Digital Doors Open: Paisley Abbey

At our Accessible Heritage event in Paisley back in December there was a lot of discussion about the role of technology in opening up historic spaces. For example, there was a lot of interest in the work of the Disability Resource Centre’s Movie Makers group and Roar: Connections for Life’s VR on the Doorstep. The Scottish Civic Trust has partnered with the Centre for Archaeology, Technology and Cultural Heritage at the University of St Andrews (Smart History) to provide training and access to equipment to create virtual tours of different sites around Scotland – not just historic spaces and places, but any place of interest that might be difficult to access.


View of Paisley Town Hall through the stonework at the top of the tower of Paisley Abbey.

Top of the Tower

Our first project was working with Paisley Abbey to create a 360-degree view of the town from the top of the Abbey tower. This will be published online as part of the celebrations of the 30th year of Doors Open Days.

In July, an intrepid member of the Smart History team took 360-degree photos of the view from the top of Paisley Abbey Tower, which is accessed by over 190 steps. The Abbey Tower is open for tours during Doors Open Days and is popular, but can’t be opened regularly to the general public. It is completely inaccessible for anyone with reduced mobility.

Workshop: Introduction to creating 360-degree tours

As part of the Digital Doors Open programme, we co-hosted a public workshop on virtual tours with Historical Paisley and Shopmobility, which took place in Shopmobility’s office and was delivered by two members of the Smart History team. We learned about virtual reality, 360-degree photography, and photogrammetry, getting an overview of these different technologies. This included a discussion of how and when to use them to best effect; the different range of equipment available (from mobile phone to expensive top-of-the range cameras); free online software for processing tours; and how to plan a project, from considering the narrative and audience, choosing a platform, and deciding on length of time.


360-degree group selfie in Paisley Abbey.


After lunch we experimented with creating our own 360-degree photographs using the Google Street View app. Then we went to Paisley Abbey to practice 360-degree photos, as well as taking regular images of details inside the abbey, to be used as hotspots in the finished virtual tour. We had a lovely time exploring all parts of the abbey and trying out our new skills as 360-degree photographers.  We were all excited to learn that we could start creating virtual tours using the technology we have to hand – mobile phones and free online software.

What’s next?

We will continue to work with different groups to digitise sites around Scotland throughout the rest of the summer and during Doors Open Days in September. The tours will be published on the Doors Open Days website.