August: Oxford Open Doors - Your Invitation to Explore the City

August: Oxford Open Doors - Your Invitation to Explore the City

The lamppost banners are up, and last week saw boxfuls of the brochures arrive at the OPT office, ready to be distributed across the City and County, to libraries and community centres, and wherever else we can think of.   With over 75% of visitors last year from Oxford/shire we want to keep it local and are working with the City Council to cover as many places as possible across the city.  Oxford Open Doors is for everyone, the young and the older, on your own, with the family or with friends, you are all invited.  We keep it free so that you can have a great time and get to know something more about your city and its heritage which for us means town and gown, old and new, hidden treasures, stories and the people, and something of the extraordinary research and scientific achievements coming out of this place too.  

Seeing the brochure is a small reminder of the web of administration that goes into agreeing the places and dates, balancing the events across the weekend, liaising with the old timers like Magdalen who support us each year, and working with those less practiced, and who can be a little daunted when they learn of the likely visitor numbers.  In 2018, 30,000 people took in 150,000 visits.  But the OPTs expert team are there to lead them through, to support and persuade with a smile, and we have our amazing team of volunteers too, now nearly 200 strong and who will be out and about over the weekend to offer support.     

Oxford Open Doors has now become well established in the Oxford calendar, and nowadays takes place on the second weekend of September, to fit in with the University and College timetable and coincides with the national Heritage Open Days.  We rely on the financial support of the University to keep it free, and this year have been helped by Oxford Brookes once again, and by generous support from Malmaison who celebrate 25 years of their hotels this year.     

Oxford Open Doors is in its twelfth year. We are grateful to Oxford Brookes History intern, Vincent Camwell, who has been sorting out the accumulated filing dating back to 2007.  It all began with OPT contributing to the ‘Thousand years of Oxfordshire’ celebrations and what was then ‘Opening Doors, Opening Minds’ funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, held in June with twenty-five venues opening ‘offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of some of the city's most fascinating places’.   Looking back at the original leaflet, which in 2019 has almost become a book! The entries reveal places which will be opening this year.  Top of the list has to be All Souls College, who open on the Sunday just as they did then, a silver band playing to add to the atmosphere.   St. John’s, Nuffield, Somerville and Wolfson Colleges and many of the Museums took part then just as they do in 2019.  The town took part too with St Michael’s at the Northgate, the New Theatre and the Town Hall appearing then and now.   The continuing support of the Oxford Bus Company needs mention as they allow us to advertise on their buses every year and help the wonderful Oxfordshire Bus Museum who have been running vintage bus tours since the beginning.   Back then I remember the highlight of Sir Roger Bannister’s Gold Olympic medals being on display, so how exciting that in 2019 the Iffley Road track, where he ran the first sub-four-minute-mile, will open, so why not have a go yourself.   Some of the most heartening entries are those that show what OPT has achieved over the years with the Painted Room seeing around 30 people back then, courtesy of the tenants, and where OPT now have a lease and will see over 2,000 visitors this year.  There was also a walk to the LMS Swingbridge and this year we’ll be opening just prior to the big restoration programme which we have raised the money to do, the Swingbridge now owned by OPT.

2007 was just a year after we had opened Oxford Castle & Prison so we must have been mad to embark on something as ambitious as Oxford Open Doors so soon after.  But we were full of excitement at our new outdoor space in the Castleyard which we’d opened to the public for the first time in 1000 years.  This year Oxford Castle & Prison and the Mound will be opening free throughout the weekend so please come and visit us.  

Oxford is an extraordinary place, and twelve years on it is still able to reveal places and events that have not opened previously.  In 2019 we have the BMW visitor centre for the first time, and Oxford Brookes, who opened Headington Hill Hall in 2007, will this year include their Harcourt Hill Campus. And if you are going, do look out for the little 17th century Conduit House which you’ll pass on the way, once providing water to the Carfax Conduit, now in Nuneham Park which is also opening. We have lots of events around the Covered Market including our own restoration project, and we have family trails here and at the Castle, with a prize for everyone.  And if your interest is new architecture, then don’t miss the Beecroft building in the University’s Science Area, Parks Road, which was just won the RIBA South Building of the Year and an RIBA National Award 2019.

The partnerships forged over the years lay at the core of the weekend’s success and we thank the Oxford Guild of Guides volunteers who are running guided walks on the ‘Made in Oxford’ theme – there’s even a blue plaque walk.  And if you think you know it all then why not have some fun and look out for the Oxford Imps and their alternative Oxford tour, I couldn’t stop laughing.   

In that first year, the majority of people who came said that they had never visited an Oxford College before, so we asked them why they did come, “…because you invited us” they said.  Well, we are inviting you again, it is your weekend and we do look forward to seeing you.