The biggest heritage event of the year in the North East has suffered a setback with a council pulling out its co-ordinating role because of financial cutbacks.
Tyne and Wear Heritage Open Days (HODS), which runs from September 11-14, is the biggest regionally-organised event of its type in England.
It has earned its steering group a Star Organiser award, presented at a ceremony in London by national HODS patron Loyd Grossman, National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins and Griff Rhys Jones, president of Civic Voice.
For the last 12 years Tyne and Wear HODS has been a joint effort between the councils of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and North and South Tyneside.
But Gateshead does not appear in this year’s Tyne and Wear HODS booklet which lists events.
Gateshead Council said they would still be backing events and offering buildings for use but that they would not be able to act as a coordinator due to financial contraints.
Last year Tyne and Wear HODS visitors could choose from 204 heritage buildings and allied happenings such as walks and talks. This generated 52,832 visits.
This compares to 2002 when 84 buildings and events attracted 19,500 visits.
In terms of online search engine results, Tyne and Wear HODS was in second place only to the national HODS website.
Last year Gateshead contributed 32 buildings and activities, drawing 9,678 visits. Gateshead Council also hosted the HODS launch at its St Mary’s Heritage Centre on the banks of the Tyne.
This year the number of building and events has fallen to 173.
The aim of HODS is to celebrate the area’s architecture, history and culture by giving people free access to buildings and locations which are normally closed to the public or charge for admission.
Ian Ayris, on behalf of the Tyne Wear HODS steering group, said: “Obviously, it is of deep regret that Gateshead Council will not be part of this year’s Tyne and Wear co-ordinated programme, particularly as Tyne and Wear HODS has been so successful locally and has been recognised nationally.
“We understand the difficult position local authorities are in.
“But the other four authorities are carrying on and we are presenting a very active programme this year.”
Geoff Underwood, Gateshead Council’s major initiatives manager said “In the past Gateshead Council has been able to act as a coordinator for all events within Gateshead for Heritage Open Days.
“Unfortunately due to significant reductions in funding, we are no longer able to offer this support. This decision was made after extensive consultation with the public and our partners.”
There are events in Gateshead which are being organised independently, such as East Street Art Group members installing work in the cells of the former Gateshead Old Town Hall and police station and Tyne Wear Building Preservation Trust inviting people to walk on Dunston Staithes for the first time in more than 20 years.
The Baltic arts centre will also continue to be part of the programme.
“We are still supporting Heritage Open Days and are hosting several events in our buildings. These along with other non-council hosted events, mean that Gateshead still has a programme of events for Heritage Open Days,” said Mr Underwood.
Tyne and Wear HODS is backed by the trust and also the Newcastle Association of City Guides, NGI, NE1 and volunteers. Sponsorship comes from the Port of Tyne, Primary Times magazine the Barbour Trust and many volunteers.
In a report on last year’s event, steering group member Fiona Cullen said: “The quality and diversity of the HODS offer in Tyne and Wear is improving year on year. The event is one of the biggest and best in the country and the support , enthusiasm and feedback from volunteers and visitors remains very positive.”
Last year the event suffered by clashing with the date of the Great North Run.
“It is clear that the clash has overall a negative impact. Some buildings, tours and activities did not take part or had reduced opening days or hours because of the run and others received much lower visitor numbers than previous years,” said Ms Cullen.
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