Doors Open Days 2019

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18570, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on doors open days 2019. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Civic Trust and its partners on organising 2019’s Doors Open Days, which will take place across Scotland throughout September; understands that Doors Open Days is Scotland’s largest festival that offers free access to over 1,000 venues across the country; notes that this annual event provides people with a chance to explore some of Scotland’s architecturally and culturally significant buildings for free, with access to properties that are either not usually open to the public or that would normally charge an entry fee; is aware that Doors Open Days first took place in Glasgow and Ayr in 1990 where it formed part of the European City of Culture celebrations, meaning that the festival is now in its 30th year; acknowledges the hard work of the 6,300 volunteers who gave their time to run tours, steward sites and activities in 2018 and the many more who are anticipated to participate in this anniversary year; encourages local residents and visitors alike to take the opportunity offered by Doors Open Days to discover some of the world-class examples of architecture and building design in their communities, including the 24 sites available to visit in Cunninghame North, and believes that Doors Open Days make a positive and valuable impact on local communities by increasing knowledge of Scotland’s built heritage.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am delighted to open the debate, and grateful to colleagues who signed my motion, allowing us to draw attention to doors open days in Scotland, which this year marks its 30th incarnation.

Throughout the month of September, Scotland’s historic sites open their doors to the public, free of charge, to celebrate Scotland’s heritage and built environment. The first ever doors open days were held in France in 1984. Following France’s lead, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland and Belgium began to open their historical sites to the general public.

After witnessing the success in the Netherlands, John Gerrard—then director of the Scottish Civic Trust—introduced the concept to Scotland and piloted the scheme in Glasgow and Ayr in 1990. As part of the European city of culture celebrations, heritage sites were opened to the public to promote heritage and architecture.

After the resounding success of the pilot schemes, doors open days celebrations now take place across all 32 of Scotland’s local authority areas. Their purpose is to ensure that Scotland’s built heritage—new and old—is made accessible on weekends in September to people who are living in and visiting the country. Alongside the opening of historic sites, special exhibitions of new and old artefacts are showcased and expert tours are offered to visitors.

Doors open days now take place across 49 European countries and have spread to the United States, Canada and Australia.

This year, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the signatory states of the European cultural convention will celebrate Europe’s cultural heritage under the programme, Europe: a common heritage. The principal purpose of the convention is to deepen and develop a European culture, building on local heritage to further cement bonds with our European neighbours.

The events in Scotland throughout September are Scotland’s contribution to European heritage days and the broader European project. This year, the celebrations will be enhanced, as doors open days will coincide with Historic Environment Scotland’s heritage awareness day on Thursday 28 September. As colleagues are aware, Historic Environment Scotland is tasked with investigating, caring for and promoting Scotland’s rich historic environment.

This month, more than 1,000 buildings in Scotland are expected to open, generating over 200,000 visits to our heritage and architectural sites across the country. I welcome efforts to enhance citizen participation in the events. We should encourage locals and visitors to take the opportunity to explore some of the examples of world-class architecture and building design in Scotland’s communities.

This weekend in North Ayrshire, 24 venues will be available to visit. For example, Ardrossan castle heritage society will open Ardrossan castle, with exhibitions of recently excavated artefacts—in fact, I was involved in excavating some of those. In Irvine, the Scottish maritime museum will open its 1920s shipyard worker’s tenement flat and the fitting shed to allow visitors to explore the history of their ancestors.

Similarly, the old kirk in Beith, which was built in 1590 and was where the Rev John Witherspoon, who was a signatory to the US declaration of independence, president of the College of New Jersey—which is now Princeton University—and an ancestor of Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, was parish minister from 1745 to 1757, will be open to the public.

In the north-east, the Aberdeen treasure hub museum centre will hold an exhibition. The hub is a purpose-built storage facility for Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums to house its extensive collection of decorative art, costume, painting, sculpture and objects relating to Aberdeen’s archaeology, maritime history, science and industry.

