The Highland Archive Service, operated by High Life Highland, cares for historic documents dating from the 1200s to the present day in its four archive centres in Inverness, Wick, Fort William and Portree. When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020 it was immediately evident that, unable to physically welcome people into our buildings, we instead needed to find different ways to proactively engage with our local and international audiences across our digital platforms – maintaining our profile and raising awareness of the important role of archives in society.
It was decided to create a series of weekly collection-based films. Broadcast live across our four Facebook pages on Thursday mornings and then uploaded to the High Life Highland YouTube channel, these are delivered by Community Engagement Officer, Lorna Steele, under the banner ‘Learn with Lorna’.
Initially aimed at those home-schooling, the first 14 films (on subjects as diverse as WWI, Jacobites and Transport) were accompanied by specially created online resources, enabling parents/guardians to undertake related activities with their children. These were promoted to the 200+ schools in our catchment area and were included in the Highland Digital School Hub resources.
It soon became apparent that the films were also being viewed and enjoyed by a global audience of people of all ages. Therefore, when the school summer holidays started, the film themes were diversified to look in more detail at individual collections, the lives of specific people and the history of buildings across the Highlands, with viewers being encouraged to contact the service for more information or with related enquiries. These films included, amongst others, one about the amazing Cameron of Lochiel collection (held at Lochaber Archive Centre and including letters by many famous historical figures, from Anne Lister to Lord Lovat) and a look at the dramatic history of Wick Harbour.
The resulting films (to date numbering 25) have now been viewed over 60,000 times and have garnered comments and shares from across the world, with viewers ranging from teachers and tour guides to genealogists and academics. We’re proud that the films have also been picked up by the press across the Highlands and our local audience has grown as a result. It is clear that the material produced is serving a variety of purposes for the audience, with some watching to further their family history research, some discovering the history of a certain place and others finding out more about the history of their chosen career. An example of the latter can be seen in a comment made in response to the film about the history of Inverness District Asylum: “Thank you so much for your integrity and compassion. Currently I live in the North of England. I am a trained Mental Health Nurse who is studying for an MLitt in Scottish History with Dundee. So much here for me to get my teeth into. I will be reflecting on this for a while. Thanks so much for doing this.”
Numerous people, of course, watch the films out of general interest and some, joining late in the series, have told us of their intention to go back and watch all the earlier films with several saying it’s the highlight of their week to learn about the collections we care for! A particularly touching comment thanked us for “making the effort to give life to these stories”.
As Highland Archive Service goes through the phased process of reopening its building across the Highlands, one positive legacy of lockdown is that the ‘Learn with Lorna’ series has increased awareness of the important collections that the Highland Archive Service cares for as well as promoting the work of High Life Highland to a wider audience. The series will continue to broadcast live at 11am on Thursdays, with all previous episodes available to view on Facebook and YouTube. We hope you can join us one week to learn about our diverse and fascinating archive collections!
Lorna Steele, Community Engagement Officer, High Life Highland, Highland Archive Centre