In Your Shoes - Deirdre Robertson

Deirdre Robertson is CEO of Dundee Heritage Trust, an independent charity that runs two five star rated visitor attractions in the city - world famous heritage ship RRS Discovery at Discovery Point and Scotland's Jute Museum and Dundee's Social History Museum at Verdant Works.

Dundee Heritage Trust is 98.7% reliant on its own resources and run by a tiny team of hugely dedicated staff, volunteers and board members

Deirdre has both a law degree from Dundee Univeristy and a Masters in Fine Art from DJCAD.
She trained originally as a chartered accountant with Ernst and Young in Dundee and returned to the city in 2019 after a decade in London, including working as COO for Tate Galleries with responsibility for the care of the national collection, delivery of the Damien Hirst show and involvement on major capital projects at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate St Ives. She has worked previously at director level and as a consultant within local authority and university sectors and for household name charities including the Scout Association and RNIB.

She is currently Chair of Dundee Tourism Leadership Group and a board member of the Association of Visitor Attractions of Scotland.

Tender Deadline Day

Gentle start to my day at 8.00 reviewing our weekend's social media coverage and emailing a few wee suggestions to our wonderful social media team. Great Facebook coverage of our amazing volunteers during Volunteer week last week and two more 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor. We are still ranked Verdant number 1 and Discovery Number 2 out of all the museums in the city on Trip Advisor and reading the consistently positive reviews from our visitors is always a complete joy and a lovely way to start the week. We have THE most gorgeous, beautifully curated exhibition on at the moment - the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry at Verdant Works - designed by the team who did the Great Tapestry of Scotland - visitors are saying it's even better than the Great Tapestry.

We are also five star rated by Visit Scotland at both sites - the highest rating possible - the team do such a great job - while it's part of my role to keep their constant focus on our culture of exceeding those 5 star standards it's generally pretty easy with a team who are so passionate about our offer.

10 am is our weekly Executive Management Team meeting - a three hour Zoom discussion between 3 of our senior team - the sharing is as usual very wide ranging - from the big strategic to the day to day. Alot of time discussing progress on our hugely exciting £12m major transformation of Discovery Point site. Major discussion also on countering the rather terrifying and very real threats posed to our heritage buildings at Verdant Works by a proposed demolition of the adjoining building at West Ward Works by a company that wants to build student accomodation. Hopefully the proposal won't pass planning as it would breach the city plan in relation to the presumption against more student housing.

The day ends with an email from the lead contact at Tay Cities signalling a further delay - we know it has nothing to do with us but equally that there is little we can do to influence beyond daily pressing for updates - the email dashes any hope we had of tenders being signed off today.

Miraculously though our brilliant architect Ged Young of AIM Design has pulled us from the edge of disaster having negotiated a small extension with both tenderers- a tiny reprieve beyond which it will be impossible to negotiate further - we must keep the pressure on..


Dundee as an Eco-Tourist Destination

Diary appointment through for a practice session on a promotional opportunity to position Dundee and its net zero targets at an international sustainability conference.  I've been invited to represent Dundee wearing both my DHT CEO hat and as Chair of Dundee Tourism Leadership Group.

It's a little known fact that RRS Discovery , as well as being the only surviving ship from the Heroic Age of the Great Adventurers, also performed the world's first scientific research in Antarctica - still used to this day as benchmark data by climate scientists!
Dundee is increasingly making its mark as an eco tourist destination and at Dundee Heritage Trust will be making far more of our unique authentic world heritage - creating a new climate change gallery. Dundee has a vibrant community of partnership organisations across engaged in climate action and the recent attraction of Eden is another fabulous build on that which will further strengthen Dundee's appeal to the growing eco tourism market.

Spend a couple of hours at Discovery Point and speak to all staff on site. Check on visitor numbers, listen in to check-in guest experience, walk the galleries and ship to do quality assurance of the visitor experience. Overhear a family of visitors leaving enthusing to the Front of House team about what an amazing experience they have had - makes it all worthwhile. Chat to a catering colleague about our popular new outside seating area at Discovery Point. Treat myself to cake and coffee and a wee seat in the sun- the seating area is full - we are awaiting new seats - cake is gorgeous and enormous !!

Head to Verdant for another site visit. Chat with volunteers manning the stunning Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. They talk enthusiastically about the work - we are so lucky to have such a highly engaged volunteer team working with us.

