In this week’s Winners' Wednesday feature, we hear from James Ryan, winner of the Tourism & Hospitality Hero award at the Scottish Thistle Awards National Final in March 2020. The award celebrates an individual on the front line of the customer service experience – someone who provides exceptional service and a memorable and personal touch.
In his role as Visitor Services Assistant at Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, James interacts with visitors showcasing the museum and battlefield on tours of the site and describing the events that transpired on Culloden Moor, the site where in April 1746, Prince Charles Stuart’s Jacobite rising was defeated by the British Government Army.
James started working at the visitor centre in 2018 with the engagement team; leading battlefield tours for the general public, military groups and school visits. When not on the battlefield, he can be found inside the museum showing off some of the wonderful objects and doing presentations in costume.
Winning was a truly wonderful experience for myself and showed just how far I have come. As a kid growing up with autism and spending time at school with support helpers, I feel I have overcome a huge barrier that many people in my situation may struggle to get over. It feels truly amazing to know how much my work in interpreting Scotland’s story is being appreciated.
The museum has adapted how it operates in the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, James has worked across different departments, from the cafeteria to the shop and on the admissions desk.
I have had to adapt my way of interpreting the battle of Culloden’s story as until recently conventional ways of engaging with visitors post COVID-19 have been difficult to implement.
This has included smaller scale battlefield tours that were pre-booked online rather than in-person (as a method of managing gatherings). I have worked not just in engagement but in other departments across the site - from estate work with the livestock to admissions work, selling tickets and National Trust for Scotland memberships.
At the start of the first lockdown last year, I got to dabble in second-hand interpretation through writing blog posts for work regarding the history of Culloden and Inverness as a whole.
Having to deal with a smaller workforce than usual following the coronavirus pandemic, all departments on the site have had to group together and work as one entity.
Many of the staff have adapted to working across multiple departments rather than just one specific (for instance formerly retail staff can be found on some days working in admissions or catering). This has emboldened us to learn new skills and we have adapted well to the change of scenery as we all work across multiple departments to care for Culloden.
With so many coaches already booked in to visit us next year it’s looking like (hopefully) we will be back to a more typical year. If this is the case, I will take on a similar engagement role I had prior to COVID-19; leading more battlefield tours and playing dress up in the museum.
I am particularly looking forward to the return of an in-person anniversary event at the battlefield on the 16th April which will include a combination of in-person and online activities and talks happening throughout the weekend. I’m also looking forward to the reopening of the other properties in the ‘Culloden Cluster’ – Abertarff House and Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage – and to interpret their stories as well.
Regardless of where I am on the site, I continue to do what I love the most about the job: tell the story of Culloden. I love making what I call ‘WOW moments’ where you tell the visitors (some of which have travelled thousands of miles to visit) something truly incredible and they cannot help but go WOW!
I hope through my fulfilment in giving visitors a wonderful experience that I could inspire them to pursue similar careers and learn about the history that makes Scotland so special.