Heritage Open Days / Kent Churches Ride & Stride / Quaker Week

Canterbury Meeting:
Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days is an international scheme organised by UNESCO, and sponsored in England by the National Trust. Each year, members of the public are given free access to buildings or events to which access may be restricted or unusual.  In 2016, 58 Quaker Meetings participated in the national event that is Heritage Open Days, drawing many people into their first knowing contact with Quakers, and many newcomers into Friends Meeting Houses. Knowing this, and sensing an opportunity, Canterbury Meeting decided to get involved.

In 1991 the Council of Europe and the European Commission set up European Heritage Days to raise appreciation for Europe’s rich and diverse cultural assets and their need for care and protection. The central principle was as simple as it was compelling: to throw open the doors to historic monuments and buildings, in particular those normally closed to the public. Today, they are held annually in September in 50 signatory states to the European Cultural Convention. Each country running it in their own way, the festival not only highlights the dazzling diversity of Europe’s heritage, but also its intercultural links. Established in 1994, Heritage Open Days is England’s contribution to the European Heritage Days and has since grown into the country’s largest heritage festival, with over 5,000 events listed. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland host similar events.

In 2017, the Heritage Open Days ran from Thursday 7 September to Sunday 10 September. In 2018, the Heritage Open Days ran from Thursday 6 September to Sunday 9 September, and also from Thursday 13 September to Sunday 19 September.  In 2019, the Heritage Open Days ran from Friday 13 September to Sunday 22 September.

Quaker Week is an opportunity to witness and share our worship across the community, in our case: Canterbury and its surrounding towns and villages. Meetings, with or without Meeting Houses, throughout the Yearly Meeting, host outreach events such as ‘open days’, ‘family days’, a stall at a local festival, and ‘bring a friend to Meeting’ Sundays.
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Quaker Week 2018 ran from Saturday 29 September to Sunday 7 October.  Although, it is true, a few weeks separate Quaker Week from the Heritage Open Days, the proximity between the two tempts their combination. Indeed, for the past two years, it has been the ideal opportunity for Canterbury Meeting to open its doors to the people of, and visitors to, the historic city of Canterbury: Quakers are part of Canterbury’s history too. We do our bit for Quaker Week, just a little bit sooner than others.
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Our first Heritage Open Day was on Saturday 9 September 2017, when the Meeting House was open to the public. Our choice of day was determined by the date of Kent Churches Ride and Stride, of which Canterbury Friends Meeting House has long been a venue, and several Canterbury Friends enthusiastic participants. Bernard Wilson was a stalwart on the Ride and Stride signing-in desk. The combination of these two events was a highly effective use of volunteer resources, and gave us 50 or 60 visitors. 
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There were exhibitions on the history of Quakers in Canterbury (Doreen Rosman), on Quaker values, on the Children’s Meeting (Janet Wilson), and a little on the Quaker Tapestry. Members (and Attenders) of Canterbury Meeting made themselves available to talk with visitors and answer questions. Refreshments were made available throughout the day.

Our Heritage Open Day in 2018 was on Saturday 8 September (the date of the Friends of Kent Churches Sponsored Ride and Stride event), and followed a similar pattern to the previous year. This time, however, in addition to the fascinating exhibitions created by members of Canterbury Meeting (including material by Wendy Oliver on support for refugees), we were also able to borrow two significant, professional ‘pop-up banner’ exhibitions concerning Friends’ service, including the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, especially regarding the First World War. Hugh Miall had discovered, and made available,some original documents regarding his father’s involvement with the Friends Ambulance Unit. Listed both on the Heritage Open Days national website, and also in the Canterbury Society brochure, the Meeting House received 83 visitors. Refreshments were made available throughout the day. Bernard Wilson was, again, a stalwart on the Ride and Stride signing-in desk.

Our Heritage Open Day in 2019 was on Saturday 14 September (the date of the Friends of Kent Churches Sponsored Ride and Stride event), and followed a similar pattern again. Our exhibitions included the history of Quakers in Canterbury (Doreen Rosman); support for refugees in northern France (Calais) (Wendy Oliver); looking at the issue of refugees from a young person’s perspective (Janet Wilson); Catching Lives (Wendy Oliver & Peter Hughes); and an illustrated exhibition borrowed from Friends House regarding the Quaker Advices and Queries. Listed both on the Heritage Open Days national website, and also in the Canterbury Society brochure, the Meeting House received 71 visitors. Some of the visitors spent over an hour reading the exhibition material and asking questions of Friends present. Refreshments were made available throughout the day. Bernard Wilson was, once again, a stalwart on the Ride and Stride signing-in desk, checking-in 55 riders and striders.

If you want to know more, or wish to volunteer, please contact Peter Hughes.

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