image of an Iron Age roundhouse


The Whithorn Trust was founded in 1988 to inspire the public with the story of Whithorn, which is one of the earliest sites in Scotland where archaeological evidence of Christian practice is found. The site was an early medieval monastery and later a pilgrimage shrine. The Trust operates a visitor centre; museum; guided tours, including its full-scale replica Iron Age Roundhouse; and a café and shop to support its activities. It also promotes wide ranging economic development and educational initiatives, working with bioarchaeologists on dating and population information for the early burials.



In May of 2020, Interface joined forces with VisitScotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance to launch the Adopt a Business scheme; a new initiative aimed at boosting the sector’s recovery from COVID-19 by connecting tourism businesses to university academics and students for research and development projects; helping businesses to diversify and adapt to the new environment.

Julia Muir Watt, Development Manager at The Whithorn Trust, responded to the Adopt a Business initiative saying: “We would be interested in hearing from anyone who can work with a heritage organisation on virtual reality. We already work with archaeologists who are looking to produce an interactive archaeopuzzle with 3D models, but we have lots of resources where virtual reality experiences may be applicable.”



Mari Findlay, Business Engagement Executive at Interface, put Julia in touch with Dr Kirsten Cowan from University of Edinburgh and Dr Alena Kostyk from University of Glasgow, who had both expressed interest in participating in the Adopt a Business initiative and volunteered to work jointly on the project during their summer holidays.



Drs Cowan and Kostyk were able to secure funding for the project that included ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Impact Acceleration Account funding from both the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow that was used to fund filmmakers, post-production costs, podcasts and 3D headsets; enable the continuance of the collaboration; and support the creation and testing of digital marketing solutions. 

In collaboration with filmmakers, Silly Wee Films based in Glasgow, a static scenes VR tour for the Whithorn Trust's Iron Age Roundhouse and Priory was created and the academics are in the process (January 2021) of creating a 360-degree video VR tour, which is in line with the Trust’s new digital ambitions.  Audio narrations were developed in collaboration with The Big Light podcast company from Glasgow.

A Facebook campaign was designed and tested to facilitate the sales of the Whithorn Trust's "digital ticket" initiative and to build a larger social media following.

An additional student marketing project was also secured by the academics to look at improving the Trust’s general marketing activities for 2021.

The academics continue to support the Trust.

Julia Muir Watt

Dr Alena Kostyk and Dr Kirsten Cowan have been hugely helpful and very proactive, helping not only with expertise, but also with funding. They were also able to secure an additional marketing project. It's been a great project and is working in very well with our new digital ambitions.  We'd certainly work with a university again if we got the right project - great experience!”  

Julia Muir Watt, Development Manager, The Whithorn Trust
Dr Alena Kostyk

"Working with Julia at the Whithorn Trust has been a wonderful experience as she is always open to new ideas and is forward-thinking when it comes to marketing strategies and tactics. We have developed connections beyond the scope of the VR project - for example, the Whithorn Trust kindly agreed to serve as a "client" for my digital marketing students, who practiced their digital marketing knowledge on this class project. I sincerely hope that our collaboration continues, and we will find ways to explore and test the ways in which the museum can achieve its strategic marketing goals, both in the offline and online environment. I also hope that the insights that we obtain can be used by others in the same industry."   

Alena Kostyk, Lecturer in Marketing, University of Glasgow
Dr Kirsten Cowan

“It’s been wonderful working with Julia over the past six months to produce VR content for the Whithorn Trust. After launching the social media campaign in December, I was so excited to see the first customer buy a digital ticket! It really does show the positive impact that virtual reality can have.  I’m now looking forward to monitoring how the additional VR content can be leveraged to further support for the Whithorn Trust.”   

Kirsten Cowan, Lecturer in Marketing, University of Edinburgh Business School