Unlocking even more Scottish treasures during Doors Open Days 2019

It is 30 years since Doors Open Days were first held in Scotland as part of the European City of Culture celebrations.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 2nd August 2019, 12:18 pm
Spectacular views...from Paisley Abbey's tower but visitors have to climb more than 100 steps to enjoy them. However, a virtual video has been created to allow access to all - digitally.
Spectacular views...from Paisley Abbey's tower but visitors have to climb more than 100 steps to enjoy them. However, a virtual video has been created to allow access to all - digitally.

Launched on Monday, this year’s programme aims to celebrate the milestone 30th year with more doors opening than ever before.

The Scottish Civic Trust, which co-ordinates the country’s largest free festival celebrating our heritage and built environment, has also embarked on several pilot projects which, if successful, it hopes to extend across the country in future years.

With doors opening in almost every district in Scotland this September, Doors Open Days – or DOD as it’s known – has come a long way from its foundations in Glasgow and Ayr in 1990.

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Exciting programme for DOD's 30th year was launched on Monday. National co-ordinator Nicola Godsal has announced several pilot projects this year too.

But how did it all start? We spoke to the national DOD co-ordinator Nicola Godsal to find out more.

She said: “John Gerard, the then director of the Scottish Civic Trust, was in the Netherlands and saw a similar event taking place.

“European Heritage Days are held in 47 member states across Europe in September.

“The focus is on free access to buildings that may or may not always be open to the public – so that everyone can take part.

Flagging up...Coastwatch St Monan's Windmill in Fife which received a £60 Back for Good grant for a new flagpole. It was one of 13 projects to receive £11,000 funding to celebrate DOD's 30th anniversary. It will open its doors on September 1.

“John liked what he saw and brought the idea back home with him.

“In 1990, only Glasgow and Ayr took part but more regions have joined in since and now almost every area in Scotland takes part in DOD.”

While it is overseen by the Scottish Civic Trust, area co-ordinators create and manage programmes in each local authority area – from civic trusts to heritage groups.

Nicola said: “We support the co-ordinators, putting together their programmes, and we also host the national website which carries all the information.

“But we couldn’t do it without the tremendous amount of work that local co-ordinators put in and we’d like to thank them all for their efforts in helping DOD celebrate its 30th year.”

This year’s programme, as ever, offers free access to more than 1000 venues across the country in the last weekend of August and every weekend in September.

Each region has its own DOD weekend, giving people the chance not only to visit attractions on their doorstep but further afield too.

Such is its success that more and more venues sign up every year.

“It’s a brilliant scheme,” said Nicola, “because people are inherently nosy and want to find out what goes on behind closed doors!

“It used to be the case that people just looked at the buildings but DOD has moved on to incorporate what goes on inside them.

“We are now focusing more on our cultural, rather than just our built heritage.

“Visitors want to discover stories about people who used to use the buildings.”

Accessibility has always been a cornerstone of DOD and the Scottish Civic Trust is keen to ensure everyone can join in the fun.

With that in mind, it is funding several projects this year to improve access to all who live and visit Scotland.

Its Back for Good grant scheme, administered by the Architectural Heritage Fund and funded by the William Grant Foundation, saw 13 projects across the country receive £11,000.

They ranged from £60 for a new flagpole at Coastwatch St Monan’s Windmill in Fife to £1500 to allow safe access and drone footage at Victoria Road School in Torry.

Other beneficiaries included secret bunkers in Arbroath and Skelmorlie, Auld Kirk in Tayport, Fife Heritage Railway, Burntisland Heritage Trust, the Scottish Lime Centre in Fife, Black Bull Close in Dunbar and Penicuik Estate in Midlothian.

At the end of August, a DOD launch event will also be staged in Govanhill Baths in Glasgow, entitled Blooms With a View.

The baths are currently being brought back to use by a community group which is filling the building with flowers. It will be open by appointment during the first DOD weekend on August 31 and September 1.

And in association with Hostelling Scotland, 30 rooms have been made available for young people and families for free – to enjoy all DOD has to offer.

Nicola said: “We had 120 applications from all over Scotland for our Braw Buildings scheme.

“It was a great response and we’re now notifying those who were successful.

“We’ll be accommodating around 100 people who will be able to discover heritage in other parts of the country.”

And, flying in the face of Brexit, a new booklet is being compiled which celebrates Scotland’s links with Europe.

People will be encouraged to visit the European cities and towns, take pictures at each of the venues and share them on the Trust’s social media sites.

Nicola said: “One of the people featured is Benno Schotz, a famous sculptor who was originally from Estonia but made his home in Scotland and who has works in Glasgow, Dundee and Fife.

“We’re proud to be part of European Heritage Days and it’s a way of celebrating that.”

The Trust is also working with Sculpture Placement to host sculptures in unique venues across the country.

“SculpTours will have its own trail map for people to follow,” said Nicola. “Janie Nicol’s Fake Gold Ring has already been installed in Cumbernauld Shopping Centre and Tom Allan’s Big Wave Vortex at Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Falkirk, which has never taken part in DOD before.

“Other venues will be announced as the trail starts to take shape.”

To close the programme, the Trust will visit Stornoway and Rothesay where permanent artworks created by art workshop participants will be unveiled.

Nicola added: “They will be a lasting legacy of our DOD 30 celebrations.”

The bumper programme was launched on Monday. To find out which buildings are opening near you, visit www.doorsopendays.org.uk.

Access all areas thanks to virtual videos

Not all of us can clamber up stairs or down ladders to enjoy some of Scotland’s treasures. But as accessibility is at the heart of DOD, a project is now underway to ensure everyone can at least enjoy the view.

The Scottish Civic Trust, in partnership with the University of St Andrews, is creating 360 degree virtual tours of venues which are difficult to access, such as Paisley Abbey Tower.

Jennifer Novotny, the Trust’s diverse heritage project officer, said: “The aim is to open up sites for people who may not usually be able to access them.

“At the Paisley Tower, there are more than 100 steps to reach the top so it’s difficult for people with mobility issues to access.

“By having a virtual tour online, everyone can access it and it’s not just for DOD – they will be there permanently for people all over the world to enjoy.”

The Trust is currently working with community groups to identify other virtual tour sites.

If you would like to suggest a venue, please email [email protected]

Jen is also working on two pilot projects this year which it is hoped will be expanded across Scotland, if successful.

Tours in Translation is being piloted at Glasgow City Chambers, with tours in a number of languages.

She is also working with the British Deaf Association to trial some DOD tours in British Sign Language.

Jennifer added: “We want to show that everyone is welcome at Doors Open Days.”