Creating remarkable visitor experiences across the cultural sector

British Sign Language or Subtitles for D/deaf access?

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With this Saturday 12th March being Disabled Access Day 2016, we thought we’d answer a common question – why a D/deaf person would need BSL and/or subtitles? 

The answer is it depends on the D/deaf person’s first or preferred language.

// You might also be wondering what’s with the capital/lower case spelling of ‘D/deaf’? The term D/deaf is used to describe people who are Deaf (British Sign Language users who consider themselves part of the Deaf community) and deaf (who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lip-read and/or use hearing aids). //

Big ‘D’ Deaf people overwhelmingly use BSL as their first or preferred language so we provide BSL signers/interpreters on our multimedia tours, whereas a small ‘d’ deaf person will most likely have English as their first language and therefore prefers reading English subtitles as they may not even use sign language.

We encourage Museums to review their accessibility for D/deaf visitors, particularly of audio and visual materials which are often a significant part of exhibitions and methods of interpretation. Having text descriptions doesn’t necessarily mean content is accessible to all D/deaf people either as they may not understand written English that well so incorporating BSL is a really important mission.

Many Museums put on BSL tours on ’special’ days, and although this is a positive thing – it isn’t a truly ‘inclusive’ approach, what happens when a D/deaf person wants to visit on the day the BSL tours aren’t on (which let’s be honest is the majority of days)? Our clients address that issue by providing BSL signers and subtitles of tours on our visitor multimedia guides and apps, which are available everyday – what an inclusive welcome for D/deaf visitors!

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St Paul's Cathedral BSL Guide


Highclere Castle – the ‘real’ Downton Abbey app launches

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Highclere Castle is one of England’s most beautiful Victorian Castles, home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and the real-life location of TV’s Downton Abbey.

Narrated by Jim Carter who plays Carson the Butler in Downton Abbey, this app allows you to explore the history of the Castle, its rooms and treasures and to discover what it’s like to live and work there.

ATS developed the content including script writing, audio and film production and the app design and development. The app includes:

  • 360° photography of the Castle’s interiors.
  • Exclusive video interviews with Lord and Lady Carnarvon about life at the Highclere.
  • A chance to meet Highclere’s chef and butler and find out what it’s like to have dinner at Highclere.
  • Behind the scenes footage of Highclere’s collections including paintings, furniture and a desk that once belong to Napoleon Bonaparte all introduced by Lord and Lady Carnarvon themselves.
  • The remarkable story of Highclere’s connection with Egypt and Tutankhamun.
  • Family Tree
  • Stunning footage of the gardens and wider estate.

Available now on Google Play and iTunes

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Re-interpreting Eltham Palace wins AHI Award

Published by . Filed under Apps, Audio tour, Family Tours, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

The anticipation of being shortlisted for an AHI award for our work at Eltham Palace finally came to a nail biting end, with this innovative project coming away with the ‘Association for Heritage Interpretation Discover Award’ for the ‘Museums and historic properties/sites’ category.

English Heritage, Brigh3D and ATS Heritage, winners at the AHI Awards

Amidst strong competition, AHI summarised the project and the reason for awarding this project the winner:

Eltham Palace provides visitors with a startling juxtaposition of stylish 1930s design and medieval architecture set in exquisite grounds. Bishops and monarchs dominate the early stories, wealthy industrialists and their high profile friends the latter. Light touch, flexible and stylish interpretation brings the palace and people to life.

Re-Presenting Eltham Palace won this category because:

“Good dwell time and visitor engagement through a good balance of interpretation without compromising rooms. The project exhibits good layered interpretation, good use of media to enhance key messaging, along with clear aims and themes. It is well executed to create new perspectives on an inflexible space, so getting away from a linear visitor flow.”

“Most visitors were using the media guide and a number of families and more elderly couples engaging together with the spaces and interpretation. (trying on clothes, discussing topics of interest). The media tour one of the best we had seen – broken into easy chapters and layered into interesting elements making use of a variety of media (music, film, reminiscence, key objects) appeals to a broader range of people.”

“Diversifying the interpretation offer has also improved the offer to existing core audiences, and provided more opportunity for the family engagement”

This was a project delivered to English Heritage with Edinburgh based Bright3D as designers and ATS Heritage delivering the film and multimedia tour experience. Watch a clip from the tour here.

We are mindful that multimedia content – for any audience – should not be created in isolation. It’s important while we’re being creative that we keep the users in mind and think about the fuller visitor experience. That’s why, when we’re commissioned to create content for a specific audience, we try to find out as much as possible about them and the context in which that product will sit. It’s all about creating joined up visitor experiences.

Tripadvisor is a fantastic way to gauge visitor feedback, with the multimedia guide being cited regularly as an important part of the interpretation.

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ELTHAM PALACE The Entrance Hall

St Paul’s Cathedral launch new multimedia guide for visitors

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Throughout 2015 ATS Heritage has been working with St Paul’s Cathedral in London to create a brand new suite of visitor multimedia guides which launch to the public this week.

