Localism and Heritage Open Days

Localism does what it says on the tin; it prioritises the local. It supports local production and consumption of goods, local control of government and promotion of local history, local cultures and local identity.

© Ben Goodwin - Selly Manor, Birmingham

Localism is crucial to the success of Heritage Open Days. It encourages local communities to celebrate what’s near and dear to them, their place, their history and culture. It is run by local people, giving up their time to open up venues and putting on activities, and it is their knowledge and enthusiasm that make this national event happen. In the same vein, over 80 percent of those visiting a Heritage Open Days event last year lived locally. Organised by local people for local people, it's localism at its best.

I am very fortunate to be able to live and work in the same area, on the border of Selly Oak and Edgbaston, which are two suburbs just south of Birmingham city centre. During Heritage Open Days, I was stationed at my own place of work, the University of Birmingham-based Barber Institute of Fine Arts and was delighted by the amount of new visitors who came to view our stunning collection. However, on Saturday afternoon, I had a spare few hours to myself and decided to use that time to explore venues on my own doorstep that had opened as part of Heritage Open Days.

Discovering what’s on my doorstep

My first stop was Selly Manor. The Tudor building is just behind my house and I pass it all the time, often wondering what’s inside and why it was saved from the period. Heritage Open Days gave me the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and I learnt all about its fascinating history. Dating from 1300s, the building was used until the early 20th century when it fell into disrepair. It was around this time that George Cadbury was establishing his model village, Bournville. On hearing that the building was earmarked for demolition, the philanthropist and chocolate maker saved the building and moved it, beam by beam, one mile away from its location into his new village.

Today, the building offers a unique insight into Tudor life and also offers a picturesque setting for weddings and civil partnerships. Its grounds also feature the cruck-framed medieval hall house, Minworth Greaves, thought to be as much as 750 years old!  Furthermore, the staff there are extremely pleasant and helpful and I will definitely return for one of their many tours at some point in the near future.

My next stop was Bournville Friends Meeting House, where I learnt a great deal about the Quakers, who founded the model village. I next made a beeline to the nearby suburb of Moseley, where I glimpsed inside its Masonic Hall. My final stop of the day saw me enjoy a tour around Moseley’s dovecote.

The Moseley Dovecote was built in the 18th century, at a time when young pigeons were eaten as a delicacy – and older birds used in pie dishes. The building stood the test of time and, by 1840, it has been adapted for farm use, with the ground floor converted to two pig sties.

Similar to Selly Oak Manor, it was scheduled for demolition in 1933 but public petitions saved the historical structure. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it underwent restoration work. Today, the Dovecote is looked after by the Moseley Society, whose members volunteer to supervise its opening to the public, including during Heritage Open Days.

The power of knowledge

After a whirlwind tour of my local area, I was invigorated with new knowledge about the people who had lived and shaped the area where I live in times past. In this sense, Heritage Open Days brought me closer to my community than I had ever felt before. I learnt to appreciate the hardships and struggles of livelihoods in times of yore, but also made me feel proud for what had been achieved. It also makes you wonder which buildings that are relatively new in our age will be rediscovered by successive generations during Heritage Open Days of the future.

So, when next year’s Heritage Open Days come round, I suggest you start round the corner from where you live – you never know what you might find!