DCMS blog

Heritage Open Days, vintage posters and a challenge for seaside resorts

John Penrose

by

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

Got any plans for the second weekend in September?


Spot of gardening? Trip to the local DIY superstore to buy some tools and materials that are almost, but not quite, right for the job you probably won’t get round to tackling? How about slumping in front of the telly for The Last Night of the Proms, and taking part in the annual ritual of trying to work out if it’s a glorious reaffirmation of national pride, a jingoistic throw-back, or just a bit of fun and nonsense?

Heritage open Days

Well, if none of those quite get your pulse a-racing, why not become one of the million or so people who take advantage of Heritage Open Days, an absolutely brilliant event being run again this year by English Heritage.
Heritage Open Days logoYou probably know the format: around 4,000 ‘heritage’ properties of all shapes and sizes, many of which are normally closed to the public, throw open their doors to everyone, and do so free of charge. It runs between 9-12 September with equivalent programmes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The idea, of course, is that you can see behind the scenes at a whole host of genuinely fascinating places, very often with guided tours and complementary events thrown in. In fact, one of the especially impressive things about the whole thing is the role that volunteers play in helping to make it happen, so much so that it really does depend on this for its success.
Last year, for example, there were around 35,000 volunteer organisers working across the weekend. That’s a lot of people, and all giving their time and energy just for the pleasure it gives them and the people who come to visit.
Some of those volunteers will be civil servants at the Government Art Collection which is part of my department, and provides artwork for British government buildings all over the world. The staff will be acting as guides for visitors to their HQ near Tottenham Court Road in London and, unsurprisingly, the tours are fully booked for the weekend.
In due course, I’m told, they’ll be supplying a picture for my office to replace the rather adventurous abstracts left behind by the last occupant of the room. I’ve also asked for some posters. Not that iconic photo of Che Guevara that used to gaze – inspiringly – down from so many 1970s student bedroom walls, nor that one of the forgetful girl on the tennis court that was so popular years ago.
No, I’m after some of those stylish classic English travel posters from the first half of the last century which, rather cleverly I think, combine the two halves of my job title – heritage and tourism – in a single (hopefully inexpensive) cultural image. Something like this, perhaps:
Great Western Railway poster

Good news!

More good news, finally, from VisitEngland who have just announced that the number of visits to tourist attractions in England rose by five per cent last year, with historic houses and castles up by 12 per cent.
Interestingly, the figures also show that rural attractions were more popular than seaside ones (increasing by seven per cent and three per cent, respectively). This throws down quite a gauntlet for traditional bucket-and-spade destinations, and one that they’ll be pleased to scoop up, I think.
And I’ve got a feeling that fantastic seaside resorts like Weston-super-Mare, to pick a location entirely at random, with its many and varied attractions, will be giving the countryside a run for its money before too long.