Historic Churches 2019

28 BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 26 TH ANNUAL EDITION DIGITAL CHURCHES Enhancing the visitor experience Spencer Clark O UR CHURCHES are treasure houses full of monuments, stained glass and carving and all are intricately woven into the fabric of our history and culture. They were all built for the same purpose and yet no two are identical; each church has a unique story to tell. Volunteers and staff have been the bedrock of church interpretation for years, helping visitors to find their meaning by providing answers to questions, conducting tours and offering general support. This core interpretation is often supported by leaflets and signage, but more churches are now supplementing this traditional strategy with something new. They are going digital. But why? It seems that today many churches are facing challenges that can’t be addressed using traditional methods alone. The challenges include how to engage and inspire people when there is so much competition for their time; how to tell stories that are relevant, often to people of other faiths or of no faith at all; how to reveal the history written in a church’s fabric when it is unintelligible to the modern eye; how to balance the needs of tourists with the daily round of worship; and how to improve sustainability and attract funding. In terms of funding requirements, the need to resolve these issues has become even more imperative as the likes of the National Lottery Heritage Fund now places the needs of visitors at the heart of every application. MULTIMEDIA GUIDES So how can digital technology help? Multimedia guides (which can be accessed using a handheld mobile device) are uniquely placed to meet the challenges outlined above. Their introduction in churches means that visitors now have access to a digitally interactive and user- friendly tool designed to help them form a connection to a church and its history in a modern, engaging and varied way. The digital content provided can be structured to meet the needs of a number of different audience groups, giving them tailored access to a church building and its stories. Tours can be developed in a range of languages, all of which are accessible on one handset, and for deaf or blind visitors a multimedia guide can deliver sign language translations in the form of high definition videos and specially written audio described tours. Families are a key target audience for churches but they are often difficult to entice. They look for fun, active and sometimes educational things to do together, particularly during school holidays. To meet these needs, many churches now use digital technology to implement a range of specially designed family tours, with great success. They use the full range of multimedia to offer children and their parents the opportunity to engage with characters from history, take part in spotting competitions and play games on-screen. It’s important to note that the best multimedia guides take storytelling and not technology as their starting point. When developing digital content for a larger and more varied audience it’s important not to forget those who wish to visit churches for worship. Churches and cathedrals often welcome layered digital content that allows visitors to explore The implementation of multimedia guides and augmented reality helps visitors to see what a partially ruined structure like Holyrood Abbey (pictured) would have looked like in the past. Visitors are presented with a realistic 3D model of its original construction which they can move through 360 degrees (Photo: all images ATS Heritage)