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Open House a Platform for European Dialogue
Many London buildings to open their doors next weekend
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-09-17 03:56 (KST)   
A conference in Brussels in October will discuss public access to buildings during open days such as in London next weekend. The events happen throughout Europe during September, including most of England last weekend. The conference will concentrate on the theme of "dialogue" and is expected to draw attention to a common heritage.

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European Heritage Days were first discussed in Granada (Spain) during the Second Conference of European Ministers responsible for Architectural Heritage of the Council of Europe. On that occasion, the French minister of culture suggested that the "Monuments Open Doors" initiative launched in France in 1984 should be extended. Several countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Sweden, soon set up similar events.

The European Heritage Forum on "Heritage and Dialogue" is again organized by the Council of Europe and the European Commission. The meeting aims to "position heritage as a means for dialogue." This is in the context of making 2008 the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The issues are outlined in the agenda:

Access to the cultural heritage is an aspect of the right to participate in cultural life, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It entails not only promoting the public's physical access to cultural assets, but also ensuring that the meaning and values they express in our societies are easily understandable.

In a multicultural Europe characterised by exchanges and mobility, the interpretation and explanation of heritage are all the more important given that the aim is to enable everyone to identify with and find their roots in one or more heritages, while at the same time being able to acknowledge and accept the cultures of others.
The meeting will include a presentation on the results of a survey following 20 years of the European Heritage Day in Belgium.

Milling in the library.
©2008 William Pollard
In England there is one weekend known as Heritage Open Days organized by the Civic Trust and English Heritage and another, Open House, just for London. This year I visited one building in Exeter.

Cricklepit Mill was recently renovated by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Exeter seems to be mostly shops and offices but here was a reminder of a manufacturing history. Other places in Europe may be in a similar situation but finding other uses for water power. There have been mills on the Exe since the wool industry was strong in medieval times.

The site of Cricklepit Mill has since been used for flour milling and for animal feeds. Devon Wildlife Trust has been able both to renovate the building as a working watermill and to have an office base for their other work.

There is a wildlife garden and access to displays available most of the year. The grinding of corn only happens on special occasions and visitors can see that this involves creating dust in the middle of what is now the library. It may be possible to arrange a tour at other times of year but actual grinding of corn is likely to be rare.

September is toward the end of the summer and part of the attraction of public access to buildings is the chance to shelter while continuing to walk in the outdoors. In Morecambe they insist on a Celebration of the Seaside as part of the Heritage Open Days in the Lancaster District. This includes a Convocation of Punch and Judy Professors and a rally of historic vehicles driven from Bradford.

This year there was also a display of classic motorbikes in the Winter Gardens, a theater where funds for restoration are still being raised. The recently opened Midland Hotel is a renovated Art Deco building. Earlier this summer they hosted an exhibition on imagined beach huts, suggested by the closeness of the hotel to the water. The Midland Hotel can be visited at any time of year and there is public access to the Rotunda restaurant close to the Stone Jetty.

Model beach hut at Midland Hotel.
©2008 William Pollard
Life size guest beach hut.
©2008 William Pollard
There is still no announced date for the public to be invited to visit the Midland Hotel in St. Pancras, London, close to the new Eurostar terminal. Before renovation this was well supported as part of London Open House. There will be access to the building work for the Olympics but this is now fully booked.

During 2008 there was a celebration of 100 years since the opening of the Rotherhithe Tunnel. This was not widely reported but the ways in which rivers are crossed is significant for many urban spaces.

The Brunel Museum is part of the official Open House program and features displays on the first tunnel under the Thames. The Rotherhithe Tunnel is not far away and is actually open to walkers. Routes could combine the Thames Path both on the north and south though for some reason people tend to stay one side or the other.

Rotherhithe tunnel, plenty of room for walkers.
©2008 Brian Ash
Even if you are visiting London or England at some other time it would be worth studying the information available around these two weekends. Parts of some of the buildings are open most of the time. Also, photographs and video are often available online. Some of this is from the open visits.

For the U.K. there is quite a muddled use of words to describe similar events. In England they are known as "Heritage Open Days" except for London "Open House." In Wales they have "Open Doors Days" and in Scotland they have "Doors Open Days." Only in Northern Ireland is the weekend called "European Heritage Days." Wider use of the European description might encourage more travel and visits, even if just within the U.K.
More photos and other links through the blog on Wi-Fi Exeter.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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