A three year restoration project gave Hereford Cathedral a special new space to share with visitors, and Heritage Open Days provided the test ground for them to explore different ways to engage audiences with it. 2020 was going to be a spectacular celebration of the project finish until COVID-19 put plans in doubt. Keeping access as a key value though the end result was even more valuable with twin strands offering visitors online and in-person experiences.
Sarah Hollingdale, Activity Officer & Access Ambassador, Hereford Cathedral
Why we take part
HODs is a brilliant opportunity to reach new audiences, and be part of a wider national event, but it’s also a great opportunity to try new things! We have used HODs to try out new trails and activities, without the expectation that everything will become a permanent fixture – some have been things that we’ve continued to offer afterwards, others haven’t been as successful, but you just can’t tell until you try!
What we do for HODs
HODs 2020 was supposed to be the final celebration of the Eastern Cloisters Project, with the project due to finish just a few weeks later. We were going to use HODs to open up our newly renovated Cloisters and showcase all our lovely new resources and activities. However, COVID-19 meant that the project was delayed, and we had no idea whether we would be able to open the Cloisters to visitors at all!
Adapting for 2020
We had to alter our plans, change how events were managed to ensure that the event was still able to run, but in a COVID-secure way. Booking was essential, with numbers limited to 12 in the Cloisters at any one time; the routes of tours and trails were altered to allow better social distancing; and resources were re-developed to allow single-use.
We were aware though that while some people felt comfortable attending events in person, many were still shielding or preferred to participate from home. For us at Hereford Cathedral, accessibility is a priority, so we also produced online versions of all the activities, creating a virtual Cloisters Tour and online versions of the trails on our website and social media channels. This parallel online and at home approach meant that everyone was able to take part.
The difference it's made
HODs always has an impact beyond the day itself. This year, two of the participants on our new trails – the Poetry Trail and Photography Pilgrimage – have since volunteered to guide future runs of the trails. A member of staff from another charity in the city came on our Cloisters Tour and loved it, so asked us to contribute to their volunteer newsletter; fun stories about the Cloisters then went out to 500 volunteers around the city!
For us, HODs 2020 was also a great learning experience, as it was one of the first big public events held under new COVID-19 guidelines. We learnt a lot about how to run events in this new climate, and the wider Hereford Cathedral team have replicated many of the measures put in place for HODs when planning other events.
The final Cloisters Tour was a brilliant way to finish HODs, and there were a lot of smiling faces throughout! The mix of people on those tours just encapsulated what’s so special about HODs and the Eastern Cloisters Project - there were some Hereford Cathedral staff and volunteers with their families, some visitors with personal links to the Cloisters, one visitor whose relative used to live in the Cloisters many centuries ago, and other visitors who had never been to the Cathedral or Cloisters before!
Sarah's Top Tip!
Such a cliché – hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
If we hadn’t been so cautious (pre-booking only, very limited capacity, parallel online activities) we would probably have had to cancel HODs when guidelines changed just a few days before the event. Because we were so well prepared, we were confident that we could run HODs in some format, no matter what!