Heritage Open Days in Godalming

Background
In 2019 Heritage Open Days festival celebrated 25 years. It was established originally as England’s part of a Pan European event. The central principle is to offer free access to buildings which are normally closed to the public but now it includes tours and events which bring local history to life. It has grown from a few hundred events at it’s start to over 5,500 in 2019 and has since grown into the country’s largest community heritage festival.

The Heritage Open Days is organised by a dedicated team within the National Trust, with funding support by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. For the last few years the festival has taken place over two weekends in September. Recently the events have had a theme, in 2018 it was ‘Extraordinary Women’, Prominent People in 2019 and for 2020, Hidden Nature has been chosen.

There has been much uncertainty this year and only in the last week has a decision been made nationally that the event will go ahead in some form between 11th and 20th September 2020. At the time of writing no more information is available on the sort of events that might be possible.

Godalming and environs
The Godalming Trust, in consultation with the Town Council, took the decision last month not to proceed with organising an event this year. This was based on the fact that the safety of all participants must be a paramount concern, along with a number of practical difficulties, in particular the need to maintain social distancing in some form for the foreseeable future; the format the weekend might take; and uncertainty as to what properties would be able or happy to open.

This decision has been broadly supported by participants. It also takes a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes work to gather all the information needed which should have started earlier in the year but with neither the date, nor format decided, this was impossible.

Organising Heritage Open Days
This usually starts in January with a quick reminder of the date chosen for the current year and then followed up in late March checking with all venues and event organisers that they are willing to take part. The work then begins on producing text for the printed programme, which is sent out to the participants for checking and submitted to VantagePoint in mid June.

The free-standing printed programme is also worked on during late June. At the same time, the national database is gradually updated with a long list of information, facilities, numbers of tours/events, ticketing arrangements and insurance details, risk assessments etc. Only when all the data are complete can the entry be submitted. All of the entries need to be complete by 1st August.

In early August, when VantagePoint is published, the separate printed programmes are distributed to all the participating venues, along with Tourist Information centres in Farnham, Haslemere and Guildford. Tickets for tours are issued by Godalming Museum in mid-August. Some properties need ‘stewards’, so volunteers are sought to help with this. Usually more than a dozen people are needed.

Finally, in and around Godalming, the festival takes place one weekend in September. Bunting and balloons are evident around the town where properties are open. The town is busy with visitors, particularly The Pepperpot, where people who don’t have tickets are guided to other properties that are freely open.

Over two days you meet people who live locally, but also many who settle on an area for the weekend, taking in the other heritage events in nearby towns, and as it is a European initiative, even some visitors from overseas. On Sunday morning you could be forgiven for thinking the Pied Piper of Hamelin is about as 30-40 people join the town history walk.

On Sunday evening, the balloons and bunting come down, but the work for Heritage Days doesn’t stop there. Everyone who has opened their property, guided a walk or event is thanked and a note of the following year’s proposed dates included.

There is feedback to send to the National Trust Heritage Open Days organisers and then a few months’ break before it all sets off again. If you would like to help in any way or open your property in 2021, The Godalming Trust would like to hear from you: email info@thegodalmingtrust.org.uk.

Although there is no formal programme in and around Godalming in 2020, if anything is arranged (perhaps a virtual tour) details will be put on the national website www.heritageopendays.org.uk and The Godalming Trust website www.thegodalmingtrust.org.uk.

However, with the theme of Hidden Nature this year, why don’t you explore one or more of the many green spaces in and surrounding the town and see what you can see? Perhaps a flash of blue of a kingfisher by the river, plants and insects on the Lammas Lands, Phillips Memorial Park or Broadwater Park and lake. Or why not go a little further afield to our local commons in Elstead, Milford, Thursley and Witley, or visit Hydon’s Ball, where there is a memorial to Octavia Hill, one of the original founders of the National Trust.

We are so lucky to have nature so close to our town. Please enjoy it but be sure to follow Government Guidelines in place at the time. If by chance restrictions are re-imposed and you have a garden, ‘Hidden Nature’ is there too! Pam Talbot

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