As a national collection, the Scottish Maritime Museum collects, preserves and presents vessels, engineering, and maritime artefacts representing shipbuilding and seafaring both in Irvine and across the length of Scotland’s coastline.
The Scottish Maritime Museum plays an important role within the Ayrshire tourism industry, curating numerous exhibitions each year which reflect different aspects of Scotland’s maritime heritage, as well as local history.
The Irvine museum hosts Scotland’s national maritime collection, including Scotland’s last Scottish-built puffer boat, and also celebrates Irvine’s shipbuilding heritage at the Linthouse building. Meanwhile, the Dumbarton museum revolves around local historical figure William Denny, whose shipbuilding exploits go back to 1811.
Beyond tourism, the Scottish Maritime Museum plays a major role within the local community, namely through its Boat Building School.
Established in 2014 to provide education and qualification in both traditional and modern boat building and repair, the School works with young offenders, long-term unemployed, and general volunteers from within the community to provide transferrable skills and build pathways to employment.
Eight trainees were taken on initially and were trained up in basic woodworking skills, which now provides the museum with a steady supply of maintenance for its vessels. The initiative ensures the local tradition of boatbuilding is kept alive through the facilitation of museum projects, but also offers participants transferrable skills to take into further employment.
“The Scottish Boat Building School has got to be one of the best things we’ve done as the museum, out with the typical museum structure. It’s allowed us to have better exhibits, it’s allowed us to develop, to give the skills to a new set of trainees to restore and maintain wooden boats both in a display and a sailing capacity,” director David Mann explained.
The museum has also launched a Men’s Shed project, which invites local men of 18 years of age and over to socialise over engineering and creative activities, structured around benefits for health and mental wellbeing.
Partnerships with local agencies also allows the museum to offer placements across a wide range of roles within the museum to Ayrshire and Arran Occupational Health, local schools, and North Ayrshire Criminal Justice.
Scottish Maritime Museum receives Scottish Government grant funding to cover its grade A-listed buildings and the bulk of its main collection – this accounts for approximately 40% of annual funding.
Individual projects, such as the Men’s Shed or the museum’s Oral History project, apply for funding awards on an ongoing basis, making up roughly another 40% of the museum’s overall annual income.
The remainder is generated by the museum’s enterprise activities, such as admissions, café intake and external catering. Retail areas at both sites have recently undergone an overhaul and have subsequently doubled their revenue.
As well as providing training and employment opportunities for young adults, the Boat Building School also functions as a commercial arm – making repairs on commercial boats to generate further income for the museum.
The museum works with a wide and diverse range of groups and organisations, supporting them to deliver programs and events at both the Linthouse site and through regular workshops in Dumbarton.
These are designed to offer opportunities for community engagement, focussing on a number of areas such as youth unemployment, isolation, and drug and alcohol dependency.
The museum’s volunteering programme has around 80 registered volunteers, and is used in conjunction with other community-orientated projects to help tackle the effects of loneliness and social isolation for men and women in the area.
Around 40 people have so far been trained up through the Boat Building School, with a large number of participants becoming paid employees or moving on to a positive destination.
A successful grant application has meant that the museum can now cover the cost of travel for schools trips, allowing it to facilitate curriculum-based learning trips for over 3000 pupils in 2018 and has been part of National Museums Scotland’s ‘Powered Up’ programme.