Camera Obscura and World of Illusions


Camera Obscura and World of Illusions have been operating on their prominent Castlehill site near Edinburgh Castle for exactly 170 years. They first opened to the public in 1853 as Short’s Observatory, Museum of Science and Art.  They aim to deliver an exceptional, world-class experience and for them, the real Living Wage supports in attracting and retaining the high quality of staff required to achieve this.   

In 2022, the business won the regional Best Visitor Attraction Experience in the VisitScotland Thistle Awards.  They have been shortlisted in the regional finals for the same award this year along with applications for the Inclusive Tourism and Innovation in Tourism awards. 

In addition to offering rates of pay in excess of the real Living Wage, they have an attractive package to offer prospective employees, which includes a wide range of benefits, such as free entry into other attractions for their employees, free entry into their attraction for friends and family, a breakfast club with free cereal and baked goods daily, free tea and coffee, a generous gift voucher at Christmas, as well as a bonus which last year was 20% of salary.  Employees also benefit from an extensive Employee Assistance Programme as well as an NHS-approved wellness app for mental health.  

They have been able to offer flexible working when it has been requested as a long-term preference, most recently for the last two employees to return to work following maternity leave. They are also happy to permit working from home on an occasional basis to permit employees to carry out training or participate in a professional development activity.  The company offers one additional day’s annual leave to every employee, for every three years they have worked for Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. 

Accreditation Process  

In the early stages of the Covid 19 pandemic, many businesses, especially those in the tourism and hospitality sectors, were making mass redundancies. Camera Obscura’s research on recessions showed them that businesses that retained employees during recessions recovered faster. They worked hard to retain almost all their staff and topped up furlough to 100%.  

Despite being able to retain most frontline staff, Camera Obscura still needed to recruit as restrictions eased. In the latter part of 2021, this was difficult due to nationwide staff shortages. They had not been able to afford their typical annual pay increases and when they compared their rates of pay to both their sector and other sectors, the data indicated their rates were no longer competitive.  

Trading profitably again, they were able to raise pay, ensuring all employees received at least the real Living Wage. This helped resolve recruitment issues and enabled them to continue trading at their longest opening hours ever, making the most of high visitor demand. Their experience is in line with the recent research carried out by Cardiff Business School where 62% of surveyed businesses say becoming an accredited Living Wage employer improved recruitment of employees.  

They found the process of accreditation clear and straightforward and was explained simply in the Employer Guide. They didn’t need to make any changes to become accredited as they had already brought all their directly employed staff above the real Living Wage, and they had no contracted staff.  

“We are delighted that an organisation can calculate how much an individual requires to live and recommend to businesses such as ours, how much would be a fair pay, to allow employees a fair wage for their hard work.” 

Claire Riddoch, Marketing Manager 

The Benefits 

Camera Obscura believes that the real Living Wage can allow all employees, especially younger employees, to afford to live even in an expensive city like Edinburgh, but also to plan for the future with the security of a fair wage. 

“The impact that my employer’s decision to implement the real Living Wage has had on myself at work and in my personal life has been a highly positive one. Coming from a working-class background money has always been something I have worried about but having a real Living Wage has removed the stress of worrying about having enough money to afford life’s essentials. Overall, I am grateful for the position I am in as it has allowed me to focus on studying and creating a bright future for myself.”  

Retail Assistant, Camera Obscura.  

The cost-of-living crisis has been an additional challenge for Camera Obscura which was particularly impacted by the rise in commercial energy costs. However, the business has continued to remain profitable, so it has not affected their commitment to the real Living Wage. 

“In this cost-of-living crisis, we are sure that the benefit of having a Living Wage employer will be felt even more keenly by employees. While the introduction of a national minimum wage was an important initiative to bring some workers out of relative poverty, it was not calculated in such a way as to reflect the true cost of living.” 

Tony Millar, Manager 

They believe that earning the real Living Wage means their employees will be in a much stronger position to ride out this unprecedented hike in food and fuel costs. Research carried out in September 2022 by the Living Wage Foundation showed that there have been sharp increases in low-paid workers skipping meals regularly for financial reasons (42 per cent) and being unable to heat their homes for financial reasons (32 per cent). Surveyed low-paid workers regarded increased rates of pay as the most important priority for both employers and the government, reinforced by the view that they will have to make further cutbacks if they don’t receive a cost-of-living pay rise. This highlights the critical importance of the real Living Wage as a lifeline to workers. 

“What the real Living Wage means to me is that it has enabled me to pay my tuition fees for my postgraduate degree and still live comfortably and be able to afford luxuries like holidays. Additionally, it has enabled me to live financially independently from my parents without putting any strain on them, as well as being able to save for larger expenses in the future.” 

Retail Assistant, Camera Obscura 

“The real Living Wage means that I can afford more than just the bare necessities but also the small luxuries that allow you to live rather than just survive.” 

Guide, Camera Obscura