Glasgow Building Preservation Trust has organised a doors open day festival to allow the public to explore more than 200 open buildings, with guided walks and events throughout the city. The festival highlights iconic historic sites and displays the city’s stunning and well-preserved Victorian, art nouveau and gothic architecture. Doors open days covers the medieval architecture of Glasgow cathedral, which was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the legacy of Glasgow being the second city of the empire and the Victorian architecture of Kelvingrove art gallery and museum and the city chambers, which were built in the late 19th and early 20th century, allowing those national treasures to be highlighted.

In Fife, to mark the 30th year of doors open days, a record 65 sites will be open to the public. One of the most popular is expected to be a 1940s-era house in Cupar that is fitted and furnished in the style of the pre-war era and has appliances from that time to create a truly immersive experience and to bring history alive.

In Stirling, the city’s rich and vibrant heritage sites will open to mark the 25th anniversary of Stirling’s participation in doors open days. In the Scottish Borders, a guided walking tour will showcase Stobs camp, a first world war training and internment camp, which is one of the world’s best-preserved prisoner of war camps. Nearer the end of the celebrations, on the island of Orkney, Stromness museum will display its vast collections relating to archaeology and ethnography as well as maritime, social and natural history.

Last but not least, in Edinburgh, Barnton quarry, which was utilised during the second world war as the home of the Royal Air Force operations centre for the Turnhouse sector 13 group, RAF fighter command, will be accessible to the public. This year, the capital will also open eight new venues for the public to explore, such as Panmure house, which is the only surviving home of Adam Smith, the great Scottish economist and philosopher, from where he authored four new editions of his seminal work “The Wealth of Nations”.

I have mentioned only a few of the myriad historic and heritage sites that will open to the public throughout this month. A hugely varied geographic and subject choice is on offer.

In closing, I offer a special note of thanks to the Scottish Civic Trust, which provides essential funding and organisational assistance to ensure that doors open days take place throughout Scotland. I express my thanks to the 6,300 volunteers who last year gave up 29,000 hours of their time to ensure that 2018’s events were such a great success, and I thank in advance those who will help this year.

We should all note the positive and valuable impact that doors open days have on our local communities by increasing knowledge of Scotland’s built heritage. As the American historian David McCullough stated,

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Therefore, we should strive to celebrate and explore Scotland’s extensive and rich heritage, and I hope that colleagues and their families will join thousands of others to enjoy doors open days events this month.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I am delighted to speak in this debate on doors open days. I thank Kenneth Gibson for bringing the debate to the chamber and for celebrating the event’s 30th birthday. What is not to like about Scotland’s largest free festival, which celebrates heritage and the built environment and offers free access to thousands of venues across Scotland throughout September?

Undoubtedly, it is a fantastic initiative and it gives the public an insight into some of Scotland’s greatest buildings. It is an experience to savour and one that some people have perhaps never had before.

The aim of doors open days is to ensure that Scotland’s built heritage, new and old, is made accessible on weekends in September to local people and those who are visiting. I encourage everyone to take advantage of that opportunity.

I am sure that we have all looked at buildings and wondered what lies behind their facade. The built environment in our local communities often tells weird and wonderful stories of our past and doors open days are a great opportunity to get a sneak peek of areas that are otherwise out of bounds.

Doors open days are co-ordinated nationally by the Scottish Civic Trust and are part of the European heritage days, alongside Scottish archaeology month. I must commend the Scottish Civic Trust for its work, as it helps communities to develop their local built heritage and take charge in seeing it develop further. The Scottish Civic Trust can take the credit for helping to save parts of Edinburgh’s new town, now a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site, and New Lanark, which undoubtedly offers the best display of life during the industrial revolution.

In my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, doors open days is a roaring success, with the majority of open buildings being in Hawick. Many buildings—11—are participating again in 2019, and two walking tours are planned, which take in textiles, rugby and a first world war military training camp, which is called Stobs camp and is based near Teviothead just outside Hawick.

