Trimontium Museum


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Scottish Borders Council / Trimontium Trust

Architect or lead designer:

Ray Cherry, Scottish Borders Council

Local Authority Area:

Scottish Borders

Nominating Body:

Trimontium Trust

Project Description

We (Trimontium Trust) are a volunteer-led, volunteer-run charity (SC050613) that seeks to promote a better understanding of Scotland’s deep past, concentrating on the period of the Roman Iron Age. We do this by means of running a small, but nationally respected, independent museum and freely offering our extensive programme of education and outreach, focused on the physical and mental benefits of community archaeology.

We have been in existence for thirty years and our compact museum, on premises gifted from Scottish Borders Council (SBC), had become very tired and was no longer able to tell the story of this exciting period to a modern public. In addition, we had no space for our educational activities or focus for our volunteer body. Over the last decade, our volunteer numbers, drawn from across the Borders area, were also falling as the previous generation became infirm or passed away. To reverse this decline, we formed a project group to revitalise the work of the Trust by redesigning the museum and creating a new multipurpose space – two actions that would provide new energy for a new generation. This was done after a period of local consultation and open events that sought opinions on function and design from the local community.

And so, a two-stage project was conceived to: i) completely refurbish Scotland’s only museum of the Roman Iron Age and ii) to extend the footprint of the museum to include a new purpose-built community archaeology centre – HALO – the Heritage And Landscape Observatory. The project was designed to make better use of the limited museum space within the Victorian Ormiston building and the small patch of land immediately adjacent. We decided to stay at the heart of the community, breathing new life into an existing structure and complimenting it with a contrasting modern structure that would provide much needed educational space and become a focus of our community archaeology projects.

We had very little resource at the outset with which to do this, starting with a project fund of just three thousand pounds. However, after considerable hard work and a number of false starts, we received an initial grant from the Buccleuch Trust and then were awarded a major National Lottery Heritage grant to really get the project going. This allowed us to stepwise increase our core of professional help, with the ultimate appointment of Ray Cherry, from SBC, as chief architect, and Campbell and Co as museum designers. Further grants followed from a number of awards bodies including South of Scotland Enterprise, the Turtleton Trust and many generous individual donors. Of course COVID also intervened but in fact, despite the adversity of multiple lockdowns, our project, thanks in large part to our brilliant design team and builders, hardly missed a beat, with the first part of the project, the renovated museum, opening virtually on time and on budget in April 2022. There followed more energetic fundraising for the HALO building and it too was completed in July 2023 on time and on budget. Part of this success is due to a deliberate attempt to keep supply chains short and wherever possible, use local materials and personnel.

Supporting Statement

From the outset, our project has had a firm community focus with a strong sense of time and place inherent in our core purposes. As a direct result, we have seen a dramatic swelling of our volunteer numbers from a group of less than twenty (barely able to staff front of house with lone workers), to now 115 committed volunteers with an ever more youthful dynamic. Our increasing archaeology programme has grown from strength to strength and we now host regular educational events with attendances in excess of a hundred participants, in person and online. Our museum footfall has also dramatically increased with a quintupling of our numbers from pre-renovation days. And the journey is not over, as we start to explore new ways of engaging new audiences, starting with an immersive 3D experience which should get underway by Easter 2024.

At the heart of this success has been the beautifully redesigned museum which has made best use of a section of an ageing building in the centre of Melrose. The design and build team have approached this sensitively while at the same time realizing that the modern museum-going public demand modern facilities and new techniques of display and story telling. The new structure (HALO), which replaces a very ugly asbestos shed and overgrown drying green, has been cleverly designed to maximise function on a very limited footprint and has been built by Cubby and Co with the latest materials that ensure a quality finish. Full thermal specs make the building snug and it has a fine array of solar cells on the roof to help with electricity costs.

Trimontium’s development has met with resounding support from the local and wider Borders community. As an accolade, the museum won the best visitor award for South of Scotland in Visit Scotland’s coveted Thistle Awards of 2023. And as a concluding testament as to how far our small community-based project has come, the team of volunteers from Trimontium Museum found themselves as runners up in the National Finals for 2023 against the mighty Burrell Museum in Glasgow!