Capturing Heritage Open Days: Film diaries from Norwich, 2012

Helping to arrange Heritage Open Days filming in Norwich was one of my September highlights! My task was to produce a feasible route for film maker Guy Natanel. The film locations needed to encapsulate the spirit of Heritage Open Days, whilst being geographically achievable. With 146 events to choose from across Norwich, this proved quite a challenge.

© Norwich HEART - In The Guildhall: interview with Sophie Cabot

After dozens of emails and several phone calls, we managed to pin down a workable schedule for the day. The list was long, encompassing a colourful variety of events to film and organisers to interview; fortunately for Guy, one of our experienced volunteers, Nikki Twyning, was up for being his assistant for the day. Below, she shares her experience......

Nikki: What a privilege! We started the day with a great interview with Sophie Cabot, Engagement Manager at Norwich HEART. She really gave us a sense of the passion and enthusiasm with which Heritage Open Days is run and how much it means to the community. As she and Guy then made their way down to the Guildhall Undercroft, I played my part by guarding the door to ensure we three didn’t get locked in. I didn’t know then that this was going to be the easiest part of the day.

I took Guy across the Market Place, in front of the City Hall, towards the Church of St Peter Mancroft. Guy stopped for a few minutes to get some contextual shots of the beautiful city bathed in late summer sun. We arrived at the church and made our way up the bell tower to the Ringing Chamber. A tour was underway and the intent visitors were listening to a talk on the intricacies of bell ringing. We had timed it right and we got to see a demonstration by the professionals. Goodness, that looked tough work! I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for the effort each peal takes. Then it was time for the visitors to have a go. Guy managed to get some great shots of a couple of youngsters momentarily leaving the ground as they hung on to the rope for all they were worth.

As we left St Peter Mancroft we were behind schedule but, undaunted, we made our way to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Guy was keen to go up the tower, meanwhile I was wondering when might be a good time to mention my fear of heights. We wound our way, up and up and up. I was just happy that as I carried the tripod in front of me I could keep both elbows touching the walls. Guy was filming our guide as she went up the winding stone staircase and I focused on not letting my ‘jelly legs’ get the better of me or dropping the tripod. We broke out into glorious sunshine with Norwich looking like a sparkling carpet around us. A group of intrepid visitors gamely moved around the pyramid shaped roof and took in the 360˚ view. I clung to the wall and tried to muster my ‘sea legs’. I paused for a moment to take a quick personal snapshot. I needed proof that I’d made it up there. Everyone was in good spirits, talking to each other and enjoying their weekend of fantastic free events.

After a quick lunch to re-energise we took ourselves off to the John Jarrold Print Museum. The whole place was buzzing with visitors and clattering with the sound of various vintage printing machines in action. Guy had commandeered a high, moveable platform to allow him a vantage point to get a terrific overall shot of the event. I took the opportunity to round up some willing volunteers and visitors for some filmed interviews, including Peter Jarrold, former chairman of Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich's oldest family business. Everyone had great tales to tell and many had visited a number of events over the preceding days. There was a real sense of festival in the air.

Time was starting to get the better of us. Luckily our next venue, the Norwich Puppet Theatre, was just around the corner. While Guy got underway with filming, I was on the phone to our contact at the Norfolk African Community Association Allotments. We had been due there nearly 2 hours earlier but they were still happy for us to come along. 

We had an hour. If we were to make Guy's train back to London at 5pm, I knew we didn’t have time to wait for a taxi. While Guy finished up some exterior shots of the Puppet Theatre I ran to my home nearby and picked up my car to take us the 3-4 miles to the allotments. As we drove out of the city centre I couldn’t help but feel it was all getting a bit tense.

I practically shoved Guy out of the car and told him to start filming while I parked. When I arrived at the allotment, beautifully decorated with Heritage Open Days bunting, I saw that Guy was already mid-interview: terrific. I alerted him that we really needed to go in about 10 minutes. Whilst he got on filming, I had a moment’s pause to soak up the tranquillity of the place. I had never visited the allotments before and was astonished how vast they were. People were pottering around calmly tending to their fruit and veg. It all seemed such a contrast to my flurrying down this path and that, clipboard under my arm, forms whipping in the wind. I must have been such an incongruous sight! I could see it was an environment that brought great pleasure to a lot of people in the area.

I chivvied Guy as best I could but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that it felt like we were trying to leave a party of old friends. Eventually we said our good-byes, but not until Guy got one last shot of a prize pumpkin. Laden with camera equipment we dashed across endless allotments and made it back to the car with only 10 minutes to get us to the train station. “How far is it?” Guy asked. “It’s going to be close” I replied.

The frantic car ride to the station took us past some of the venues we’d visited earlier. We agreed it had been a fantastic day. From printing to gardening, from towers to undercrofts, it had really given me a sense of what Heritage Open Days is all about. Everyone we met had been so positive and passionate about the event. All the guides and volunteers had been helpful and made so much possible. The weather had been perfect and so had Norwich. As I left Guy at the train station, I was so proud of my city and so grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of this amazing cultural event.

Maggie & Nikki: We hope you enjoy the short film and that you visit other heritage-related attractions in the UK and beyond. See you again on Heritage Open Days 2013, 12th-15th September!