One building that attracted my attention was the Borders distillery. The building was originally designed for the Hawick Urban Electric Company in a Tudor Cotswold style in the early 20th century and then became an engineers’ workshop for Turnbull and Scott. It was brought back into use by the Borders distillery in 2018 with a tasteful conversion, which—brilliantly—has won a number of national awards, including the Scottish Borders Council design award in 2018 and the national Civic Trust and Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland awards, too.

There is a chance to have a free distillery tour and see how its award-winning spirit is made. There is a great history behind Kerr’s gin, which people will get a taste of at the end of the tour—they will not be disappointed.

The fantastic men’s shed, which we have often talked about in the chamber, is also open and I would thoroughly recommend visiting to see the excellent work that it does in tackling social isolation and fostering an important community spirit. Not only is it self-funding; the people involved in it carry out tasks in the local community, such as building flower boxes and bird boxes, refurbishing old furniture and making garden furniture.

I thank all those who are involved in doors open days, because they would not be achievable without the volunteers. My special thanks go to all the volunteers who will work tirelessly to give tours. I am proud, as I am sure everyone else in the chamber is, of what they do to showcase what we have on offer in Scotland and of their hard work in opening up such fantastic buildings to the public.

Scotland has the world’s most intriguing, eclectic and awe-inspiring built architecture. I encourage everyone to visit and explore one of the many buildings that are open in September. I wish everybody in Hawick all the best and thank them for their hard work. I hope that more places in the Borders manage to emulate the work of Hawick in the future.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Kenny Gibson for lodging the motion, which gives us the opportunity to highlight some interesting buildings in our constituencies.

Doors open days is Scotland’s largest free festival that celebrates our heritage and built environment, offering free access to more than 1,000 venues across the country throughout September every year. As Kenny Gibson said, the first Scottish doors open days took place in Glasgow and Ayr, in 1990, when they formed part of the European city of culture celebrations. In the following year, 1991, the Cockburn Association—Edinburgh’s civic trust—organised the first Edinburgh doors open day.

Twenty-nine years later, this year’s event will take place on 28 and 29 September, when, across Edinburgh, a diverse range of buildings will be open to the public for the weekend—from the Seafield treatment works, which is Scotland’s largest waste water treatment facility, to the anatomical museum at the University of Edinburgh, which opened in 1884 and has on display the skeleton of the serial killer William Burke.

I have no doubt that both of those buildings will attract the curious visitor, but there are also plenty of places for residents of Edinburgh Pentlands to explore on their own doorsteps. Harlaw house is one such example. It was built in 1848 as a waterkeeper’s cottage, soon after the reservoir was constructed, and it is now a visitor information centre for the Pentland hills regional park, with a wildlife garden maintained by the dedicated local friends of the Pentlands group. A variety of other local community organisations will be showcasing their work, including Harlaw hydro, Balerno village trust, Youth Vision, Bonaly scout camp, BobCat alpacas and Malleny angling association.

Once members have managed to make their way round all those projects, they could head out to Ratho Byres forge, which is a family-run business—established over 40 years ago—that designs and creates contemporary metalwork. It offers a unique opportunity to see blacksmith forging of mild steel using the traditional hammer and anvil.

Heading back into Edinburgh, members could stop off at St Nicholas’s church in Sighthill, which opened in 1957 and this month celebrates the founding of the original parish church 80 years ago. It is B listed and was designed by Ross, Doak & Whitelaw in a modernist style. With its copper roof, it was intended to be a landmark on the A71 route into Edinburgh.

A short distance away, in Wester Hailes, is the WHALE arts centre, which is a brilliant community arts venue. Built in 2000, it was designed by Zoo Architects and was funded through the Scottish Arts Council. The building is a unique local asset, with its distinctive murals that brighten up the community. In its exhibition spaces, arts workshop, performance space and garden there is always something interesting going on.

