We don’t usually have much trouble convincing those that we work with that film makes an attractive addition to any collection’s interpretation. Films are, of course, a widely accepted way of sharing knowledge; moreover, film-making is an effective tool for engaging communities. Layering film or digital media on existing displays can disrupt or complicate interpretation in demonstrably productive ways. And in ways which cultural organisations can readily appreciate. But, until very recently, installing digital media has been expensive, intrusive and relatively crude.

NFC technology in use at the Museum of London, 2018. Image courtesy of Museum of London.

Deploying digital media has, in the past 20 years or so, relied on cumbersome and expensive screen-based installations and/or kiosks. As a relatively young company – formed in 2013 – we’ve been immersed from the beginning in a brave new world of wireless communication technologies. Recent tech advances allow us – as a digital media company – to deliver content directly to visitors through their own devices. No doubt, this is an exciting development. In short: it’s the “internet of things,” (or IOT) you might have heard a little about, but applied to the museum and heritage sector.

Two particular technologies have, more recently, been pitched at the consumer industries as a way to market goods to customers within shops. These developments – in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and Near Field Communication – are slowly becoming part of our lives. Anyone who has used Apple Pay to buy their groceries has used NFC, for instance. As a way of delivering digital content into museums, galleries and heritage organisations, we think BLE and NFC have a bright future.

Both BLE and NFC deliver roughly the same end result – a link between an organisation’s physical and virtual sites. Subtle differences between the technologies suggest different pros and cons for different organisations. To help you think through using this tech, the following table will help.



What is it?

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons transmit signals that are picked up by BLE-enabled mobile devices.

What is it?

Near Field Communication tags transmit signals that are picked up by NFC-enabled smartphones.

Bluetooth is almost universally included in mobile devices, including tablets and laptops

Less universal, though most recent smartphones are NFC-capable.

Matchbox size

Postage stamp size and thickness

A range of 0-75 meters

A range of c. 4cm. A user needs to be very close to transmit signal (i.e., a tap).

User experience

BLE beacons constantly transmit a signal which can be apprehended by multiple users. Working with either a bespoke app or urls, the signal prompts “events” on a user’s device.

The range of distances makes beacons applicable to a variety of museum tasks: e.g. a long range beacons (c. 5M) might inform users that they are in a specific location

Alternatively, a shorter range beacons (c.<1M) might alert users to a specific object.

Working together, these two beacons would inform a user that they were in a specific location looking at a particular object.

User experience

A visitor observes a NFC tag with a physical call to action – typically a label with the instruction to “tap here.”

The NFC tags transmit their message to an NFC-enabled phone when the device is c.4cm from the tag.

The tag’s message is usually url-based, taking users to external website.

Passive use

Users passively receive notifications delivered by BLE beacons in an installation.

Active use

Users control their response – including timing and level of engagement – based on a call to action.


Distance (far, medium, near) can be measured by users’ phones to BLE beacons – enabling, for instance, guided tours through app development.


User must interact in order for NFC tag to work. Therefore no real location services.


BLE beacons are very secure. They only transmit one way. Also url-based signals will only work with secure urls.


Secure and insecure urls are permitted.


Requires battery replacement every 2-5 years


No energy required.

User data privacy

Potential for app to trace visitors movement around space regardless of direct interaction.

User data privacy

Users must engage with tags in order for any tracking to take place.

Other metrics

BLE beacons can be configured to measure and report movement, humidity and temperature, thereby providing useful metrics for museums, galleries and heritage spaces

No other metrics


Beacons can be bought for c.£20


<£1 per tag unit

This isn’t an exhaustive list but it may be useful to sketch out how these, seemingly similar, techs differ and, subsequently, how the specific needs of different organisation might determine the use of one tech or another. The commissioning of a guided tour app would suggest a BLE beacon installation, for instance; a new interpretation scheme involving digital media linked to physical assets, however, could be delivered simply and cost-effectively with NFC tags. Though most commissioned installations would probably require a mixture of technologies working together.

Despite the widely heralded “internet of things” a couple of years ago, these technologies are still relatively rare and I wonder why that is? It could be that a killer application of the tech is still to be discovered. For us at Belle Vue both BLE and NFC offer the ability to develop interpretation that doesn’t rely on costly hardware – screens etc – and that makes the technology really interesting and very cost effective in comparison to the kiosk hardware of yesterday.

