Capturing Connections: People and Places

16 March 2012

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Heritage Open Days in Gloucester. Photography by James Davies.Heritage Open Days in Gloucester. Photography by James Davies.

Fighting flatness

We may all hold a memory of being dragged around an architectural wonder or museum by loved ones, only to leave feeling flat and unable to connect with what we have just seen.

Often grand manor houses or medieval castles can feel irrelevant and distant to us, just spaces where something once happened or someone used to live; nothing to do with our own existence.

Instead of feeling the uniqueness of a place, our experience of it will merge with all the other historic places we have seen.


Every place, every space, every inch of earth holds a story. Some of these stories are preserved in ruined buildings, others run beneath the surface of converted car parks or tower blocks. These stories unite us: they form our history and inform our present.

What is more, every place holds a unique character, an atmosphere enhanced by its architectural design: its corners, textures, sounds and dimensions affect our physical understanding and experience of the place… whether we realise it or not.

Strengthening connections

So, how do we at Heritage Open Days bring awareness to the connections between people and place?

Site specific work can prove particularly effective.  Artists spend time on a site, exploring its corners, researching its histories, developing a movement vocabulary in response to its atmosphere or dimensions. The performance will be a culmination of their discoveries: a direct response to the site itself. The result is transformative. The place is brought to life by the performance; through its delivery performers and audience members form an emotional connection with the place.

Site-specific work by Tin Box at Newman Brothers Coffin Fittings. Photography by Amy Wedderburn.

Examples of past site-specific performances include a project at Newman’s Coffin Fittings by Tin Box.  Artists use the oral and documented history of ex-employees and the atmosphere of the place to inform a piece of theatre about the characters that might have worked there. Tate Modern saw the Michael Clark Company create a piece of dance in response to the architecture of the Turbine Hall.

Stamp Room at Newman Brothers Coffin Fittings. Photography by Amy Wedderburn.

Performance on a shoe-string

There are not always the resources for this work; smaller scale projects can be just as effective.

The Heritage Open Days programme is annually peppered with performances, aimed to engage visitors in sites’ identities. Indeed, what makes Heritage Open Days particularly special is that it encourages a nationwide celebration of uniqueness. Buildings of all shapes, sizes and function open their doors for free, offering a platform for people to share, to explore and to establish connections with the places on their doorstep. To give you a taster, last year:

– Hastings shared its maritime roots by performing sea shanties in the Fishermen’s Museum.

– Canterbury staged an epic Viking festival, complete with a battle, feast, archery and net-making lessons.

– Broadstairs in Kent led their award-winning costumed tours of St Peter’s village, embodying some of the characters that lived there.

– Chawton House offered performances of Regency dances on the lawn.

Living History at work Cantebury. Copyright © Cantebury City Council.

Regency Dancers at Chawton House. Photography by Don Parry.

Get involved

This September 6-9, Heritage Open Days will return with its eclectic mix of buildings, celebrating with vintage vehicles, tea dances and re-enactments.

So, whether you have a place you want to share or a story you need to tell, or whether you just want to experience new ones, why not get involved?


Post by Nicola Graham, Heritage Open Days.

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