XpoNorth conference - heritage interview

08 June 2021
Nicola Henderson, heritage sector specialist at XpoNorth, shares her thoughts on the heritage element of this year’s conference, which will explore ‘new ways of working and storytelling’ for 2021.

XpoNorth is a year around support programme for Highlands and Islands based businesses, which helps grow the region’s creative economy.  Its annual conference runs from 16-17 June 2021.

We talk to Nicola Henderson about what anyone interested in Scotland's history and heritage can look forward to in the programme.

What were your main goals when pulling together the heritage element of the conference programme? 

I really wanted to ensure there was a mixture of content to inspire and content that would help museums get to grips with the challenges they face as the sector emerges from the pandemic. For example, museums are considering how they transition to a more hybrid model of working and how they can embrace the technological advances made over the last year. The huge capacity challenges of maintaining quality physical and digital experiences will come to the fore and they will need to consider collaborating with external tech companies and/or academics to help them deliver those digital experiences.

Collaboration is not always straightforward so that is why we developed the session 'Collaborating with Confidence' with the Museums Immersive Network. It will demonstrate, through real world examples, the challenges and opportunities of this kind of collaboration and how to ensure it delivers for all.

The funding situation for the heritage sector over the coming year is very much an unknown and so museums are, once again, having to be creative and innovative when looking at their financial sustainability - the role of product development and merchandising is one aspect that they can look to grow to help support their activities and this will be explored with our expert panel on the Exit Through the Gift Shop session.

How has the ongoing pandemic and its effect on Scotland affected the content of the programme? 

The overall theme of this year’s conference is ‘new ways of working and storytelling’ and that is very much driven by the pandemic. Almost all creative businesses have had to pivot and diversify throughout this past year to survive. The conference programme is designed to offer a wealth of opportunities to learn from some of the best in the creative business, network with peers and unite to discuss new ways of working in this period of accelerated change.

We’ve also worked to include an element of wellbeing and self-care into the programme this year. For the first time, we’ll have yoga breakout sessions and the chance to take part in cookery demonstrations and learn some basic Gaelic  - these will be points in the programme to allow people to take a break and stretch their legs which is something we thought was very important to include this year.

Do you have a favourite history or heritage event from this year’s selection?  

Can I have two? I'm really looking forward to the History on Screen discussion with Professor Suzannah Lipscomb. We have all seen a rise in historical content on tv and online and the interest in Highland Culture seems to have grown also, so I think there is a real opportunity for the Highland Heritage sector to embrace this and promote the wonderful stories that make this place so special. This session will help them consider how they can do that.

I also think the Collaborate with Confidence session which will feature two ground-breaking projects - The Ray Harrhausen experience at the National Gallery of Scotland and Coastal TimeTripping, a new series of immersive experiences from around the Cornwall Coast - will be both inspiring as well as offering practical tips for how museums can get to grips with the opportunities immersive tech can offer and thus helping them ensure audiences have the element of 'choice' when it comes to how they engage with heritage.