Bath & North East Somerset Council: Lindsey Braidley
Our Heritage Open Days
As part of Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Heritage Services Team we open several historic buildings and work with other independent heritage sites to create a co-ordinated publicity leaflet for the whole District.
We open our off-site museum store, which has large objects from the peculiar treatments patients underwent at Bath’s Spa. It also has old visitor books from the Spa which visitors love browsing. At the Roman Baths we offer ‘Tunnel Tours’, which is a behind the scenes look inside the vaults and stores at the Roman Baths. Local residents find going under streets that they walk on for the rest of the year a fascinating experience.
Why we decided to take part
Our mission statement is “For learning, inspiration and enjoyment”. We occupy some of the finest buildings in the World Heritage Site including several Grade I buildings and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, so Heritage Open Days is a perfect fit for us and an opportunity for bringing people into some of the very special and unusual buildings we manage and care for. For instance, we occupy a house in the King’s Circus, and as houses there cost £3 million pounds not many people have ever been inside one. Most people only ever see them from an open top bus!
Letting people in to see some of our lesser known buildings such as the off-site museum store provides a different kind of opportunity. Not everything in our collections can be displayed but most objects have brilliant stories to tell. Heritage Open Days means open for everyone and the national publicity makes it easier for us to get on the radio and talk to local audiences.
How Heritage Open Days made a difference
Heritage Open Days gives us another opportunity in the year to programme special events, knowing that they will have a publicity boost from the national campaign. It has now become part of an annual cycle in which we try to engage people with their local heritage. The buzz that Heritage Open Days creates means that more people find out about our regular events programme and begin to take part in activities at other times of the year.
We also take part in other national programmes such as Museums at Night and the Festival of British Archaeology. Our experience of working with several sites for Heritage Open Days helps us to plan for those other festivals throughout the year.
Our Councillors like to see us engaging with local people at events like this and often come along and take part themselves. The Mayor, the Cabinet Member and the Council’s Heritage Champion usually attend some of our events and that is important for the public commitment and support they show for enjoying and caring for local heritage.
Favourite Heritage Open Days moments
For several years we have worked with students from the University of Leicester’s MA course in Museum Studies. They help develop some of the Heritage Open Days events we deliver and they staff and look after the sites. This is great because each year they bring new eyes to the buildings and help interpret them in new ways.
As the students are with us for eight weeks over the summer I don’t usually go on holiday until just after Heritage Open Days. In 2011 I went to Bayeux and Caen in Northern France where they were celebrating Les Journees du Patrimoine, the French contribution to the European Heritage Days. I thought I had left Heritage Open Days far behind in Britain but had fallen into the French version! I visited the Memorial de Caen, which is a history museum of WWII. Reception staff explained that as it was Journees du Patrimoine entry was free, but I was able to help with the English translation so that they could more easily explain to visitors from Britain what was happening that weekend.
Advice to first-time participants
Have a go! When you start out, it is great to have the experience of the national team at the end of an email or telephone call and to be able to take advantage of the marketing and publicity tools. You can have your event planned and people in place to look after visitors, but if the publicity isn’t right, then there won’t be any visitors.
Talking to other sites and finding out what they do is very useful too as they will share with you experiences and evaluation. Some sites transform their activities with one change they have picked up from talking to others. For example, a couple of years ago a property we have worked with introduced refreshments and it created a totally different atmosphere. Visitors stayed longer and talked more to the volunteers so there was more engagement!