Essex Record Office: Hannah Salisbury

Our Heritage Open Days

We open up the Essex Record Office, the county archive for Essex. We store documents, images and sound and video recordings which together tell the story of nearly 1,000 years of Essex history, and make these records available for the public to use and enjoy. 2012 was our first year of taking part in Heritage Open Days and we decided to go big. We ran behind-the-scenes tours, operated a very popular research Helpdesk, created several temporary displays, short films and slideshows, and had a well-known keynote speaker, Dr Nick Barratt, as a focal point in the middle of the day. In 2013 our open day will be the main celebration of our 75th anniversary.

Why we decided to take part

We always want to let more people across the county know that we are here, and encourage them to come and use our records. People can find archives a daunting place to visit, or feel that they need to have a particular research mission before visiting; unlike in a museum, you can’t just wander in and look at what’s on display, you have to order individual items that are kept in storage. This was an opportunity for people to come and visit just to have a look around, if they were interested in the archive but didn’t have a particular research question in mind.

How Heritage Open Days made a difference

It was a voyage of discovery for all of us involved! We got a great buzz of positivity out of it, from the press coverage to having nearly 300 visitors on the day, despite it being a hot and sunny Saturday at the end of a rainy summer. We made some great links with people in press and radio as part of promoting the event, and more people across the county now know that we are here.

Favourite Heritage Open Days moment

Probably sifting through the evaluation forms while unwinding with a cup of tea after the event, and reading all the nice things visitors had said about the day.

Advice to first-time participants

Plan ahead! We started planning details of our open day in May, and had a very busy summer getting everything done in time. Whether you go big or small, being organised in advance will make it as easy as possible on the day. And keep smiling! It can be hard work, but when your site is full of people enjoying what you have to offer it’s completely worth it.