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Spotlight on: Diversity at Doors Open Days

By Jennifer Novotny, Diverse Heritage Project Officer

Increasing access to local sites and cultural events is at the heart of Doors Open Days. All of the venues that participate in the festival open up for free, thereby encouraging visits from those who may not otherwise attend. for example, one Doors Open Days visitor has reached out to Doors Open Days HQ to express that they feel that “Doors Open Days is a brilliant idea and helps people on tight budgets to enjoy places and events”.

We at the Scottish Civic Trust, the organisation that handles the national coordination of Doors Open Days, are delighted with this feedback and are committed to making Doors Open Days even more inclusive. In 2018, we worked with other partners in the heritage sector on the Sharing Stories project, which looks at how we can all work towards increasing minority ethnic participation in local heritage. We are currently conducting a follow-on project with European Heritage Days partners: We Are Culture.

As part of Sharing Stories we started working closely with the Glendale Women’s Café, a multicultural community group in the Pollokshields neighbourhood of Glasgow’s South Side and the relationship has continued. In April we organised a group visit to the Glasgow School of Art Archives to see material from their excellent textile and jewellery design collections.

A member of the Glendale Women's cafe shows off her Paisley pattern / Kashmir shawl beside one of the design drawings from the Glasgow School of Art Archives

 Some of the women from the cafe outside of the The Whisky Bond, where the Glasgow School of Art Archives are located

The handling session was so popular that we had to split into two groups. The women loved ‘actually seeing and feeling the objects’ and most wished there had been even more time to spend looking at the collections. For the women at the café, it was important to be able to engage with heritage as an organised group. In the past, some of the women experienced racist comments while exploring local culture on their own or with small family groups. Activities also had to be organised during school hours when there were no issues with childcare.

Throughout the summer the women at the café delved into the past even further. We supported a project led by the women to research and interpret the local heritage of the Pollokshields area, with 2 heritage workshops led by a local artist and archivist, and a special guided tour by Niall Murphy from Glasgow City Heritage Trust. The women then produced 7 panels about the neighbourhood, with insightful new information including details about the construction of the Hidden Gardens and the local madrasa. The panels were displayed in the café, which participated in Glasgow’s Doors Open Days Festival for the first time this September, welcoming 38 visitors.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust's Niall Murphy giving a special tour of Pollokshields for members of the Glendale Women's Cafe

A poster exhibition on display during Doors Open Days 2019 on local heritage researched and curated by women from the cafe

Throughout the past year we have also been working with the West of Scotland Regional Equality Centre (WSREC) to reach out to community groups by attending 2 Roots Scotland Conversation Cafés. It was through one of these that we met Glasgow Disability Alliance’s Black and Minority Ethnic group. In partnership with Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, we supported the GDA’s BAME group to visit Kelvin Hall as part of Doors Open Days in September. Glasgow Doors Open Days festival organisers worked with GDA to create a shortlist of accessible venues from the DOD programme. GDA selected Kelvin Hall, who were generously offered a tour and educational workshop at no charge. The Scottish Civic Trust paid for taxis and catering, which eliminated obstacles that would have prevented this group from visiting.

The day started out with a tour of the museum stores, followed by a furniture design activity, lunch and then an object-handling session. Twelve out of 13 participants filled out feedback forms. All respondents enjoyed the day, stating that the activity made them feel ‘good’, ‘relaxed’, ‘confident’, and that they ‘learned new things about the history of Scotland.’ Spaces on the tour were limited, due to restrictions on numbers in the stores, but so many members of the GDA BAME group wanted to attend that a second tour is scheduled for November for those unable to get a place on the original tour.

Making heritage accessible and welcoming to everyone takes more than just opening places for free: in the examples above the Scottish Civic Trust worked with groups face-to-face to design experiences, provide administrative support and fund local travel - whether by hiring a minibus or covering taxis. These are small things, but they make a real difference. We need to think harder about how people hear about events and how we can help alleviate barriers, like travel costs or childcare. At the Scottish Civic Trust the Diverse Heritage project is continuing to work with partners to continually re-think and revise how we deliver projects to make sure that as many people as possible can benefit from our rich shared cultural heritage.

Thanks to our partners at European Heritage Days and Council of Europe for supporting our work to diversify heritage. You can read the full report on the Sharing Stories project here.

If you’d like to get involved in any of our Diverse Heritage activities, please contact Jennifer.novotny@scottishcivictrust.org.uk