Tony Berry, Director of Visitor Experience and Volunteering at the National Trust, gives sage advice: “Don’t try to tell everyone everything”.
Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF): Do different heritage settings need different approaches to interpretation?
Tony Berry (TB): The process of building the visitor experience should be consistent – starting from the significance and spirit of the place, understanding your audience, and making the experience relevant by connecting the two. But different settings and audiences may need different approaches to content and techniques.
HLF: To what extent are the messages you use in interpretation influenced by the type of heritage involved?
TB: Completely. Sometimes there will be a clear narrative thread, which is often the case with built heritage. Sometimes it will be more of a mood piece, where we are simply helping visitors to shape their own response – landscapes and contemporary art often fall into this category.
HLF: High or low-tech interpretation?
TB: Person-to-person is the most effective form of interpretation – we’re blessed with thousands of volunteers who help us deliver that. Contact with the real and the authentic is what people come to us for, so lower-tech options often resonate best with the story – there are, however, some really interesting new technology-based solutions, such as using GPS to connect with people in remote locations.
HLF: What’s your advice to others who want to produce high-quality, inclusive interpretation?
TB: Start with your audience and your story – if you understand your audience thoroughly and get your story right, everything else, including the techniques, will follow. Be really clear about the heart of your story, and build your experience around a clear and compelling thread people can relate to. Don’t try to tell everyone everything.