Brief a highly engaged board member - our Chair of Friends - on volunteer communications and the measures we have taken to ensure training in and compliance with both COVID regulations and procedures relating to conditions on loans of heritage assets from other museums - we are blessed with so many excellent and hugely capable volunteers and are so lucky to have had 40 more join us during the Diaspora Tapesty

The COVID crisis has hit us doubly hard, and has needed huge fundraising efforts to overcome. But the team are brilliant and hugely resiliant and resourceful - while we had annual costs of over a million for 2020/21 to cover after cost savings and a mamoth fundraising campaign they somehow managed to close the gap

2021/22 though remains a huge challenge - with visitor numbers still averaging less than 50 % of the 2019/20 levels and still with a projected £350k revenue deficit to cover - so we continue to look for both income generation and cost savings where we can - whilst keeping our ongoing commitment to our hugely loyal and highly skilled staff team and to paying all of them at least Real Living Wage.

The Waiting Game

Teams meeting first thing with the TCD finance manager and PMO - explain the dire financial consequences for us as a small self funded charity of still not having a signed Tay Cities Deal contract, despite Joint Committee having signed off on 23rd April on the phase that will create the new Dundee Dome - a brand new visitor attraction for us featuring the stunning Giaia artwork by world leading environmental artist Luke Jeram. Tenders are time limited and we are now running dangerously out of time

Review the Dundee video The Dundee City Council Communications team have pulled together at breakneck speed for the climate change conference - it's excellent! Also speak with Radio Tay to discuss the new arrangement that one of our team have put in place for us re marketing for the Tapestry.

Our Chairman is presenting to Dundee Heritage Friends AGM later today so spend a couple of hours pulling together detailed breifing info for his presentation and in anticipation of Q and A. Friends of Dundee Heritage Trust is a great way to support Dundee Heritage Trust and to meet people with a common interest - excellent programme of talks and member benefits.

Today is a historic day as our £2.5m round 1 bid to NHLF is to be considered by the Scotland Funding panel this afternoon - this will be critial to us delivering on Phase 2 of the project - to address essential conservation works needed to conserve the ship, create our new Climate Change gallery, our critical environmental retrofitting, new temporary exhibition spaces and our stunning river facing cafe/ restaurant and conference and event spaces.

Everything crossed

On tenderhooks all day today for the decision from NHLF on our funding application.

Hear back that my enquiry about Verdant being a venue for the tour of the British Libraries Paddington exhibition has drawn a blank - they are already fully booked with no other Scottish tour venue . We are offered an alternative exihibition for hire but it seems far too expensive and without the Blockbuster appeal that the Paddington show would undoubtedly have had . The search for our next big blockbuster show continues.

Internal dialogue takes place between Operations, Finance and Fundraising teams monitoring of our spend against a large time grant - important that we don't loose hard won funding - especially the £150k towards Phase 1b of our capital project which has to be spent before the end of June.

The delays in the Tay Cities Deal sign off puts us at real risk of losing that funding - earlier dialogue had indicated there would be limited flexibility with funding oikely to be lost if not fully spent - but we have no choice but to flag the delay in our update response to that funder and hope they might be able to provide us with some flexibility given the circumstances.

Call NHLF late afternoon and am told not to worry - no communication has gone to bidders yet and not to read anything negative - communicate that on to the team.

Evening sees me attend a board meeting for the charity West Ward works - the board remain wholly committed to the West Ward site as the preferred site for the development of the Comic Centre but are pragmatic in realising that back up options need to be explored on the off chance that a planning application for student housing ( which would require the city council to override its strategic presumption against more student accomodation in the city ) is somehow successful

The Chair's Visit to Verdant Works

Reschedule one to one and 6 month review with our new Ops manager this morning - he is still also covering his previous job as education officer and has a big school group booked in today - I signal that he has definitely passed his 6 mth review with flying colours - feedback from his team at all levels has been first class - we can pick up on the detail later - so nice to have school groups back again - the place is beginning to feel back to normal.

I meet our Chair for a tour of Verdant Works at 11. Do several staff and volunteer intros, showing him behind the scenes and the currently underutilised spaces. We discuss longer term strategy and preparation for our board strategy session planned for September. We walk the perimetre of our adjoining neighbour West Ward Works and discuss the very real problems to our visitor experience and risks to our infrastructure if it is allowed by the city council to be demolished for student accomodation

Text from our Heritage and Exhibitions Director on her day off - we have been successful in our Round 1 bid to NHLF for our £2.5m !!!
The most fabulous news!!

I drop a note to update the board and our key funding stakeholders - with all delighted - this is just huge and means it is game on to complete our major £12m project at Discovery Point - with over half the monies now agreed in principle - so just need to raise the match funding !

It's the weekend

A weekend off this week - heading for a short weekend break to the countryside and long walks and a visit to another visitor attraction - always interesting to compare notes. 

Review daily figures on Sunday evening and spot yet another five star review on Trip Adviser praising the quality of both the exhibitions and the contribution of the volunteer guide : ) Nice way to end the week!