04 Nov 2020
by Heritage Open Days

As well as giving people opportunities to discover the richness of the heritage around them, HODs this year gave a real boost to local heritage organisations, allowing them to showcase their venues - on-site and virtually - after months of lockdown.


Exeter - 2020

Methods to make a change

To help navigate the challenges and opportunities, we consulted widely to create new guidance, resources, and communication lines.

Staying connected:  

A series of online Community Café sessions connected organisers across the country, providing a space for people to simply check in and chat as well as discuss ideas.

Taking part in the Zoom meeting that HODs organised introduced us to some people in the community that we hadn't met before, and made us see other potential connections.


Sheffield Royal Society of the Blind - 2020

Hand-drawn square sign for Community Cafe, with pink H logo.
Staying safe on site: 

For those able to open up and run events on site there was updated guidance on risk assessments, social distancing tape and a suite of downloadable template COVID-19 posters.

Covid poster listing 3 steps to stay safe on site.
AMAZING! Given the turbulence of this year, we weren't expecting anywhere near the success that we experienced. It wasn't only a great success for the business, but it was a massive morale boost to all those involved.


Powderham Castle - 2020

I thought the whole event was very well organised, innovative and informative. I particularly enjoyed talking to the young people who were both enthusiastic and articulate.



Three people, in a socially distanced fashioned, listening with headphones and looking at artefacts displayed on the theatre stage.
All the carefully COVID distanced tours at Leicester's oldest theatre were fully booked.  (© Rochana Ryan)
Opening up to digital:

To encourage people to explore the possibilities of digital events a Beginner’s Guide was published. This was complemented by our first webinar and a follow up topical cafe session for organisers to hear from and discuss other's experiences.

Front cover of Developing Digital Events Guide.
New online events - Bedfordshire Archive's 'Rat in the Stacks', Wisbech in Minecraft, Ure Museum talks, Hooton Park Hangars.
This year has been a real learning curve and it really took us out of our comfort zone... but in a good way - we have gone from digital novices to natives! We've learnt skills which will be invaluable in the future.


Leeds Civic Society - 2020

The difference digital made

The festival flag flew in every region of England, but opening up to digital enabled sites to welcome more people to more places, and visitors to 'travel' much further abroad! 

Going where no-one could go before…
  • Liskeard Railway Station Signal Box, Cornwall – Sited on a busy line, it isn’t safe to open the signal box to visitors but a new film took rail lovers up close to the action, watching as the staff signalled a train through the tracks.
  • The Barn, Essex Historic Military Vehicle Association - For both safety and security reasons this restoration and storage site is off limits to the public. A digital tour gave the group a chance share their work and the stories behind an array of historic vehicles from bikes to tanks.
  • Clock Tower, Royal Holloway, University of London - Not even the curator had been up the ladder before, but videoing a tour for HODs meant we could all climb it for stunning views and fascinating insights into the clock's workings and construction.
Doing things virtually meant we were able to offer experiences we wouldn't have been able to do in person.


Royal Holloway - 2020

A women with short brown hair and white spotted top, examining a bell in an open belfry.
Curator, Laura MacCullough saw Old Tom, the bell atop the Clock Tower for the first time on a special hidden spaces tour. (© Royal Holloway)
Reaching more people…
  • 575 Wandsworth Road – This remarkable town house is only open by pre-booked tours, limited to groups of no more than 6 due to the confined space and conservation concerns. A trial of interactive online tours over the festival tripled the number for each session and enabled a visitor in America to join in!
  • Underground Passages, Exeter – These 14th century tunnels are a tight squeeze but a high speed video walk through meant masses of us could take a peak beneath the city streets!
  • Hands across the Ocean -  The Old Meeting House in Mansfield crossed the Atlantic to link up with the Congregational Church in Mansfield, Massachusetts to live stream a series of talks.
Very narrow stone brick passage.
Online events meant more people could 'visit' more places across the country like these passages in Exeter. (Exeter City Council)

A big thank you

Many thanks to all who participated and made the festival possible this year, in the face of challenging change you made it more special than ever. Whether by attending, or planning and promoting; by providing funding or advice or indeed the all important supplies of tea and cake! THANK YOU and see you next year!

It gave us a real boost in dealing with life in the pandemic.



Save the date! HODs will be back next year: 10-19 September

New digital resources were available for local organisers like this video end credit slide.

Find out more

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