09 Nov 2023
by Jennie Lambert

Two young adults looking through a pink selfie frame in a room decorated with bunting.
(© Jack Herron)

Over the past 14 years I have been involved in running traditional Heritage Open Days events such as guided bus tours, in venue tours and talks for adult visitors to our venues, Washington ‘F’ Pit Museum and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. These events offer visitors a chance to delve deeper into different topics, e.g. for the 2022 festival theme of Astounding Inventions we planned a programme of talks about Sunderland inventors, Joseph Swan and William Mills. 

Why we take part

Heritage Open Days events always have a buzz about them. I really enjoy the festival atmosphere, hanging the pink bunting up and being part of something bigger than our regular programme. I love seeing visitors get excited by the heritage stories on their doorstep that they haven’t encountered before and making new connections with the past.

Heritage Open Days is a nationally recognised festival which helps us to raise the profile of our events locally and regionally and brings new audiences to our venues. Each year comes with a different theme which helps spark ideas about new ways to interpret our collections. This year’s ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ helped us to focus on the art collections and the traditional craft of proggy and next year it will be something different again.

A group of people, standing in a group, holding up hand printed protest panels - with "Community Pride" and "Pride = Power" slogans.
This year Jolly Creative helped participants explore the area's mining history and links to the LGBTQIA+ community. (© Jack Herron)

What we do for HODS

Taking part in the New Wave project this year has been an amazing experience as, for the first time, we have been able to work specifically with young people aged 18 – 25 to see what heritage themes are interesting to them and let them lead the process of planning their own event for themselves and their peers. This process led to the creation of the Proggy Pride Party, a unique new event! 

2023 Event directory description: Are you proud of your heritage? Be proud of who you are and join Celebrate Different to explore TRANS-formative heritage crafts with the WHOLE LGBTQIA+ community and their allies. Explore the hidden crafts of the past including proggy mat-making and its connection to the working-class mining communities of North-East England. Enjoy delicious mocktails and themed snacks, work with local artists, bring old clothing to the swap-meet to enjoy an eco-friendly new wardrobe or cut old clothes up into rags for a new proggy pride flag.


Two women sat at a table crafting - pulling coloured fabric through a hessian cloth.
Working on the proggy Pride flag was fun and also calming for some participants. (© Jack Herron)

The difference it makes

New people

Because of this project we have recruited lots of new members to the Celebrate Different Collective, going from a core of 3 to 13 members at the time of the event. We expect some joined specifically because of their interest in the Proggy Pride Party, but some have already decided they want to stay which is great! 

New perspectives

It has shown us that there is a gap in heritage provision for young adults living in Sunderland. Working with neurodiverse young people and members of the LGBTQIA+ community has made us more aware of their needs and that we should be doing more to support them in our regular programming and venue facilities, e.g. planning more events like this through the year and providing quiet spaces. One of the group suggested that there isn’t a safe space for trans young people to explore their creativity and we have taken this on board and are planning a creative glass-making project on the theme of transformation for our next Bright Lights Youth Arts exhibition in February 2024.

Chalk A board signposting a quiet space, pottery gallery, learning space.
Alongside the fun activities on offer, the group of young organisers ensured there was a quiet space for people if needed. (© Jack Herron)

Best bit

How passionate young people can be about a heritage craft like proggy. The group really related to the recycling and re-using aspect of this traditional craft and that make do and mend activities have real value in the current cost of living and climate crisis. Our group includes neurodiverse young people and they said they enjoyed doing proggy because they like to have something to do with their hands when we are meeting and chatting. They found proggy very mindful and calming.

Jennie's top tips!

I would say make sure you start planning early and be aware of the timeframes and restrictions that your young people are working to, for example they will have busy periods at the end of college and university terms with coursework deadlines and exams and may have to step back from planning. Things will naturally quieten down in July and August because of holidays for your staff and young people but I would recommend keeping going with sessions as having a big gap means you will lose momentum at the most crucial time in the lead up to the event.  

Meet as frequently as you can – we had weekly meetings but didn’t always use the full session for New Wave, we mixed it up with other projects and creative activities. Give yourself a really long lead-in to make sure you have enough time to get everyone on board and engaged before the busy or quiet periods happen.

Mosaic of images of young adults looking through clothes and sewing tools to customise them.
Fashion students helped organise a Swap Meet with clothing customisation at the event. (© Jack Herron)
Handwritten flyer asking 'what do you think?'
"We need to listen to what young people want from heritage events". (© Jack Herron)

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