We’d be really interested to hear how organisations have deployed these technologies and challenges and opportunities. Please contact us if you want more information about our work with BLE and NFC.

Doctor Who and the Case of the Surprisingly Engaging Archive

Museums, galleries, and heritage spaces are fantastically adept at sharing their collections with visitors and audiences; our sector’s professionals will make use of every angle to spark interest and curiosity in displays. Everyone, however, has stories of the frustrated visitor and enthusiast who wants to see what isn’t on display as well as what is.

In our work we’ve found film to be a fantastic way of showing visitors and interested audiences what goes on behind the scenes at a museum, gallery, or archive, and to reveal the details of collections which, for whatever reason (often financial, sometimes logistical), aren’t on display or easily accessible. Importantly, this behind the scenes access isn’t just the preserve of Frederick Wiseman and feature documentaries.

A recent project we collaborated on illustrates this point; we think it shows how film can be used to reach audiences well beyond an institution’s doorstep. We were tasked, in 2017, to make a film about the Delia Derbyshire archive at The John Rylands Library in Manchester. The collection consists of papers, objects and recordings (both from her childhood and her work as an electronic music composer at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop).

Derbyshire arranged the original theme music to the BBC’s Dr Who in the 1960s. Given that connection to one of the BBC’s hottest properties, the Ryland’s collection sustains a lot of interest. We decided to use the film to invite the viewer on a behind-the-scenes tour, taking in the archive’s physical structure, and showing what it consists of. As a means to tell more about Delia’s career, the film also informs its viewers how they can access the material themselves at the Library.

One thing other institutions, or museum professionals, may be interested to note about this project is the audience that this film found. In November 2017 the film was picked up and embedded in an article about Delia Derbyshire written by BBC America. Following this the film received considerable attention in the United States and has now been watched more times outside than inside the UK.

As a way of making the archive visible, sharing its contents to new audiences – and, crucially, to audiences who do not currently engage with the Library – we think film was a great choice. We love making this type of film; for us there’s nothing more exciting than filming archive in its natural habitat! Nothing more exciting, that is, apart from fulfilling our company’s mission to help organisations share their collections more widely.

This is the type of film that can really work for an institution, to shed light on material too expensive or fragile to bring out into public; that simply doesn’t fit with existing interpretation strategies; or, like the Delia Derbyshire archive, has a public interest that a medium like film can help to satisfy!

What archive, painting, object, or collection do you have in your collection that could have a surprisingly engaging effect?

Let’s Talk About Preserving LGBTQ+ Heritage

Anniversaries are a great reason to create work around a topic and to kick start a conversation. Though anniversaries can seem arbitrary, contentious, politically motivated, or even all three, they can also be a catalyst for action and, importantly, preserving a legacy. We certainly found this to be the case with our recent film for the Let’s Talk About Sex project for LGBT Foundation, commemorating 30 years of grassroots activism around sexual health and HIV prevention in Manchester.

Let’s Talk About Sex: Four Activist’s Stories, 2018
Gerard Gudgion, Sexual Health Activist

What struck us when we were making the film was how fragile even recent history can be, particularly when the focus is on communities or groups who have been historically marginalised. We found that outside of personal archives and recollections there are few historical traces left that tell the story of the response to the HIV crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. In Manchester, the spaces where significant moments in the history of sexual health activism occurred have nearly all gone, many knocked down or converted. In part, due to the grassroots nature of activism, the papers, records, ephemera, and photos of the period were rarely collected or preserved. And more profoundly, many of the individuals involved in this activism or affected by the HIV crisis are no longer around to share their stories.

For us, this film is a way of helping to preserve and share four people’s experiences and responses to the HIV crisis – both then and now. And whilst the film only touches on some of the fantastic work of these individuals – and, indeed, only a small selection of the 45 oral testimonies collected in the wider project – we felt it needed to make visible the emotions at the heart of their story. It is easy to forget, for those relatively unaffected by the HIV and AIDS crisis, the losses suffered by Manchester’s LGBTQ+ communities.

For an event that occurred recently, and well within living memory, the history of grassroots, sexual health activism was one that demands preserving and this 30th anniversary project was a timely step towards making that happen. As a company we are particularly proud of contributing to this exhibition and helping to share and preserve this heritage.

