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Heritage Open Days

01st December 2010

The Council of Europe launched the European Heritage Days in 1991, following the initiative of the French Minister of Culture’s proposal in 1985 to extend France’s ‘Historic Monuments Day’ to the rest of Europe. The prime aim was to awaken public awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and how it both unites and differentiates nationalities by opening the doors of historic buildings and monuments, particularly those usually closed to the public.  To ensure that no-one would be excluded from the benefits of the event a key requirement was that access to all participating properties should be offered free of charge.

At first 11 countries took part in the scheme;  last year there were 49 actively involved, including some well beyond the borders of the European Union.   More than 32,000 sites and properties opened for the benefit of more than 20 million visitors, making the event one of the biggest celebrations of European architecture, culture and heritage. Staged on the second weekend in September, Heritage Open Days thrive on the enthusiasm and expertise of local people, who share their knowledge and memories. 

The Civic Trust established Heritage Open Days (HOD) in England in 1994 and continues to co-ordinate the event annually, in partnership with English Heritage. It was Peter Slade and subsequently John Baylis, both in their role of Chairman of the Guildford Society, who initiated and organised Guildford’s HODs for the first ten years.  Because of their success the event has enlarged and evolved so that now it is primarily financed by Guildford Borough Council but organised in partnership with the Guildford Society and Guildford Tour Guides.  The number and diversity of properties and events that are on offer, has gradually increased to approximately 100, the second highest in the country for towns of a similar size: Norwich being highest. This attracts visitors from considerable distances and last year over 12,000 visits to Guildford’s venues were recorded.   London holds an ‘Open House’ event which runs over two weekends featuring 600 buildings, both old and new.

Information about Britain’s HODs can be obtained at: www.heritageopendays.org.uk  and for European towns at the Council of Europe website: www.ehd.coe.int

Many people have good reason to be proud of contributing to the success of Guildford’s Heritage Open Days in recent years.

In 2009 Guildford ranked jointly fourth out of 741 participating towns and cities - measured by the number of properties and activities available to the public over the weekend. With us were Brighton and Hove (151), Norwich (140), Oxford (117), and Guildford and Gloucester  (91).    Across the UK there were 4100 events in total.  Guildford and the surrounding villages recorded 12,800 visits, but numbers are not noted in many of the churches and some other venues and they would certainly amount to several hundreds more.

Volunteers from several organisations assisted in various capacities over the weekend, of which a significant number were Guildford Society members.  Our thanks are due to them all, and to Meldrum Salter and Edgley for providing sponsorship again.  Heritage Open Days are not about statistics and rankings, but on this occasion the figures justify some Civic pride and will, hopefully, encourage even wider participation in future years

Gillian Cameron

Gillian Cameron is the Society’s main organiser of the Open Day activities and the Executive Committee’s thanks are due to her for the work and enthusiasm she puts into the project.

Posted by: Gillian Cameron