Simon Leach Design have been designing and developing interpretive projects for heritage sites and museums for the last five years, the company is a group of associates that come together in a flexible and collaborative format creating specific design teams to meet each projects particular needs.
Simon has over 20 years' experience as a design consultant working in the museum and heritage sector. SLD’s recent projects include ‘Bagpuss & co’ at the V&A Museum of Childhood, a new filmic introduction to the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich and The Archbishop's Palace at Southwell in Nottinghamshire. The company bring together specialists in exhibition design, interpretation, graphic design, lighting, audio-visual and sound design.
I start off by asking how the team will work. "We need to work collaboratively alongside the architects, planners, curators, conservators and writers," he explains. “Building collaborative relationships with all members of the project team is critical in ensuring the success of a project, both in terms of revealing the hidden stories and in construction”.
Simon goes on to say that many of the challenges that they face centre on revealing a complex and intriguing site.
“The stories are multi-layered and difficult to contextualise, a possible route to making these accessible will be to provide visitors with familiar points of reference, for instance the keeping of bees was part of the pre-history story of the people living on the site 10,000 years ago, an issue that remains a challenge today.”
He goes on to say that alongside these narrative structural issues there are challenges with dealing with historic buildings.
"They need to be adapted, allowing for new functions whilst still retaining their historic architectural forms, so allowing the building narrative to be read and interpreted. There will be an architectural trail through the building complex that will provide information on this story’.
I ask Simon what his first design thoughts had been on visiting the site?
"The ’10,000-year story’ of Chester Farm is fascinating but not easy to comprehend. There is now little to physically see, except for the 17th and 18th century farm, with previous eras buried on top of each other. So our interpretive approach to unlocking Chester Farm is to lift each layer of history individually out of the ground and then fill in the gaps, painting a picture that enables the visitor to imagine the buildings, people and their lifestyle within the landscape. The story is ultimately that of the Nene river valley and its relationship to the different generations of people who have lived within it."
"Our design approach will harness the existing atmosphere inherent in the site whilst providing historical context and explanation as well as creating a distinct unifying design language. Understanding how visitors will move through and use the site is critical in establishing meaningful interpretive structures. There will be a number of different types of visitor journeys through the site, including ‘first-time visitors’, ‘returning visitors', ‘family groups’, ‘heritage seekers’, historians and academics, those using the conference facilities, school groups, volunteers, walkers and cafe users."
So your interpretation needs to appeal to different people in different ways? Simon agrees,
"Our approach is not based around one ‘visitor route’ but is instead a scheme of interlocking components that, together, provide the holistic story of the site with its rich and varied history."
We are both aware of the huge amount of work that needs to be done in a relatively short time, but goodness me we are not short of stories to tell and personally I can't wait to see how Simon and his team develop their storytelling.
Mary Powell, web editor