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Ayrshire unveils heritage to world viewers

Patricia Ferguson, the Culture Minister, will be in Dalmellington, East Ayrshire, tomorrow to launch Future Museum, a pound;500,000 web-based archive that will bring the culture and history of south-west Scotland to a world-wide audience.

Initially, about 1,500 images will be available online, but more than 10,000 images from the area's museums and historic sites will be made available over the next two years.

The three-year initiative is led by East Ayrshire Council in collaboration with North and South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway councils. Funding has been provided by the Regional Development Challenge Fund, with the bulk spent on digitising images.

Although designed for a general audience, particularly lifelong learners, the greatest interest so far has come from schools.

Adam Gearey, the arts and museums manager for East Ayrshire and chair of the project's steering group, says: "The website doesn't go live until July 15 but a page has been available where people can register an interest and be emailed information and updates on the project. More schools than we anticipated have already signed up for that."

Unlike Scran, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, which carries digitised images of national collections, Future Museum will not require a subscription and all the images and information can be used for free, says Mr Gearey.

The three main themes are people, industry, and arts and crafts. The multi-layered website will allow readers to delve into those themes to explore the social and cultural history of south-west Scotland, says Mr Gearey.

Museum staff have been trained to write copy for the website, which has taken a Glasgow-based company, Laveron, more than eight months to design.

It will be complemented by a series of exhibitions which will tour museums in the region. An exhibition on mining in the south-west will open at Doon Valley Museum in Dalmellington tomorrow.

Jim O'Neill, chair of community services for East Ayrshire Council, says:

"Future Museum is a wonderful asset for the region and will be a truly excellent resource for both the community and the tourism sector."

Joanne Orr, director of the Scottish Museums Council, says: "The project promises to be a real asset, enabling easier access to regional collections. In addition, the website will promote broader links with tourism initiatives, demonstrating the integral role museums play in the lives of our local communities."

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