The most northerly town in England was one of the first pioneers of Heritage Open Days. Its ongoing success as a festival hub is down to the work of many volunteers, working in partnership and willing to try new things. Since 2018 a multi-generational steering group has coordinated the brilliant progamme of events, drawing on its rich history to transform the town for a weekend, helping people see it in a new light.
Siobhan Bankier and Linda Bankier, Berwick Heritage Open Days, Northumberland
Heritage Open Days in Berwick transforms the town every year. We deck the town out with the eye-catching pink HODs bunting, strategically positioned Berwick HODs banners, every lamppost has directional signs to venues and our Berwick HODs booklet is clutched in the hands of numerous people walking about. The whole town is immersed in HODs and visitors and locals both enjoy exploring sites they do not normally get the opportunity to visit or places they walk past all the time but never think to go in.
Why we take part
Siobhan: I love Berwick’s history and I want to share it with people in the town to make them realise how lucky we are to live in a unique place. Too many people in Berwick think it is a boring place to live and that nothing ever happens there. HODs helps to break down this misconception while also breaking down barriers surrounding heritage as a whole, showing that people from all ages and backgrounds can enjoy history.
Linda: Berwick has such an unusual history and isn’t like anywhere else. As the town’s Archivist, I want everyone to appreciate our uniqueness and highlight how the archives can help people find out about this. We do this by putting archive based exhibitions in some venues, leading guided walks and giving talks as part of the overall programme.
What we do for HODs
Berwick Heritage Open Days is a purely volunteer led organisation and we give our free time to organise, coordinate and deliver the event. There are currently nine people on our organising team, ranging in ages from our 20s to mid 80s. We all have different strengths, backgrounds and roles so we have monthly meetings to update each other on our progress, identify new sites and highlight areas we need to work on. During the festival itself the organisers have different degrees of involvement according to our roles, skills and physical abilities. This year we produced a programme of 67 events staffed by 40 of our own volunteers plus the volunteers supplied by certain participating venues.
We try and incorporate something new each year to encourage people to come back. This year, we introduced a couple of new venues and also worked with a small group of young people on a New Wave event. We need to do more to engage younger people with archives and heritage – they are our future audience – and so we have to find innovative ways to do this.
It has been a pleasure to participate in the New Wave programme, giving us the opportunity to create a truly unique event. As an organisation we have learned a lot from the experience.
We worked with a team of four young people who helped us understand how to make heritage accessible to them. We discussed areas of local history they were interested in and how they would like to interact with it, then worked together with them to bring their vision to life. The event they came up with was an interactive tour of an 18th century gaol that looked at the real-life crimes and lives of some of its inhabitants. The group researched these cases in old newspapers and court records then formulated their event around this information. They also filmed a recreation of one of the trials based on primary evidence.
Overall, we are very proud of what we achieved, we successfully worked with young people, produced a sell-out event and fulfilled our aim of 25% of the audience fitting within the target age group. However, most of all we were really impressed by the young people we worked with throughout the process. New Wave inspired us as an organisation and showed us what potential we have. It has given us confidence in what we can achieve and in the future we hope to build on these successes by creating more events that attract this age group.
Working in partnership
Participating in HODs has showed us how crucial it is to be organised and work as a team. It’s so important to discuss ideas with others as a joint effort creates a much better event.
We have a small promotional budget supplied by the Town Council but aside from this we have no other funds. We enjoy close links though with Berwick Record Office, Berwick Civic Society and the Friends of Berwick & District Museum and Archives as well as good relationships with English Heritage, Berwick Preservation Trust and other independent buildings and organisations throughout the town. We’ve also recruited new volunteers this year to man venues. Without their support and enthusiasm we couldn’t run our event.
- People turning out for guided walks despite the awful weather and staying for the whole walk. That was dedication!
- How many people loved our mascot, Bari Bear, and follow him on Instagram. He popped up everywhere and was taken around by a photographer during our main weekend.
Linda and Siobhan's Top Tips!
- Leave yourself enough time to organise the event – it takes longer than you think. You can never start too early!
- Make sure you advertise what you are doing in a variety of ways – social media, posters, banners and leaflets. We produce a booklet listing all our events which people wander round with. It includes a map so that people can easily move around the town.