by Russell Clegg
In January 2014, I began working as a heritage officer for the City of Edinburgh’s Museums and Galleries service, which included a community engagement remit for the Georgian Assembly Rooms following its Heritage Lottery funded renovation project.
The role was diverse. It included a remit to curate a touring exhibition based on the history and heritage of building, alongside the training of volunteer guides who interpreted the spaces for visitors on open days and during bespoke group tours.
With the support of both the Assembly Rooms team and colleagues in the Museums and Galleries service, I had access to the building and to the Collections Centre to source material for the exhibition. I also included donations from the public; photographs and dance cards sat alongside festival programmes and crystal beads representing the famous ballroom chandeliers.
One lady even loaned her mum’s wedding dress had been adapted as vivid red ball gown for a ‘Firemen’s Ball’ in the 1950s. I wrote the text, selected the images for the exhibition interpretation, and worked with the council’s graphic design team to produce banners, information cards and flyers. With colleagues at Central Library’s digital team we created an Assembly Rooms story on the ‘Our Town Stories’ page and added content for the Library’s reminiscence page ‘Edinburgh Collected.’
The following November, the exhibition had its launch in the Assembly Rooms foyer and until March 2015, it toured to three other venues within the city – from Craigmillar in the east of Edinburgh to Kirkliston in the west. This opportunity gave me access to the service’s transit van, as I was responsible for installing and removing the exhibition cases at each venue!
A few of the volunteers I trained up as guides continued to offer their services to the Assembly Rooms long after I had left the role and, bizarrely, in June 2016 I was invited back to the venue to show a film crew around the magnificent ballroom.
This saw me appearing on the BBC documentary ‘New Town’ aired in September 2016, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the building of Edinburgh’s neo-classical ‘second’ city.
Edinburgh is blessed with many wonderful buildings but the Assembly Rooms, with its graceful architecture and stunning interiors, is hard to beat and whilst my time there was short, it was a great privilege to play a part in its story.
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