Heritage: Displays & Interpretation
Creating a display, trail leaflet, app or other form of interpretation may be an effective way for the church to engage with visitors and local communities. Alternatively, a church may wish to create an area for changing displays to exhibit community produced work.
Showcase your heritage display. We are gathering information on displays/ interpretation panels that explore church heritage, featured in any of our churches.
This could be a temporary display or a permanent feature; inside the church or an external panel in the grounds; a traditional panel system or an audio/visual or digital display.
If your church has created a heritage display, please send photos and a short summary about the project to Emily Allen, Church Buildings Development Officer for the Diocese of Chester. The information will be featured on the Diocese of Chester website so all can learn from one another.
Here are a few pointers on planning displays and creating other forms of interpretation:
Base your interpretation on good research. This will include:
- Historical knowledge of the building and contents, its significance - what makes the church special and its theological meaning. Bring out the story of people's lives- people relate to people. Your Statement of Significance should assist with this.
- Audience research- who are you aiming at? Children? Families? Older children? Adults? First time visitors? Specialist interest? This will affect what stories you tell and how you tell them.
Guidance on producing interpretation
- Church Buildings for Everyone: A Visitor Welcome Toolkit, by the Diocese of Newcastle and Durham. Download the tookit. Also ook at additional resources for advice on creating interpretation.
- Interpreting your church building. The National Churches Trust has guidance on interpreting your building, with links to a range of further guidance. It includes guidebooks/trails and digital.
- Church guides and trails Access to free writers and mentoring for churches producing interpretation for visitors, both adults and children.
- Children’s trails The Church Recorders volunteering scheme helps churches to produce children’s trails
- Church guides The National Churches Trust practical guidance sheet
- Church trails and children's trails- Angels and Pinnacles project. You can download examples produced by the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
- Pop up banners and trails. See guidance from the Diocese of Newcastle and Durham in their 'Spirit in Stone' toolkit
- Digital. See this section of the website
- School visits. See this section of the website
Cultural Heritage sector resources
- Interpretation Guidance. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has produced very useful Interpretation Guidance. This includes guidance on a whole range of interpretive media, not just exhibitions.heritage sector resources:
- Family activities. The V&A Museum provides useful guidance on developing interactive resources such as family explorer backpacks/boxes, with links to futher guidance
- Developing educational material. By the Group for Education in Museums (GEM). The website includes guidance resources.
Step 1: Form a project team
You might like to consider working with people from your local communities, for example, a Local History Society or College, contacts with schools or uniform groups, photography groups and so on, in addition to members of the church.
It's important to consult all church users to identify any implications for use of the proposed area(s) in the church building.
Consider volunteers to gather research (people interested in history, art etc) and volunteers to interpret this in an engaging way (people who understand how to engage children and families etc, design or IT knowledge etc).
Step 2: Write a Design Brief
Before contacting a designer, you will need to have written a Design Brief, detailing:
- Why you want to create it– the aims of exhibition, app, guidebook etc, what understanding/inspiration you hope people will leave with after visiting, what difference it will make to the church, locality etc
- Who it’s aimed at (and how many people you expect to visit)- this will affect your choice of interpretive media
- What it will be about- key stories you want to tell, images available etc
- How it might be created - where it will be, moveable or not, A/V or not, if it needs lighting and so on, editing rights if relevent- all the practical issues that the designer needs to address
- Budget, timescale, main contact person and so on
Churches may also need to consider the following, although by no means an exhaustive list:
- Is your proposal appropriate for a grade listed building, if you are listed? Seek DAC advice as appropriate.
- If you are considering outdoor panels, Planning Permission will probably be needed. If the sign is in a Conservation Area, it’s advisable to seek Conservation Area Consent.
- Consider the best area in the church for the interpretation that will not detract from the presence of the church (think visually and audibly) yet is also easily accessible for visitors.
- Consider light levels throughout the year and times of day. Does it need its own lighting? Will audio/visual equipment be clearly visible?
- Is the area needed for other activity, for example, during services or other activity? If so, how often will the display need to be moved? Can it be easily dismantled and manoeuvred? How much space is needed for storage? Will it require special equipment to move it or protect it? This will affect your choice of interpretive media
- You need to make sure interpretation doesn’t obstruct the daily use and flow of the church. Even if you are creating a ‘permanent’ display, are there other activities that will take place in or around the area? It is recommended to consult with all church users regarding the area where the display will go.
- Clearly communicate your set budget to a design company from the outset
- If working with community groups, establish realistic expectations from the outset, doing so in a manner that doesn’t limit creative thinking but is grounded in what’s realistic to achieve. A concise, clear and sufficiently detailed Project Brief will assist with this, as well as establishing roles and responsibilities
Step 3: Select Interpretive media
The Interpretive Media page includes examples of different types of display systems.
Step 4: Write the interpretation
See guidance at the top of this page. You may also benefit from the Visitors and Tourists page.
Step 5: Source a design company or supplier of display equipment
- Search the web for local or regional ‘Exhibition Design Companies’ or ‘Advertising and Graphic Designers’ in your area. The scale of the project will determine which is more appropriate.
- Gain advice from others. For example, your church architect, a local place of interest/heritage site, any other churches you know who've produced interpretation.
- Christianity and Culture at the University of York can be commissioned to produce the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ ware. They have produced good interpretive display material utilising ingenious stands, light boxes, screens etc. The physical designs and materials are all robust, moveable and very fit for purpose without an ‘off the peg’ appearance.
- Search free, online databases for specialist suppliers. Examples include:
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