Old Meeting House Unitarian Chapel
This intriguing 300 year old Meeting House is definitely a hidden gem with a whole lot of heart. The Mansfield Unitarians' enthusiastic planning team has been running a Heritage Open Day since 2013, working in partnership locally (and beyond!) to create a weekend of fun and friendship for all the community.
Vivienne Brown, Mansfield Unitarian Chapel, Nottinghamshire
Why we take part
It is a real highlight in our yearly calendar and we, as a community, gain tremendously in so many ways.
Although our Chapel is in the middle of town, it is tucked away in its own grounds and many local people have never visited. Through Heritage Open Days, we can show we are not just a beautiful historic building with a fascinating story, but we are a lively and welcoming group who are keen to support our town and the groups and charities which make it an interesting place to live.
What we do for HODs
Visit this historic chapel and learn about local customs around food like the Annual Hot Cross Bun distribution started more than one hundred years ago and the Great Gooseberry Pie sent to Mansfield, Massachusettes in the 1920s. (2021 Event directory description)
As a member of a small, but very enthusiastic team, we start our planning soon after Christmas. HODs gives our Chapel the opportunity to open its doors to everyone and the ever-changing yearly theme enables us to highlight different features in the chapel buildings. This year several lively short talks about local customs connected to food took place in the Chapel and were also broadcast via Zoom. After the Gooseberry Pies talk, sixty portions of gooseberry pie, which had been made using an old recipe by congregation members, were given out and enjoyed by the audience!
As well as the talks, in the schoolroom there was a very popular exhibition of kitchen utensils and recipes over time which incorporated a fun quiz. We also ran art and model making activities for youngsters - keeping to the theme of Edible England we made models like 5* insect hotels from sticks which were hung in the trees to encourage wildlife.
During the Saturday, people sat outside at tables in the sunshine to enjoy tea, coffee and cakes whilst on the lawn around lunchtime, our traditional Hot Cross Bun distribution took place again when sixty buns were given out to youngsters and passers-by. This annual feature had also been advertised to attract those who had perhaps queued in years gone by to get their bun and several people came along and told us about their experiences. We heard how one boy, now a doctor, used to ride nearly ten miles on his bike to join the queue because when times were hard, to have a bun to eat yourself was a welcome treat.
Working in partnership
- Our local Sherwood U3A Photography For Fun Group put on a display of varied photos around the “Edible England” theme.
- Not only did the Chapel have display-boards of local interest, there were details about Sherwood Food Bank which received Harvest produce donated by the congregation after our weekend had concluded with a Harvest Service
- As litter from food wrappings is a big problem nationally, Mansfield Rotary Group has initiated a litter clearing project in the area, so one of their members came along to our grounds to chat to passers-by and give out litter-pickers to encourage people to keep their own local area tidy.
The difference it makes
- Throughout our participation of HOD, local politicians like our former MP and different Executive Mayors have always been keen to come and officially open the event as it brings prestige to the town.
- It is a motivating force bringing together our Chapel members to ensure we have sufficient volunteers to cover the opening times and allows them to get to know each other better.
- Over the years we have become more skilled at involving groups in our wider community who come to see their own work on display, so our presence in the area is wider known.
- The varied HODs themes have meant people from near and far have read about the events on the national site and come along, despite few other places opening locally.
After all the restrictions of Lockdown hearing people commenting on our Chapel’s interior with its beautiful stained glass windows and Parliament clock or watching people discover a surprising fact through an illustrated talk or display board made all the effort worthwhile.
It was particularly gratifying to welcome two members of a local heritage group who were unfamiliar with the Chapel, but so enjoyed the first talk about a local mill whose wood was used for our panelling during alterations in the 1890s, they came along to every event over the three days.
Viv's Top Tips!
Start in a small way and try to get others involved because you will all enjoy the experience. If you follow the excellent guidelines on the HOD national site, you will be assured of a successful event and the team at Headquarters are enthusiastic and full of good support if you have any queries.