Richard Brodie is founder and Chair of The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs, Dumfries & Galloway, which commemorates HM Factory Gretna, the largest munitions factory in the world in the First World War. On Thursday 5 October he will learn if he’s scooped the prestigious ‘Tourism Individual of the Year’ award at the South of Scotland’s first ever dedicated regional Scottish Thistle Awards, being hosted at the Cairndale Hotel in Dumfries by the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. The community-run museum is also shortlisted in the Best Visitor Attraction and Celebrating Thriving Communities categories.
How did it all come about?
I became a district councillor for the Eastriggs area after teaching English at Annan Academy for over 30 years. Representing the town really motivated me to see what we could do to regenerate the area. The idea was about putting Eastriggs on the map in its own right, we wondered what we could do to bring people into the town.
Of course, Gretna gets plenty of attention of its own but people weren’t really aware of Eastriggs’ crucial role in munitions during the First World War. Twelve thousand women, including local people, were recruited to work there mixing the highly volatile ‘devil’s porridge’ paste and it’s a treasure trove of great stories. What we’ve created is a bit like a living archive to commemorate the factory.
How have local people been involved?
The community are pretty proud of The Devil’s Porridge and it’s run by local volunteers, backed up by professional museums staff. Our campaign this year to recruit more volunteers has been a great success, I’m delighted to say. We have 30 active volunteers in our workforce and the numbers are back up to pre-Covid levels now.
You’ve won and been shortlisted for numerous awards over the years – did you expect the museum to be as successful as it is?
About 27 years ago we got money from the District Regional Council for a feasibility study. The consultant told us it would never be sustainable – we just ignored them and said, “We will do it ourselves”. My advice is, don’t be put off by consultants!
What’s the secret?
It’s about building a great team up, having a common objective and working hard at it. Make sure you keep the team together and keep innovating all the time. For example, we’re creating a new interactive hologram exhibit, working with a local film company and young people interested in drama. And we’re collaborating with the community and our local schools on a climate change project, which is great for raising awareness.
How do you feel about being up for three regional Scottish Thistle Awards?
Well, I’ve put a lot of time into The Devil’s Porridge Museum and community tourism so it feels really good to get nominated. It’s definitely a team thing, though, that’s our core strength.
Have you inspired others to follow your lead?
We do quite often welcome community tourism projects from around the surrounding areas – like Lockerbie Old School and Biggar Museum – to see what we’re doing and it’s good to share ideas and help others get their own things off the ground.
What advice do you give them?
I tell them to get their idea and look at how they can develop it, emphasising that they’ll need a lot of support. We didn’t know anything about setting up a museum before we did it.
Any funny tales to tell?
We were once contacted by an academic from China who wanted to come and visit the museum as part of his research. When he turned up, he was pretty baffled – it transpired he was a ‘cerealologist’, he thought the museum was about the kind of porridge you have for breakfast! He ended up really enjoying his visit, though, so it all worked out well.