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Open Cambridge set to host virtual tours and tales of the city

The hugely popular Open Cambridge heritage weekend is set to go ahead this year in September as a virtual festival with a series of free online events, from podcasts and films to virtual tours, written stories, walks and talks.

Now in its 13th year, the annual three-day event celebrates the heritage and history of Cambridge, offering curious visitors a rare opportunity to see some hidden gems and to learn more about the city’s extraordinary past. It is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme, which is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission.

Open Cambridge is run by the Public Engagement Team at the University of Cambridge. This year, to face the challenge presented by the coronavirus lockdown, the team is inviting the community to suggest engaging and creative ideas that showcase people of Cambridge and its surrounding villages. Alternatively, people can submit photographs of Cambridge for an online gallery or write a short article about an interesting or little-known feature of Cambridge.

Previous Open Cambridge venue, Gonville & Caius.
Previous Open Cambridge venue, Gonville & Caius.

The invitation is open to anyone keen to share their knowledge of wildlife, sites and places that are not always accessible to the public or rarely visited, and stories and people that traditional history has overlooked or forgotten.

Speaking ahead of this year’s Open Cambridge, Coordinator Sue Long said: “This is a hugely exciting opportunity for the whole community to come together and put on a fantastic online festival that presents Cambridge in a new way. We want people to get involved in this celebration of our beautiful city, the stunning architecture, exquisite gardens, and its rich past.

“We’re keen to showcase all Cambridge has to offer, its big and little wonders, and we are very much looking forward to people’s suggestions.

“For me the essence of Open Cambridge is getting inside buildings, looking behind those walls and going to places that wouldn’t normally be open or if they were then there would be a charge for them

“People often say things like, I have walked past that fence every day and I never knew what was behind it and then I went there on Open Cambridge weekend and it turned out to be a beautiful garden and the porters showed us around.

“I know that this year we won’t be able to recreate that atmosphere, the smell and look of the place whether you are going into an old library or the new Cambridge Mosque for the first time.

Open Cambridge, Chirst's College library . Picture: Keith Heppell. (36932117)
Open Cambridge, Chirst's College library . Picture: Keith Heppell. (36932117)

“So what we really want for this virtual Open Cambridge is to hear those interesting stories about places and for the community to get in touch and say what you would like to see.

“I’m also hoping this will inspire people who have never worked with Open cambridge before to send in footage of places that the public don’t normally see, perhaps because they are part of a private home or its somewhere that might be dangerous for groups to go inside.

“The university will be offering online access to quite a few places such as libraries and museums but we would also really like to hear from the town side of life.

“There must be lots of people in Cambridge who have all sorts of interesting stories. I want to hear from people in the town and people in the local community.”

Previous Open Cambridge venue Marshall Library.
Previous Open Cambridge venue Marshall Library.

Given that this year’s Open Cambridge is digital, these new and exciting opportunities are boundless as accessibility, location or venue should not be an issue for audience size, and geographical reach is, in theory, limitless. Additionally, an online event could reach a more diverse audience as well our regular enthusiastic supporters.

The most important point is that digital offerings are kept simple, short and eye catching for an online audience. Anyone suggesting an idea must be able to facilitate, record, write or film the suggested event, bringing ‘the story’ to life for an online audience. Examples of events:

  • Building tours – Churches, Mosques, pubs, shops, colleges, faculties
  • Museum tours
  • Video chats with gardeners, conservators, historians
  • Cemetery tours
  • Librarians and their favourite book in their library
  • Archivists and the most fascinating/funny/historical object in their collections
  • Most important discovery that has taken place in a college/building/pub
  • City and College roles – who keeps the place going, ie gardeners, porters, butlers, bursar, proctors, the Mayor and City Council Leaders
  • Virtual walks
  • Self-guided walks/tours/scavenger hunts featuring important historic locations
  • Sports videos (workouts/walks/classes)

Those submitting a proposal may like to use the Heritage Open Days 2020 theme, 'Hidden Nature' for inspiration. The Open Cambridge team are also keen to include events around the theme of sport and leisure, with a working title ‘Open Sport!’. All suggestions for this theme are very welcome. Events submitted and accepted will appear on the Open Cambridge website during the event weekend only.

Previous Open Cambridge venue, Cambridge Central Mosque. Pictures: Amina Elbayoumi (36971221)
Previous Open Cambridge venue, Cambridge Central Mosque. Pictures: Amina Elbayoumi (36971221)

In the past, events have included a wide range of walks, talks, tours and exhibitions at numerous locations, including a peek behind the scenes at the Cambridge Mosque on Mawson Road and the ADC Theatre, a rare tour of the Marshalls’ hangars, and fun and games at the Cambridge fire station. Specialist guides have offered tours of Cambridge University Colleges’ exquisite gardens, museums, galleries, and libraries. In addition, The Society of Cambridge Tourist Guides have led walking tours, bringing the rich history of the city to life by introducing visitors to some of the people and places that have made the city the powerhouse it is today.

Open Cambridge is also inviting people to submit either their favourite lockdown photo of Cambridge or simply their most creative or unusual photograph of the city. The best photographs will be uploaded to the Open Cambridge website and social media as an online gallery during the weekend of the Festival. Those submitting photos may like to write a short story relating to the photograph, particularly if it relates to the past.

Sue added: “We’re looking for something very local and very personal. It doesn’t need to be too polished or slick. We want real people’s stories, real lives. Anyone can come forward and offer something - we are looking for something anyone could do on a smartphone."

The closing date for event proposals is Monday July 20. Once the proposal is accepted, the digital content will need to be sent to the Open Cambridge team by Monday, August 17.

Photographs of Cambridge and related short articles (500 words or less) can be submitted from now until 28th August.

To submit an event proposal or photograph of Cambridge, please email: opencambridge@admin.cam.ac.uk

For more information about Open Cambridge visit the website here.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media via Twitter. Visit www.opencambridge.cam.ac.uk

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