Cadw brings castles to life with new digital interpretation app

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Cadw, a Welsh word meaning ‘to keep’ or ‘to protect’, is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service which looks after heritage sites across the country.  They wanted a new Android and iOS app that would take advantage of location and proximity technologies, and give visitors a magical interactive experience when visiting their sites. Primary goals for the app were clean design, simple navigation and bilingual content, so Locly Native was a perfect match for their requirements. The app also had to deliver GPS information for the organisation’s 100+ sites across Wales and enable users to effortlessly interact with nearby physical objects/spaces when visiting a site to learn more about their history.

Locly designed and set-up an online template for the app, which Cadw then used to upload content for the site gazetteer, events section, and other general content pages.  The Locly team also added some custom app elements, including the icon/category navigation screen and location maps. The main features of the app include:

  • Android and iOS tablet and phone, with GPS and iBeacon support
  • Custom app icon and introductory start-up video
  • Fonts and colours to reflect the Cadw brand
  • ‘Nearby Sites’ listing section with 6 custom categories for navigation, sorted by GPS location
  • ‘Sites Map’ section with a clickable map for each category
  • ‘A-Z Listing’ section of all sites
  • ‘Nearby Events’ section, with events sorted by GPS location
  • ‘Visit’ section with general information for Cadw visitors
  • Language selection for English and Welsh.

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Proximity digital interpretation at Beaumaris and Raglan Castles

In addition to the main app sections, which can be seen at all times, Cadw wanted to create a number of ‘hidden’ digital trails which only appear in the app when the visitor is near to a beacon at the site entrance.  For the first version of the app, Cadw developed digital beacon trails for Beaumaris Castle and Raglan Castle.  Special solar powered beacons where carefully (and sympathetically!) installed at both sites by Locly partners GCell (10 in Beaumaris and 30 in Raglan) and Cadw created content for each beacon location using the online CMS.

When visitors arrive at Raglan or Beaumaris Castles a link to the Digital Trails magically appears in the app, which they tap on to begin the tour. As they walk around, new content is revealed in the app when a beacon is nearby. Visitors can then discover interesting historical information for that particular location – it could be an audio file, a video or interactive image.

Cadw Heritage Interpretation Manager Erin Lloyd Jones explains more about the content; “We used both existing and new digital assets to create the trails, which provide fascinating insights into all aspects of castle life, including atmospheric audio narrations given by imaginary castle workers (blacksmith, musician, carpenter) and image interpretations of what the castles may have looked like in their prime. In Beaumaris we were able to ‘pin’ relevant audio files to physical exhibits in the castle and therefore provide interpretation in a new and exciting way, with no need for physical boards.  At Raglan we used the same beacons to deliver a number of different trails, including one for younger visitors. Our overall aim was to enhance the physical with the digital to deliver engaging experiences for visitors of all ages, encouraging them to learn and explore as they walk around”.

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Connectivity can be an issue at some Cadw locations, so the digital trails were made available in ‘data bundles’ which visitors can download by tapping on a link in the ‘Digital Trail’ section of the app before their visit . This section is visible at all times, so it also help to promote the unique experiences! After downloading the bundles, visitors can follow the trails and access all digital content when offline.

Locly Founder Rhys Jones said; “Working with Cadw on this app has been wonderful.  Seeing how the organisation has embraced new technologies to compliment and enhance these ancient sites is fascinating.  Most Cadw visitors have some kind of mobile device in their pocket and now they have the opportunity to consume pertinent digital content for their exact location. The beacons are invisible to them – unlike a digital interpretation board – so with the app in their hand they can be magically transported back in time with digital audio stories, historical narratives and before and after imagery.”

School children help to launch Beaumaris’ Digital Tour

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The Beaumaris digital trail was launched at the castle today (28th June), with children from Beaumaris Primary School invited to try it out!  Pupils listened to the audio stories using Android devices provided by the castle, and interacted with the before and after imagery. Year 4 student Joely Davies said; “The app is great. It’s fun to see what the castle may have looked like if it had been finished. I like listening to the stories and playing with the things on display.”

The Cadw app is now available to download on the App Store and Google Play and more digital trails will be added during 2016.   Erin and her team are continuously using the Locly CMS to update the app, with any new content and/or changes appearing automatically. For more details on creating your own Digital interpretation app, please contact the Locly team.