Anne Fletcher, Interpretation Consultant at St Paul’s Cathedral explains “St Paul’s had come to the end of its 5 year audio guide contract and was keen to test the market to ensure that its new guide would be able to take advantage of the latest multimedia techniques and of the best creative ideas. ATS Heritage was chosen at the end of a competitive tender process to develop a new range of tours for the cathedral and to staff its provision to visitors.

In selecting a partner we were looking for a company that could help us to develop a large amount of content that would tell our story creatively. We also needed a team that could run the guiding operation (the biggest price inclusive operation in the country) to ensure that every visitor receives a guide and understands quickly how to use it. We have been delighted with the ideas and creative solutions that ATS has given us and their willingness to listen to our requirements, our feedback and our visitors’ opinions. In both the development of content and the staffing of the operation, ATS has demonstrated an excellent understanding of our visitors and their needs and we look forward to working with them to develop both further over the course of the next five years.”

St Paul's Cathedral Visitor looking up

Building on our expertise of interpreting churches and cathedrals in recent years ATS has created a guide that does more than simply show visitors around. We believe passionately in working in creative collaboration with clients, so have spent plenty of time in conversation and planning with the St Paul’s interpretation team to come up with a tour aimed at visitors and their expectations and needs when visiting an historic place of worship.

As part of the tour visitors get to climb to the top of the building to the viewing galleries and descend to the crypt below the nave, looking as aspects of faith and architecture as they go.

The guide is accessible to blind/partially sighted visitors through an audio-described tour and to D/deaf visitors with a subtitled and British Sign Language tour. And given the international appeal of the cathedral, the guide has also been translated into a range of languages.

St Paul’s contract with ATS covers full on-site service for these new guides. In addition to working with the cathedral on creating the content we have also provided the iTouch 5 hardware the guide content is delivered on as well as staffing the operations desk for handing out, charging and returning the guides at the end of the tour.

English Heritage properties explore stories of the Duke of Wellington

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ATS Heritage has joined forces with two English Heritage properties to explore stories about the life of the Duke of Wellington

Audience research conducted by English Heritage in the last few years shows that many members of the public – even those who visit museums and galleries regularly – are not really that aware of the Battle of Waterloo, the forces who fought in it or the historical context in which the battle sat. But the implications of that one battle on the future of Britain and Europe were huge – indeed, it’s been argued that European history wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for the outcome of that conflict in 1815.

jonny wellington

Key to the story from the British side was Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. Using his personal story as a catalyst English Heritage decided to redevelop the visitor offer at three of its sites linked to the man – Apsley House and Wellington Arch in London and Walmer Castle, in Kent.

ATS Heritage were invited to assist English Heritage with the reinterpretation of these properties and our resulting suites of multimedia guides at Apsley House and Walmer Castle are installed and ready for the public to use.

We had to think carefully about both of these projects, matching up English Heritage’s objectives for what they wanted visitors to experience as part of their visit and of a handheld multimedia experience, along with the technical issues of working in hugely important heritage spaces.

At ATS we pride ourselves on using specific and appropriate storytelling techniques for different audiences and historic environments. At Apsley House we help visitors to identify and recognise what they are looking at in each room, but also to understand more about the figure of the Duke of Wellington who lived and worked there. The idea is that visitors are able to understand Apsley House as a home, not as a museum.

Apsley is more than just bricks and mortar though. English Heritage’s collection of artworks, furniture and interior decorations are of world-class importance and the guide draws visitors’ attention to these too.

Meanwhile in the quieter, coastal setting of Walmer Castle we told a more reflective story, explaining to visitors the life and legacy of Wellington in the place where he died. Using first-person accounts, quotations, archival imagery and recorded oral history. Overall it’s a more personal tour, aimed at getting visitors to connect with people, rather than just with bombastic castle architecture.

ATS often has to consider how to tell stories to visitors at sites with multiple layers of history and Walmer was no exception. In this instance, family visitors are taken back into various historical periods by a time-travelling character who uses puzzles and quizzes to collect objects on the tour and build up a fuller picture of the castle’s structure and history.

Both these tours – with options for adults, families, visually impaired visitors and those with first languages other than English – tell stories specific to the sites visitors are in. We don’t create content that could be written in a book or shown on television. We pride ourselves on standing in the shoes of a visitor, often making repeat site visits to truly understand a property, considering what people need to know and using out storytelling expertise to communicate with them directly. We think we’ve created a range of content that targets specific stories at specific audiences in specific historical spaces.


Winchester cathedral

Interpreting a cathedral

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When we’re on a short break, say in a European town or city, there are a few set things we always do – visit a museum, have coffee outside in a public square, shop for souvenirs etc. And something we often find ourselves visiting is the local cathedral. Cathedral buildings are generally impressive and equally intriguing – the sheer scale of architecture, decoration and human ingenuity to get these huge structures built is awe-inspiring.

