The Whithorn Roundhouse in Dumfries and Galloway is a complete replica to the exact scale, materials and details to the original Iron Age roundhouse (dated to about 450 – 430 BC) which was discovered by archeologists nearby in 2015 and 2016. Whithorn Roundhouse was long listed for the Civic Trust Scotland My Place Award 2017 and we spoke to Julia Muir Watt, Project Manager, about the origin and community involvement in making the project happen.
How did the process begin?
The Whithorn Trust is the instigator as far as the site goes. The AOC Archeology Group, who as very close partners of the Trust, had begun excavating a trial trench back in 2013. The site was then rediscovered by a farmer who ploughed up a piece of wood that was evidently shaped by a human. As it had been in waterlogged conditions the timbers are preserved to a degree that you really can’t find anywhere else.
Who was involved in making the project and what community involvement was there?
We recruited local craftspeople to train up local people; one had worked extensively in willow and green woodwork, another was a cabinetmaker who understood about jointing without using modern nails and screws, a thatcher and another was simply an odd job man. Alongside the craftspeople volunteers and students helped. They all had to learn on the job. We obviously had an architect and an engineer, but it really was a learning curve for everybody.
How did you raise funding?
It has been a sort of jigsaw of funders. We started off with the SSE Sustainable Development Fund, which gave us a very generous grant. This meant we could go to other funders and say we had already got a proportion raised. The Heritage Lottery Fund did come up with the major share followed by Dumfries and Galloway LEADER.
There were a number of smaller grants, some of which were for an ancillary project for young people to create short films about periods of Whithorn history and also a documentary that traced the build.
We do charge people to come in – but are not charging extra for the Roundhouse. Visitors are in fact helping us fund it – we hope simply to sell more tickets.
What was your biggest lesson learnt?
Collaboration with your local community and its expertise is perhaps the biggest lesson. We also had an incredible amount of contribution from local people – alder, hazel and oak trees were gifted from farms and estates, as were the clay and the hearthstone. Farmers gave us use of their machines and transported and manage immense timbers.
What advice would you give people who would like to become active in changing a place?
Again collaboration. There were people with skills who reduced their charges and others who didn’t necessarily want to be paid – people were just interested and wanted to get involved. And it also eked out the budget out so we were able to look at the landscape round about. We also have volunteer guides.
What are the plans for the future?
It is noticeable how the visitors are changing – we are getting more families and more children. Part of the aim it was to change the demographics – we want our existing visitors, but we want different visitors as well.
As it is the Year of History, Heritage and Archeology there are some special events happening – including more work with schools. As part of the Festival of Museums in May, there will be quite a bit about cookery including a forager who is going to look at plants that were native and edible in the Iron Age, which will be cooked over the hearth.