Oxford Open Doors, created by Oxford Preservation Trust’s director Debbie Dance, launched in 2007 as a small project and has gone on to become incredibly successful over the years. The popular event now attracts more than 35,000 visitors each year.
Event organiser Stephen Dawson, Operation and Development Manager at the Oxford Preservation Trust, explains: ‘Oxford Open Doors feels like the “people’s weekend”, when a local audience can experience a different side of their city by visiting many wonderful places to learn about their history and what goes on inside them.
‘It is an event we organise each year in partnership with the University of Oxford as part of the national Heritage Open Days. It allows us to help share the city’s heritage and culture with a wide audience.
‘We do this by encouraging as many places as possible to open up doors that are usually closed to the public and by offering a range of events, which typically include talks, exhibitions, music – and much more.’
But there was a real risk that the 2020 Oxford Open Doors would have to be cancelled because of social distancing and lockdown. The Open Doors team quickly realised that these extraordinary circumstances meant adopting a very different approach to enable this year’s event to go ahead.
‘We started by looking at the activities that people have continued to be able to do,’ says Stephen. ‘And an obvious one, even at the height of lockdown, was going for a walk.'
‘This year we’re hosting “Oxford Open Doors goes outside”. We are not asking anyone to open any buildings at all. This year’s visitors will be given safe access to outdoor areas and invited to experience great spaces that would normally be gated.’
The theme for this special Oxford Open Doors is ‘Nature’. The hope is that by putting on the event in this adapted way, and encouraging the Oxford community to do something that many have been doing throughout lockdown – going out for a walk – will help give local people a sense of confidence about returning to the city centre.
There has been a great response from all the venues Oxford Open Doors has approached about opening garden spaces, including University and college sites.
‘We are in talks with each individual venue about how best to open their outdoor space safely,’ says Stephen. ‘We’re suggesting that host venues really plan how people can navigate their way safely through the space.
We are striving to design everything to ensure that people can social distance and that we avoid any bottlenecks of visitors.
‘At the moment our plans are to offer self-guided walks along with a programme of virtual events – online talks and experiences.’
But with COVID-19 guidelines changing so quickly, Stephen says there is also a need to remain flexible right up to the event taking place in September.
‘We have also decided not to print brochures this year, to give us the option to be even more flexible. By keeping everything on the website we can update the programme quickly.
‘Oxford Open Doors really is an absolutely amazing project. We all love organising it and are immensely grateful to everyone who participates and opens their doors. We hope that people will feel confident to come along and give it a try this year.’
For your info
Oxford Open Doors 2020 takes place on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September with the theme ‘Nature’.
Find out more on the Oxford Open Doors website.