After that, there is no better place to have a rest than at Redhall walled garden, which is an 18th century garden and summerhouse run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health. It is a working garden that provides a beautiful setting for a remarkable mental health service, nestled in the peaceful haven of Colinton dell. It is truly an oasis in the city, which I have visited on many occasions. I recommend that members go along and see it for themselves.

For the past 29 years, doors open days have been an annual event in Edinburgh, when, with many others, I have had the opportunity to visit remarkable buildings that are not normally open to the public. I urge Edinburgh residents to take advantage of the opportunity at the end of this month to satisfy their curiosity and find out what might lie behind that door.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I, too, congratulate Kenneth Gibson on securing the debate and join him in paying tribute to the Scottish Civic Trust and its partners for organising doors open days this year.

As others have said, the event allows attractions, museums and historical and cultural sites to give free access to the public at some point in September each year. That encourages people into such places but, more importantly, it allows those who cannot normally afford access to enjoy them this month.

Access to our culture and heritage is very important for education, especially among young people, but it is also becoming increasingly important for our wellbeing. Historic Environment Scotland is investigating the effect of heritage on our wellbeing and happiness. We all acknowledge the importance of wellbeing, but we seldom give it priority. However, it is important for both physical and mental health and for the pursuit of happiness. Historic Environment Scotland’s survey closes tomorrow. I encourage members to respond to it so that we can perhaps get better information on the links between wellbeing and our heritage.

While preparing for the debate, I looked at the doors open days website and saw that many organisations and places in the Highlands and Islands are involved in this year’s event. There are too many of them to mention them all now, but they include churches, civic buildings, museums and other places of interest. I noticed that the Highland folk museum, which is one of my personal favourites, is taking part. I have not been there for a long time, so, if the debate does nothing else, it might prompt me to go along and have another look. Indeed, it might prompt others to make use of and visit places of interest in their areas.

In Moray, fittingly, there is the opportunity to visit a distillery. The environmental research institute in Caithness is also taking part, which I thought was slightly different and worth bringing to people’s attention. It is a centre for excellence that is placed very close to the flow country and that is leading research on the protection of peatlands. It hosts students from all over the world, including some who are doing PhDs. It is very interesting that the institute is involved, and those who are interested in our natural heritage should go along and see some of the wonderful work that is taking place.

Those few examples show the spectrum of places of interest that are taking part. There is something for everyone, and I welcome the initiative. It would be great to see it extended in order that those who cannot afford to pay entrance fees might access the sites more often. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful opportunity and I encourage people to take part and make use of it.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

In closing today’s debate, I first thank Kenneth Gibson for securing it through his motion. I also thank all those members who are present and who contributed to such an informative debate.

The motion rightly congratulates and celebrates the Scottish Civic Trust on its role in co-ordinating the doors open days initiative over the past 30 years. Over that period, the initiative has become a vital part of how we appreciate and experience our rich built heritage. I add to those that have already been expressed my own thanks to everyone from the Scottish Civic Trust for all the hard work that goes in to doors open days.

Since the organisation’s birth in 1967, the Scottish Civic Trust has contributed to the care, promotion and understanding of our rich built heritage. As the cabinet secretary with responsibility for the historic environment, I have had the pleasure of seeing at first hand the excellent work that is undertaken by the trust on behalf of the people of Scotland. The trust’s core activities give the organisation the opportunity to raise the profile of Scotland and its rich built environment, and it does a magnificent job in promoting our remarkable built heritage.

We are here to celebrate the doors open days initiative in its 30th anniversary year and the co-ordination role of the Scottish Civic Trust. Last Thursday, the First Minister helped to launch this year’s festival at Govanhill baths, with a special concert set among the installation “Blooms with a View”. As noted in the motion, the initiative is Scotland’s largest, free, annual architectural event. It is also part of European heritage days, alongside Scottish archaeology month, which is co-ordinated by Archaeology Scotland.