LGBT Foundation’s Let’s Talk About Sex project documents the stories of people involved and affected by campaigns on sexual health sparked by the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The project has recorded 45 interviews with a diverse range of individuals, including campaigners and activists involved in several grassroots initiatives that made Manchester a pioneer of HIV prevention.
The Heritage Lottery funded project has also curated an exhibition showcasing striking visual materials produced to promote safer sex, an important part of Manchester’s LGBT heritage. The exhibit includes a specially commissioned short film that explores these campaigns through the experiences of several key activists, from the early 1980s up to the present day.

Delia Derbyshire Schools Project

Belle Vue co-produced a creative film with pupils from two Manchester primary schools – Year 5, Medlock Primary and Year 6, St. Augustine’s – that retold the life and times of electronic music pioneer (and originator of the Doctor Who theme), Delia Derbyshire.

The film was made as part of a learning programme with the children and the heritage charity, Delia Derbyshire Day.

We also made another film with Delia Derbyshire Day and the University of Manchester about the Delia Derbyshire archive at John Rylands Library.


Delia Derbyshire at John Rylands Library

We produced an 8 minute film introduction to the Delia Derbyshire collection archived at the John Rylands Library in Manchester as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project for Delia Derbyshire Day. The film tells the story of Derbyshire’s career and highlights new interpretation and engagement with the collection.

A second film for Delia Derbyshire Day will follow the organisation’s latest engagement activities with schools in Manchester.

My Country, A Journey | University of Manchester

We worked with Dr Liam Harte, University of Manchester, on a multi-stranded filmmaking project around his AHRC-funded project, My Country, A Journey: Migration, Creativity and Cultural Identity. This project brought filmmaking activities into the heart of the research: developing workshops with community participants, filming research outputs and creative productions and to investigate levels of engagement through sustained interviews with participants.

The films we produced have provided the project with an appealing and lasting legacy with a reach beyond the university. The films are archived on a project website created by Belle Vue for this purpose:

This project has had demonstrable benefits for researchers, participants and audiences, both non-academic and academic. It has enabled me to evaluate and provide a documentary record of impact at the levels of cultural practice and cultural identity through in-depth interviews with selected workshop participants. This approach allowed more space for critical reflection than other, written forms of evaluation (e.g. questionnaires), and the addition of a digital component helped to capture the embodied responses of participants. Furthermore, the outputs are readily accessible to, and can be understood by, audiences of all levels; this should better facilitate the dissemination of my research findings beyond the academy.

Dr Liam Harte, University of Manchester



CIRCUIT and the Whitworth Young Contemporaries

A four year project to co-produce a dozen short films ranging from 2 minutes to 10 minutes, documenting the creative journeys of the Whitworth Young Contemporaries, a group of 16 to 25 year olds associated with The Whitworth in Manchester.

Throughout the Whitworth’s CIRCUIT project, Belle Vue have been on hand to document the development of the Whitworth Young Contemporaries. Our films show how the group have approached the project and grown as an important voice at the Whitworth.

Circuit was a national programme for 15–25 year olds, led by Tate and funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

All Souls Stories | All Souls, Bolton

We made 25 three minute films about Bolton’s history for a purpose-built exhibition space at All Souls, a new community arts centre in Bolton funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Church Conservation Trust. The films used interviews, events, and archive to tell a diverse range of stories about Bolton’s past and present.

Belle Vue were asked by All Souls Bolton to film stories with members of their local community for a ‘history wall’ in their new landmark building. We met the majority of our collaborators at public events held by us over the summer in Bolton. We asked people to tell us, on camera, how the local area had changed in their lifetimes and to tell us about the places that meant something special to them. We then worked with the community more closely to develop the fascinating stories they wanted to tell!

As well as working with us to film their stories, the All Souls community were also involved in gathering the archive material you can see in the films. They generously shared their personal archives – photographs and objects, for example. We also made use of local and national archives whose historical photographs and film footage were used to bring the stories to life. These personal recollections say something about Bolton’s history and the place of All Souls in the local community over the last century. Here is a selection of the 21 All Souls stories.

Belle Vue stood out from their competitors for their professionalism, enthusiasm and ideas. They were a joy to work with, they went the extra mile at every stage and we couldn’t be more pleased with the engaging, broadcast-quality results.

Testimonial from All Souls Bolton