A new manager has taken charge at Renfrewshire’s museums and says he’s looking forward to telling the story of his home region’s proud past while helping shape a vibrant future.
Neil Ballantyne has started work as museums and collections manager at Renfrewshire Museums Service, part of Renfrewshire Leisure, the charity which runs cultural venues across the region and is responsible for its globally-renowned collections.
He joins at a time of unprecedented investment, with work including the £42m transformation of Paisley Museum – and just weeks after he played a role in helping host world leaders and royalty as part of COP26 in Glasgow.
Dr Ballantyne, who grew up in Houston, said: “It’s exciting.The ambition and vision of Renfrewshire Leisure and Renfrewshire Council really should be commended. I hope to help make it a success.”
He has made the move to Renfrewshire Leisure after 13 years with Glasgow Life as manager of Kelvingrove – a role which saw him part of a team which welcome more than one million visitors a year while overseeing a vast range of high-profile, successful exhibitions and events which latterly also covered the People’s Palace and St Mungo’s Museum.
And he says it’s the chance to use his experience to be part of significant events in Renfrewshire which has attracted him to his new job.
The transformed Paisley Museum is due to open in 2023. It is expected to attract 125,000 visits a year – four-times its pre-overhaul numbers – and generate a £79m economic boost over 30 years. Paisley Museum Re-Imagined is the flagship project of Renfrewshire Council’s £100m regeneration programme in the town.
Dr Ballantyne said: “Working in Glasgow, I heard and saw how the city had regenerated itself through culture. I started to hear people talk about the vision for Paisley in the same way.
“I was obviously aware of Paisley’s City of Culture bid and then heard about the plans for the museum. Colleagues were talking about how Paisley was building its vision by working with the community. That really made me take notice.
“The fact that it’s Paisley was a factor too. I’ve a history with the place. The first toy shop I remember going to was under the railway bridge at Gilmour Street. When I started buying records it was from Stereo One on Moss Street.
“Culture will play a major part in the regeneration of Paisley. It is going to be really interesting to be part of that.”
Dr Ballantyne, 56, whose mum Maisie Ballantyne is well-known as the former school secretary at Houston Primary for 32 years, hopes to use his personal experiences to help further the reach of his home region’s story.
As well as showcasing art, science and natural history collections, the transformed museum will tell the story of Paisley’s pattern, the town’s famous weavers and being at the centre of the global thread-making industry.
“I am really looking forward to having the chance to help Paisley Museum develop and become a place where the people of Renfrewshire feel welcome – and proud. I hope it will not just be a place which tells the fascinating story of our past, but be a major part of our present too,” he added.
“We have internationally-important collections and there are a lot of stories still to be told. I’m learning things all of the time.
“One of the things I hope to do is help to get people from outside Paisley into Paisley. When I was at school in Houston, I don’t remember any trips into Paisley. I would like to see schools coming into the museum as a matter of course.”
Managers at Renfrewshire Leisure have welcomed Dr Ballantyne to his post.
Kirsty Devine, Project Director of Paisley Museum Reimagined, said: “We are delighted to have Neil join the team. He brings the perfect combination of extensive museum sector experience as well as great local knowledge. This undoubtedly will prove invaluable as we develop both a world-class Museum and a community resource at the heart of the town’s regeneration.”
Just weeks ago, Dr Ballantyne’s previous role – as manager of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – saw him part of the team which welcomed world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the venue.
“I had responsibility for the museum team inside the venue for the Heads of State Reception. We had 120 world leaders and four members of the Royal family there,” he explained.
“It was a massive job, with a huge team involved. There were 1,200 police officers outside Kelvingrove that night.
“It was interesting, exciting and a little scary at times – a great event and experience to have had.”
Before embarking on his career in the museums sector, Dr Ballantyne served in the Army for three years from the age of 17, as a tank gunner and driver in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.