In early September, I was alone in Coventry and university had yet to start. My Instagram feed was flooded with my friends’ pictures of vacations in Rome and Barcelona when suddenly, a post by The Lord Leycester, a medieval courtyard in Warwickshire, popped up as an advertisement. It said that the historical site would open free of charge on the coming Heritage Open Days.
Heritage Open Days is the largest historical and cultural festival organised by the National Trust every September. During the festival, thousands of historical and cultural sites that usually charge an admission fee or are not open to the public offer free admission to the public. There are also local historical tours hosted by volunteers. Over 50 venues in Coventry took part in the Heritage Open Days this year, including Coventry’s BBC studio and the Modern Record Centre of the University of Warwick.
I visited over ten sites in local areas over this ten-day event. As a final-year History student, it was my first time visiting the town of Warwickshire. I never knew that there are three tiny museums introducing the history of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. They are smaller than a lecture hall, either underground or hidden in an inauspicious building. When I visited one of them, the volunteer, a 90-year-old veteran with slight hearing loss, greeted me like my grandpa. He talked and walked slowly, introducing the fascinating exhibits including the soldiers’ shoes, diaries, and even rationing biscuits to me one by one.
We all love traveling, but why does nobody explore the local areas?
Warwick’s students may find Coventry more familiar than Warwickshire. Despite the negative reputation nowadays, Coventry was the second largest city in England in the 14th century. The Mary Guildhall next to the Cathedral was the centre of power during the War of the Roses. Near the Coventry Canal Basin, you can find countless delicate trains moving on the railway model. They are built by the Coventry Model Railway Club, which was established in the 1950s. The middle-aged members served visitors with cake and coffee, and let the kids play with the electric panel they built. They were very surprised by my visit and told me that they seldom visited by young women.
The sites in the Heritage Open Days seemed like a time tunnel. They not only brought me back to the past, but also made me feel completely separated from the outside world. There was no hustle and bustle. All visitors and volunteers were older or families. I seemed to be the only one there still in their twenties.
We all love traveling, but why does nobody explore the local areas? The lack of government funding may be a central reason. Many volunteers of the historical sites said that they only open during the Heritage Open Days because they solely rely on funding by the National Trust. Run by charities and volunteers, they cannot afford large-scale advertising or organise regular events to enhance their visibility to the public. Most of the volunteers are elderly and do not know how to promote the sites effectively on social media. Although some sites regularly update their social media pages, their posts are unlikely to reach a wide audience.
Before I left a museum in Warwickshire, the volunteer asked me to help invite the university’s History Department to collaborate in the future. I agreed to help. Everyone loves traveling to London or foreign countries during holidays, but I think we should give our local areas a chance. Otherwise, we risk losing centuries of local knowledge.