 2021, second lockdown in Scotland.  This time we already had 100 children’s activities and we had 2 blog series turned into online exhibitions. 

We have a well – rehearsed programme for school visits to John Muir’s Birthplace, where we welcome every primary 5 class in East Lothian as part of their Citizenship studies, as well as many from further afield undertaking the John Muir Award as part of their curriculum.  We decided to turn this programme virtual!

Over several brainstorming zoom sessions, we broke John Muir’s story down into 15 themes. We decided the best way to present this information to schools was through a series of short films. This was the obvious answer when we had absolutely no experience of making short films!

The proposal was that we could host these films on our YouTube channel and give classes access to watch the films either in small groups or all together, then follow this up with a google classroom Q & A session with our member of staff on site. 

We put together a funding bid to Museum Galleries Scotland for their Museum Development Fund in which we were fortunate to receive £2500 to purchase a MacBook, video camera, and small fund for image purchasing. While the funding application went through, we started writing the scripts for our films.  We split the topics and had a weekly zoom meeting where we shared what we had done, and gave feedback to one another on how we thought the scripts were coming along.  This was a very good way of keeping the team in contact with one another during that lockdown, and also for knowledge sharing.

The ideal window to do our filming came in April when we were given access to our buildings in small numbers but we were not yet open to the public.  

Once we had recorded the scripts, we started researching images for the films.  Quite a few are taken from our display images, the idea after all is to showcase our building.  We have bought some images from stock films, and from Muir sources in Wisconsin, to highlight some parts of the story.

We are continuing to work on our films since reopening our Museum in May.  By the end of the October break we will have 6 of our films ready to launch to local schools, and will have more to add each month until all 15 are uploaded.


What am I taking away from this project?


1. Sometimes the best way to try something different is to Just Do It (apologies to Nike)! 
I could have spent a long time looking for training and planning scripts. However editing software is now very intuitive and for basic films the only practise needed is trial and error.

2. Use all the skills in your team. 
Front of House Teams can hold a wealth of experience, this is often hidden.  Within my own team I have a teacher, a drama teacher who has done professional voiceover work and a skilled researcher. These were all extremely useful skillsets for our film-making for schools.

3. If the project is worth doing, you will find time, even when things get busy.

One aspect I did not anticipate is how much the project has slowed down since reopening to the public back in May. Despite this we will have 6 films ready to launch to schools at the end of October and will add more each month until all 15 are available.  The ‘new norm’ means that we need to be able to make time for the digital and the physical!


Completed films are available on the following link: John Muir’s Birthplace John Muir Videos – John Muir’s Birthplace (jmbt.org.uk)


Tracy’s slides are available here.


Watch Tracey’s presentation from the day on the DLNET YouTube channel below:


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