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HODs goes digital

Explore the places and spaces on your doorstep - and further afield

For the first time in its history, England’s largest festival of heritage and culture will feature online events as well as in-person activities. Heritage Open Days (HODs) returns in September, thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Uncovering stories, sites, places and people that traditional history has overlooked or forgotten has always been at the heart of HODs. This year people can experience virtual tours and take part in online discussions as well as visiting historic places and green spaces in person. This means visitors can just as easily explore events across England, as those on their doorsteps.

The introduction of digital events marks a significant shift for HODs and its network of volunteer organisers.

Annie Reilly, Head of Producing at Heritage Open Days, said: “The festival is about connecting people so we can share in the amazing stories of the places, spaces, nature, heritage and history around us. The last few months have shown us how online events can bring us together even when we have to remain apart.”

“For many of our organisers, our encouragement of digital events has meant them thinking differently about their activities and trying technology they haven’t used before. The feedback is very encouraging and we’ve had a sneak peak at some brilliant tours and behind-the-scenes experiences”.

One such organiser is 62-year-old retired teacher, Tim Sunter. He and his fellow volunteers organise HODs events in Brierley Hill near Dudley. This year he is using tools such as Google Street View and artsteps to create virtual tours of local places of worship which highlight points of interest and the stories behind them.

Tim Sunter said: “In January, several local organisations got together to discuss plans for community events for the year. Then along came Covid, which has been frustrating. I looked at some online tours for inspiration and had a go at creating something myself. My first attempt failed but I tried again and with a bit more time and patience I got there.”

Motivated by DAWNS, a recent live-streamed musical experience commissioned by the National Trust in partnership with HODs, Tim is also working on an audio event which will be streamed at sunrise during the festival, as well as a downloadable walking tour.

He said: “When I see what other people have done I get inspired. You don’t need to be a computer whizz kid - nothing we have done entails any coding at all. We have looked at the tools that are out there and played around until we have got to grips with them.

“HODs has been really important for bringing people together, strengthening partnerships and creating stronger networks in our community. What we’re doing this year is going to help us to reach even more people.”