19 Dec 2019
by Mary-Anne Edwards, Kate Hebditch

Many people lining a street in a town centre, dancing the Hokey Cokey.
Closing the High Street brought people out on to the streets for events including a hokey-cokey outside Tom Brown's pub! (© Dorsetbays)

Why we take part

HODs was a vehicle for the town to work together in a fun and creative way.  It was an opportunity for individual organisations to try something different without the fear of failure, enabling us to test ideas and demonstrate the power of partnership working and heritage.  

What we do for HODs

We closed Dorchester High Street to traffic for the day and worked in partnership with 16 organisations to run a free programme of events including:

  • Activities: Street artist, bell-ringing, ghost stories
  • Talks: building restoration, Dorchester’s tunnels and historic postcards of the town
  • Town tours: Roman heritage and High Street architecture
  • Building tours: Prison, Council chamber and civic history tours
  • Free entry to museums, including Shire Hall and the Keep Military Museum (with its rooftop views)
A collage of three images, showing children, adults and even those on mobility scooters drawing with chalk, sometimes on with long sticks on the road.
Community street art: Long sticks helped more people complete artist, Sarah Hough's People Power banner outside the Shire Hall. (© Dorsetbays)

Best bit

It may sound cheesy but the collective experience was our favourite moment.  The whole town came together to enjoy their heritage. Those that volunteered on the day shared their own passions and those that attended appreciated the experience.  It was a true demonstration of community engagement.

The difference it's made

In order to ensure a legacy from the event we carried out a full evaluation with practical recommendations for developing future heritage events and heritage tourism. It was very clear that there is a strong appetite in the community for heritage events and a demand for an extended HODs event next year.

It has a wide social and economic impact on the participants and community by:

  • Building confidence within the organisations which took part;
  • Increasing their willingness to take part in future partnership events;
  • Volunteers increased in confidence and worked together across organisations;
  • Businesses reported a positive economic impact.
  • New contacts were made with the Prison and possibly new opportunities for tour businesses.
Looking down from a metal gridded balcony, you can see groups of people on tours in a three storied Victorian prison.
c.3000 people were happy to queue for the chance to see inside the town's historic prison. (© Dorsetbays)

A surprise hit

The prison, mentioned by Thomas Hardy in The Mayor of Casterbridge and other novels, is in the heart of the town and had been closed for 5 years, pending development for housing. As a local prison it was a large employer and inmates were local. We were taken aback by the number of ex-offenders and ex-staff who queued for hours to show friends and family where they had spent a time either incarcerated or working. Many visitors commented on how interesting they found the insights of the ex-offenders and the ex prison-warders who brought the humanity of the building to life.

Mary-Anne & Kate's top tips!

  • Enjoy it, try something different and have fun!
  • Use the established branding of HOD to market your event.
  • Work together as a community to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • We would definitely recommend building in a creative interpretation element to a heritage theme as this has proved a great success with all ages.

Inspired? Find out more