I am sure that over the years many members have taken the opportunity that is provided by the scheme to visit historic properties and other buildings across Scotland that are not usually open to the public. In his motion, Kenneth Gibson acknowledges the number of activities that there are in North Ayrshire. Rhoda Grant highlighted the environmental research institute in Caithness. In his speech, Gordon MacDonald talked about the curious and eclectic stories of Edinburgh and the extensive offering that there is in the Pentlands, as well as the Ratho blacksmith activity. Rachael Hamilton mentioned the Borders distillery in Hawick, which is a remarkable reuse of heritage; I visited the distillery recently, and I certainly commend a visit to it. Next weekend, doors open days will open up a wide range of properties in my own area of West Lothian, from Blackburn house to Linlithgow museums, as well as churches of a variety of denominations.

Since it was first established 30 years ago, the doors open days scheme has become a hugely successful and popular annual event. The figures are impressive: the initiative provides free access to 1,000 venues, attracts 100,000 participants and generates more than 200,000 visits across Scotland. That is a remarkable success story and demonstrates clearly the passion and fascination that the people of Scotland have for their built heritage. The scheme allows the people of Scotland and visitors from around the globe to explore and learn about the myriad of different buildings that form part of our story and collective heritage.

As set out by Kenneth Gibson, the doors open days initiative, along with Scottish archaeology month, forms Scotland’s contribution to European heritage days, with more than 25 million people from across Europe and an additional 50 countries taking part in around 50,000 events annually.

Doors open days unite our communities in unique celebrations of heritage, in our own special ways. Experiencing our shared heritage in that way is critically important for us in these deeply uncertain times, as it helps us to understand one another. Across Europe, we have a shared past and shared values, and we must not lose sight of that.

The original doors open day in 1990 meant that Scotland was the first of the United Kingdom nations to participate in European heritage days. In this 30th anniversary year, it is fitting that the cultural embassies strand of the festival links individual Scottish buildings to 27 European countries with which Scotland has cultural ties. Some of those ties are well known, such as our links with Poland, which are recorded in the Borders at the great Polish map of Scotland—I know that you have a keen interest in that, Presiding Officer—and the world famous Italian chapel in Orkney. The cultural embassies also shine a light on less familiar connections, such as between Glenrothes and Estonia, and Perth and Malta. I congratulate the Scottish Civic Trust on that imaginative initiative, which celebrates our European ties.

I want to mention the involvement of the young advisory panel in this year’s doors open days. The panel of six young people have worked with designers to produce printed guides and video content, which include itineraries and places to eat, for days out in six of the doors open weekends. I welcome that initiative, which was funded by the Year of Young People National Lottery Fund and which builds on the activity that was encouraged by Scotland’s year of young people in 2018.

Although the doors open days project is co-ordinated by the Scottish Civic Trust, I am pleased that the Scottish Government has been able to support the Scottish Civic Trust’s work through Historic Environment Scotland. HES has funded the project for many years now, as Historic Scotland since 1991 and now as Historic Environment Scotland. Since becoming Historic Environment Scotland in 2015, the organisation has provided more than £237,000 in support of the doors open days initiative.

The importance of our built heritage to Scotland’s culture, economy and wellbeing cannot be overestimated, and the doors open days initiative plays a key role in enabling local communities, as well as visitors to our country, to engage with the built heritage around us. I encourage all MSPs and as many people as possible to take full advantage of doors open days, which offer the chance to enjoy the buildings that are part of our history, culture and communities.

I congratulate the Scottish Civic Trust and thank its dedicated and hardworking staff and volunteers who help to support doors open days. I wish them well in the continued success of the initiative. Their hard work has increased appreciation and enjoyment of Scotland’s built and cultural heritage, and has helped to promote inclusion in Scotland’s civic spaces.

13:12 Meeting suspended.

14:00 On resuming—