26 Nov 2020
by Glenys Latham

A collage showing the children investigating at St James, a picture of the church and small partially completed puzzle.

Why we take part

Heritage Open Days help you to focus on delivering projects and also to delve into your church’s history and heritage. During the four years we have been involved it has gone from a weekend to ten days because the interest is growing. Your own congregation too start to realise what they have. 

Best bit 

During the first HODs in 2017 we discovered a small slightly battered chalice that started a trail which led to a WWI army chaplain who became the Vicar of Daisy Hill and the discovery of his war diary by the retired priest who led our first Heritage Open Days Sunday service. This chalice was used in 2018 to give Holy Communion on Remembrance Sunday for the centenary of the end of WWI. Without HODs the significance of this chalice would not have been rediscovered and is just one example of lost heritage we are discovering.  

A stained glass window of a Saint, with a dragon immerging from a gold chalice.
HODs uncovered a lost chalice for St James, whilst over HODs the church helps visitors find the dragon in this chalice. (© Bob Latham)

What we do for HODs

Getting started

Participating in the Heritage Open Days Festival has been an ongoing commitment for St James the Great since 2017.  That first year we had a Coffee Concert, and St James School, which is the CofE school connected to the church, was invited to make class visits to learn about the heritage of the church building – the whole school came a year group at at time. 

Developing the offer

The following years we developed presentations and activities. Our East Window is by Morris & Co. and was designed by Edward Burne-Jones in 1898; it’s one of his last designs before his sudden death and it was described as ‘superb’ by Nikolaus Pevsner. So for the second year we rounded up as many binoculars and telescopes as possible and I set up a window viewing point.

Primary school children using telescopes to look closer at the stained glass window showing the dragon in the chalice. Other children are exploring.
Telescopes give people a closer look at that window in search of the dragon. (© Alan Hemmings)
Going for a grant

In 2018 the church was put on the At Risk Register by Historic England because its 85-ft landmark bell turret needed restoration. Bob Latham took the lead and applied for a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant. Based on our experience of Heritage Open Days, Bob put together a package of heritage projects to help get us the grant. We got £70,500 and were going to deliver the main research for the heritage projects this year.

Adapting for 2020

When Covid arrived, we thought we were scuppered but then in June, the Heritage Open Day team decided to go ahead with an online option. As the editor of the church’s A Church Near You (ACNY) web pages, I had started to use that website for communication and I thought I could use it as our online platform. I had also discovered a website called jigsawplanet.com, where, if you join, you can upload a photograph and it makes it into a digital jigsaw. We already had a superb collections of church photos on our computers including detailed photos of the Morris window for the Heritage grant which I could turn those into jigsaws – highlighting the details that you would not normally see. Instead of people using binoculars, this time it was online jigsaws.

A partially completed puzzle, showing the image of of St James Church, bunting and the banner reading 'Heritage open Days'.
Festival fun included puzzles, quizzes, a slideshow tour and digital scrapbooks made from photos of the memorabilia brought to past events

The difference it's made

This year going totally online increased our skills in using technology and will be helpful in the future. The Heritage Open Days team also encouraged us to join Twitter, so I now interact with other organisations and even our Diocese has retweeted us.

We had well over 2,000 extra visits to the church’s page on the ACNY website during the ten Open Days. And we’ve had about 300 to 500 regular visits a week to it throughout the lockdown. In previous years we had a visitors' book and our maximum was 600, of which 200 were probably adults and the rest schoolchildren.

Children watching on as another small boy dressed in green church robes, demonstrates the traditional robes and table of church chalices.
Sharing the church's story with school groups. (© Alan Hemmings)

Glenys's top tip!

Joining HODs is a way of publicising buildings that are significant but might be ignored, but you do have to be prepared to do a little bit more than merely opening the doors and putting the kettle on.

Inspired? Find out more