24 Nov 2021
by Karen Phimister

A line of stone cottage buildings, one has been turned into a museum. Outside is a HODs open day sign next to the Museum signpost.
Volunteers prepare to welcome visitors for the festival. (© Mechanics Institution Trust)

I co-ordinated the various organisations who were opening their buildings, organised marketing materials and some of the publicity, dealt with Council admin and volunteered over the weekend itself. Each event could not have happened without the enthusiasm and expertise of the local volunteers and staff.

Why we take part

Heritage Open Days engages local people in Swindon’s history and encourages them to take pride in their town and its story.  Historic buildings need people to use them, appreciate them and take care of them. HODs draws people into buildings, engages them in the backstories of the people who built them and ultimately keeps the buildings alive for another generation. The extra beauty of HODs is that it is a national event organised by the National Trust with its own recognisable branding which helps enormously with marketing.

What we do for HODs

This year’s HODs brought together a wide range of organisations, many of them voluntary, to create a really appealing offer for anyone interested in Swindon’s rich history. It was a really positive and collaborative experience with events ranging from railway village tours to a special Edible England display in Lydiard Walled Garden of historic recipes and plants and delicious cream teas at St Mary’s Church.
Four ladies sat on chairs around a clothed table enjoying afternoon tea. Behind them is HODs pink bunting,.
Time for tea! The volunteer team at St Mary's, Lydiard Tregeoze created another fantastic event with an Edible England theme this year.

The difference it makes

Participating this year brought people together that hadn’t necessarily worked together before and helped us all to see that we are part of a collective history and a collective future.  HODs was great for bringing in new volunteers who could support a local activity for the first time in the knowledge that they were participating in a national event.

I really enjoyed my time spent volunteering for HODs, it was fantastic to see Swindon's vast heritage come to life in new ways. The HODs really helped to raise awareness of and impart new knowledge about Swindon's heritage to a wider audience. I'm really looking forward to being involved with the next one!



Favourite moments and visitor response

After the long lockdown it was wonderful to be able to meet people face to face again and to see them enjoying our historic buildings.  There was a real buzz in Emlyn Square in the Railway Village where several buildings were open and a heritage festival had been organised by the Mechanic’s Institution Trust.

One volunteer reported that many of the visitors were unaware that some of the buildings existed, particularly the Railway Village Museum, until they visited for the Heritage Open Days. Some particularly enjoyed the nostalgic value of the Museum, many older visitors could remember their own grandparents living in similar houses.

Some visitors returned multiple times on the day as they said they enjoyed it so much. A few of the visitors had also travelled from places like Gloucester as they’d seen Swindon’s Heritage Open Day advertised online – which is great as it means Swindon’s heritage is becoming more recognised outside of Wiltshire.

An stone archway to a brick building. engraved in the stone above the door reads 'Washing Turkish Baths'.
Visitors could tour this pioneering Victorian health hydro before it begins a multi-million pound refurbishment project. (© Swindon Borough Council)

Karen's top tip!

Start making plans early in the year, especially with writing marketing materials.

Inspired? Find out more