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Timespan re-development

Community at the centre
Arts and Heritage
Exterior and geology garden; Photo: Fin Macrae


The new Timespan has opened with many new facilities; a comfortable artists’ studio-flat, large flexible workshop for schools and groups, IT suite, archive, and community exhibition room.  The museum has been completely redesigned and improvements made to gallery, shop, café and gardens.  New branding promotes the new ethos: a friendly, authentic, creative, active and high quality development.


Workshop; Photo; Fin Macrae Timespan opened its doors to the public 20 years ago as a local heritage centre, based on the efforts of a small voluntary group. Over ten years ago it won one of the first Scottish Arts Council Lottery awards to add a gallery for contemporary arts and crafts, and developed its public facilities.

In 2005 a planning phase was started with extensive consultation with locals and visitors, and research trips to several other museums and galleries.  The current development programme kicked off in 2006 with the creation of a superbly designed modernist geology garden, adding a riverside meeting/eating area with striking glass balustrades over the water.


Moving the geology collection out of the building allowed us some space to redesign the older half of the building - a ‘rubic’s cube’ exercise to manage to fit viable new facilities into our building footprint! explained Sue Pirnie, Project Leader. 

We appointed NORD architects at an early stage as we liked their multi-disciplinary approach – the ability to integrate architectural and exhibition design skills was important to us (they later became Young Architects of the year, 2006).  They took our brief and added to it after further workshops with the community and children.

Workshop and wet area; Photo: Fin Macrae

The main work involved gutting the old part of the building – which exposed more problems (as expected!) and as usual we went through rounds of tenders, redesign and cut-backs to agree an achievable solution. We also incorporated features such as a biomass boiler to meet our green policy and minimise overheads.

Community at the centre

The project developed with a strong emphasis on placing the community at the heart of the organisation, and the building; the large new multi-purpose workshop is in a central location with a long street-line window.

It is complemented by an IT suite, and separate facilities and access - for use of parts of the buildings at different times and in different ways.  All public areas are fully accessible. IT suite; Photo: Fin Macrae

Core collections room; Photo: Fin Macrae Schools and community groups visit Timespan from across the North and even Glasgow!  Timespan develops outreach programmes for other remote schools and communities in Sutherland.

The new community archive has regenerated involvement in local heritage, oral history, genealogy (Timespan is at the heart of the Clearances country) and is complemented by a community exhibition room where groups present their research and projects.  One spin-off has been the development of a knitting group who started off researching fishermen’s Ganseys (unique patterns so that bodies lost at sea could be returned to their home village); they are now considering inviting contemporary textile artists to work with them.

Arts and Heritage

The archive and museum have already provided a source of research for artists in residence and those working on special projects – such as commissions for gallery exhibitions, or the permanent artwork at the harbour entrance.  This interface between arts and heritage is one of our distinct interests.  The main entrance has been emphasised by chunky new iron railings by Adam Booth, artist-blacksmith – a design based on the sea at the heart of this fishing village’s heritage.

The new artists’ studio-flat converted from the old toll-house provides a new, comfortable base for visiting artists or curators, and will support our gallery and community programmes. 

The gallery was also included in improvements.  As the only gallery in Sutherland it presents a varied programme of the best international, UK, and local arts and crafts – supported by the shop and café with its changing ‘artist of the month’ programme. Sutherland has a growing network of professional artists and makers well–represented at Timespan.

Artists currently exhibiting; Photo: Fin Macrae The opening exhibition presents the work of three artists: Norman Gibson, sculptor; Liz Treacher, photographer; Lucie Treacher, singer-songwriter and composer (age 11).


The original museum was award winning in its time – but new regulations, and a new understanding of the potential of museums for active learning and enjoyment, led to a fresh, new approach.  A strong theme of the power of oral history has been developed in the varied approach to displays.

This has its focus in the ‘story telling room’ – designed for live events by our resident story teller-guide, and with AV facilities currently featuring tales of local myth and legend told and animated by local children and community, and produced by Arts in Motion and story teller Bob Pegg. Other areas include a 19th ‘Immersion Street’, and a themed collections room designed with bespoke modules to allow for future rearrangement, additions and new displays.  Gaelic language features in interpretation and signage.


Scottish Arts Council Lottery supported the development of the workshop suite and artist’s studio-flat.  Other key supporters include HIE Caithness and Sutherland, The Highland Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, HIE Community Energy, Highland 2007.  Individuals have worked hard to succeed with extensive fundraising: nearly 30 trusts, many donations and terrific volunteer activity.

Related links
* Adam Booth
* Arts in Motion
* Heritage Lottery Fund
* Highland Council
* Highland 2007
* Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)
* HIE Community Energy
* NORD Architects
* Timespan
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