image of a young person wearing a helmet from a suit of medieval armour

As it’s Scotland’s Year of Young People, our Learning team have been really busy creating new opportunities for young folk to get hands on with heritage.

In April, we teamed up with the Highland Youth Arts Hub (HYAH) on a brand new (and really fun!) project. We gave two groups of teenagers free reign at Fort George and Urquhart Castle, and let them interpret the sites however they wanted. With the help of a handful of artists, here’s how it went!

Fort George: The History’s in the Walls

It’s nice to learn a bit about your local area and its history – but how often do you get the opportunity to actually have your own take on it?

The first of our Highland groups took their opportunity at Fort George. For an initial boost of inspiration, they took a guided tour of the site, taking in some of the Fort’s famous history.

Unlike usual guided visits, the group were joined by a dancer, a drama worker, and a visual artist. With a bit of coaching from these artists, our young folk then thought about what the site meant to them, and began moulding their ideas around their own experiences of Fort George.

Image of a girl performing in a play at Fort George

Ghosts, punishment and family were key themes for the group at Fort George.

Built as an 18th-century garrison and training camp for the military, the fort’s walls have seen their fair share of history! Keen to explore this, the group settled on two or three themes to inspire a visual performance: ghosts, punishment, and family.

Instead of looking at particular events or significant dates in Fort George’s history, the personal stories, myths and folklore really captured the imaginations of our young people.

Soldiers’ graffiti told stories of those who had lived in the fort, and of those held in the fort’s prison. This influenced ideas for a poem, a script, as well as print patterns for the set design.

Many of the group had strong family ties to the Fort, with either ancestors or current relatives serving in the army, and these ties also fed into the group’s performance…

Urquhart Castle: The History’s Out the Window!

There was a similar buzz down the road at Urquhart Castle. The real beauty of this project lay in the fact that different sites, different artists and different young minds generate completely different ideas.

This team were joined by a musician, a visual artist, and a creative writer. It was really interesting to see the contrast in the creative responses!

Again, following a tour, the artists got our young folk thinking differently. From then on, it was up to them to use what they had learned in any way they liked.

Unlike the Fort George team, an early decision was made to break free from the confines of the castle’s history. They played games in different areas of the castle, imagining ‘what if it wasn’t a castle?’

Image of a group of young people performing in a play at Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle was reinvented as a concert venue!

The castle as we know it was then re-imagined as a purpose-built concert venue, and the group planned a performance that the venue was to show. They took inspiration from the castle’s old kitchen spaces and the dramatic surroundings, before developing a script, and choosing music to match.

At the end of an extremely busy week, each group visited the other site to witness the other’s performance. For a breakdown of how it went – in their own words – check out the fantastic video below!

Highland Youth Arts Hub and High Life Highland

Throughout this project, it has been a pleasure working with a range of partner organisations.

The Highland Youth Arts Hub (HYAH) aims to give every young person living in the Highlands access to the arts. This is managed by a group of 13 well-known arts organisations from across the Highlands.

Based in Dingwall, Fèis Rois is the hub’s lead organisation, and is one of Scotland’s leading traditional arts organisations. They enable people of all ages to participate in a year-round programme of Gaelic arts and traditional music activities.

Coordinated by Fèis Rois, our project involved an additional six partners from the Highland Youth Arts Hub. They were a combination of drama, dance, music and visual artists: Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Moniack Mhor, Eden Court, Highland Print Studio, Room 13 and Plan B.

Image of a group of young people learning printmaking with the Highland Youth Arts Hub

Our groups enjoyed a taste of many art forms – from acting to printmaking.

A key focus of the HYAH is to bring together arts organisations and youth work organisations. This saw youth workers from High Life Highland support our work at Fort George and Urquhart Castle.

We’re planning a similar project with High Life Highland and the Highland Youth Arts Hub for October 2018, so watch this space!

Learning Beyond the Classroom

This is just one of many new projects our Learning team have recently launched. We’d like future projects to focus less on specific outcomes, and more on giving young people a sense of ownership. It’s about allowing them to direct the course their projects take.

Involving artists in these projects helps young people express what they learn in ways that are relevant to them. Usually you’d expect to learn about history at school, or on guided visits, but we’re keen to offer unique experiences.

Aerial image of Urquhart Castle

We’re looking to engage younger audiences with our historic sites through collaborative projects.

Of course, the history is important, but we want young people to understand that historic sites belong to everyone. As our Highland groups have shown, they really can be used and interpreted in different ways!

If you’re interested in collaborating with us on a similar project in your area, why not contact our Learning team? Whatever aspect of Scotland’s heritage your group is interested in, we have the ideal place for a memorable visit!


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Nathan McConway

Nathan works as a Digital Project Officer with HES, currently focused on rationalising our websites to make sure users can find everything they need.