But the actual visit is often rather similar, isn’t it? Enter at the west end, walk up one side of the nave, behind the altar, peek into a chapel or two and look at the tombs before wandering down the other side and exiting. Tourists who visit cathedrals as part of their trips start to pick up on things that are the same in each visitor experience.



ATS Heritage has worked on interpreting a range of churches and cathedrals over the years and we have spent much of 2015 working with one of the biggest and best in England – St Paul’s in London. As one of iconic London landmark buildings it’s a great project for us to add to our portfolio. (We’re also working on a tour for The Shard, but more on that another time.)

At St Paul’s we wanted to do more than simply show visitors around another cathedral interior, so we spent plenty of time working with the in-house interpretation team to come up with, what we think, is a fresh way of looking at the building. Visitors get to climb to the top of the building to the viewing galleries and descend to the crypt below the nave, looking as aspects of faith and architecture as they go.

The guide launches at St Paul’s Cathedral this September. If you go along and take the tour, do let us know what you think.


ATS continues relationship with National Portrait Gallery

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ATS has won the contract to continue providing audio and multimedia tours at London’s National Portrait Gallery for a further five years. We are delighted to have retained this contract. We see it as a sign that the work we done there over the last few years has impressed the client, but also that we have a strong relationship with them. It’s those personal relationships with heritage organisations that we pride ourselves on. But this doesn’t mean we’ll just continue to offer the same content as before. Over the next few years we will bring fresh, new equipment and functionalities to the NPG, helping their visitors to engage with portraits in new ways. We plan to develop a smartphone app version of our NPG guide, allowing visitors to explore new functions – what that might be we aren’t yet sure, but it could involve image recognition software, augmented reality and Bluetooth beacons. Alongside this development work we will continue to develop regular audio and multimedia content for the NPG’s permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions and explore family-focused tours.    

sargent NPG


We are shortlisted for an award

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ATS and English Heritage are delighted to learn that we have been nominated for the Association for Heritage Interpretation’s 2015 Discover Heritage Awards. Our work on the new multimedia guide at Eltham Palace (London) has been shortlisted in the Museum and Historic Properties/Sites category along with two other projects.

Eltham is a magical property. Not only was it the childhood home of Henry VIII – complete with Tudor hall and moat – in later life it was home to the wealthy Courtauld family who transformed it into one of the finest art deco interiors in the country. At times it feels just like you’re stepping back into the 1930s.

After a £1.7 million re-interpretation project Eltham Palace reopened on 3 April 2015 with five new rooms for visitors to enjoy and a new multimedia guide, provided by ATS Heritage.

We now have to wait and see what the judges think of the work we’ve completed at Eltham and to find out who the eventual winner is, but it’s exciting to be nominated.

What’s great about the AHI Discover Heritage Awards is that they don’t just target the large, expensive projects – all types of heritage interpretation can enter, from a leaflet to a million-pound visitor centre. And to get shortlisted alongside all the other great interpretation out there is an honour.

The winners will be announced in October. We’ll let you know if we win!


Let the Courtaulds’ nephew William show you around…

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Tolpuddle Martyrs app is live!

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The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the 19th century farm labourers transported to Australia for swearing a secret oath, will now be told using 21st century technology.

Trade unionists have launched an audio visual trail in Tolpuddle village, thanks to a HLF grant.

The six Dorset farm workers are celebrated as forefathers of the modern trade union movement.

The tour, using an app for smart phones and tablets, lasts around an hour and allows visitors to experience the Martyrs’ story, including re-enactments of historical scenes, as they stroll through the village.

At various points the tour stops to allow scenes from the story – recreated by members of Equity’s Dorset branch – to be shown via the app.

South West TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley said: “We’re very excited about bringing the Tolpuddle story to life.

“The Martyrs joined a union after consecutive pay cuts – a situation that will resonate with many people today.

“The Martyrs’ tale is one of courage, resistance and, ultimately, success as they won their freedom after a nationwide campaign. Importantly, they also enshrined in law the right to join a trade union.”

The tour starts with Maxine Peake, star of Silk and The Village, declaring: “Looking around at the quiet idyllic village and peaceful countryside, it is hard to imagine that this was once a place of suffering and unrest.

“And that events which took place here in 1834 still intrigue and inspire people today.”

Visitors will be able to stand before the Martyrs’ Tree and view a re-enactment of the farm workers discussing how to resist further pay cuts, and instead of seeing just a plaque marking where the secret oath was taken, people will be able to see a short film of the ceremony.

Visitors can download the tour from the museum or from iTunes and Google Play stores and relive the remarkable tale of defiance that changed workers’ rights forever.

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And they’re off! Brand new update for Grand National tour!

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ATS has just launched a brand new update to its Aintree Grand National app with brand new interface and usability and tons of great new features!


Explore the rich heritage of the worlds most famous horse race and one of the highlights of the sporting calendar with this fantastic new update voiced by racing legend Richard Pitman. Find out about the legendary races, horses and jockeys and test yourselves with our fiendishly difficult quiz.

Follow the links to download the latest update for Apple and Android, and you can save your pennies for the big day because it is free!


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