There and back again - a HODs tale

After months and months of working away to register events for Heritage Open Days (HODs), people often ask me what we, as the national team, do over the weekend and afterwards. Well, here is a quick review of this year’s itinerary for all those who are curious.

© Sarah Holloway - Guildford House Gallery

Last orders

For the first two days of the big event we are office-bound, nervously biting fingernails, keeping everything crossed that the sun is shining (or at least that it's dry) over most of the country. That everything will be going smoothly and everyone, visitors, organisers and volunteers alike, are starting to enjoy themselves. The days are abuzz with last-minute radio interviews, amendments for the web directory and requests for logos. We also keep an eye on Twitter, tweeting highlight suggestions and retweeting your messages. There are still queries from visitors and the first comments are posted on the website!

Off we go!

With the queries settled, our colleagues at Customer Services updated, and all out-of-office messages set, we close up the office on Friday night and head off to sample events across the country. While Nicola went west to Bristol and Katja made her way to Northampton, I headed south to discover a treasure trove of sites and stories in Guildford. The town is one of our traditional hotspots, they have a great programme organised in a partnership between the council, the civic society and the town guides.

After a series of pre-booked tours in Oxford last year, I tried a different approach this time, opting to be guided by the signs and pop into whatever I came across. With bright pink and blue balloons bobbing outside each site, this was made very easy in Guildford and at one point it felt like I was in a game of pinball wizard, coming out of one building on the High Street, only to be instantly bounced on to the next across the road!

At every stop there were welcoming volunteers full of smiles and interesting information. Highlights of my trip were…

Weybourne House – South West Masonic Centre
A fascinating tour, taking in rehearsal rooms, bar, riverside terrace, and the intriguing temple itself. The masons were incredibly open and informative, explaining the reasons behind some of their mysterious customs and symbols (e.g. I learnt that they roll up trouser legs to show they are not slaves and have no shackle marks).

Angel Hotel
I was wary of walking into the hotel as a sightseer, but actually it was great. Balloons waved in the breeze outside and inside a lovely volunteer stood ready to welcome and direct. The staff there had no qualms about people wandering around to explore, and it served as a recommendation to stay at the place in the future!

Guildford House
What I thought would be a quick stop at the TIC ended up being a fascinating chance to view practically the whole house from top to bottom, including the attics with their sloping floors. Art work by Jill Flower and Rozanne Hawksley provided added interest to the rooms.

The County Club
As well as having the chance to wander round this beautiful building with its hidden courtyard, volunteers and an information sheet provided details of the club’s history such as the steward who gassed himself in his office after being given notice for ‘intemperance’ and may still haunt the site today!

Jellicoe Roof Garden
Who knew that a sky garden awaited at the top of the House of Fraser? A beautiful spot with glorious views. And the gardener was there in her waders to tell us about the planting, problems with blanket weed and a leak flooding the furniture section downstairs!

Abbot’s Hospital
Definitely one of the busiest places, and no wonder, it is a spectacular site, modelled on a cross between Hampton Court and the Oxford colleges. With a steady rota of guides giving a taste of its history in an excellent tour.

St Mary’s Church And Tower
I arrived here just in time to see a teddy abseiling down the tower, and was pleased to learn full safety precautions had been taken – all teddies were wearing tin foil helmets!

Seeing events like these help us reconnect with the event away from computer screens and telephones, giving it colour and life and inspiring us for next year.

And back again - so what now?

Well, we are back in the office and sifting through all the comments and feedback that are streaming in, both online and on paper. Every comment made, from organiser, volunteer, or visitor helps us see the event through new eyes and shows us how to improve year on year. It’s not too late, please have your say, let us know how your weekend went: visitors can comment directly on the events in the directory or fill in a survey. Organisers can download the feedback form or complete it online through the portal.

I hope you all had fun, a massive THANK YOU to all the organisers and volunteers out there who really made it happen, and here’s to next year!