Michael Imison speech of thanks

Good evening everyone. On behalf of the Halesworth Heritage Open Day committee I’d like to welcome you to this reception, which is a small thank you for all that all of you did to make last weekend the success that it was.

I should not be doing this. The man who had the idea of entering Halesworth into the Heritage Open Day scheme and who led our entries in 2015 and 2017 was, of course, Ezra Leverett. It is he who should, had he lived, be addressing you now. However during his final illness he told Simon Raven that he hoped the Open days would continue and he made one very positive contribution to this years event by getting Hugh and David to agree to open Bank House with all its many attractions. 2017 was impossible for them but it became the centrepiece for 2019. Thank you Ezra, we miss you.

I worked closely with Ezra in 2015 and 2017 and am registered with Ezra as joint organizer so I felt I had to take over.

It is common practice for authors to say, when they list all the people who have assisted with the composition of a book, that all that is good about the book is due to the help the author received but the mistakes are the author’s own.

I very much find myself in that same position. Luckily despite some mistakes, for which I absolutely take responsibility, all the emails that I have received in the last couple of days either express the pleasure the senders have had in experiencing our offerings or, in some cases, in being part of it.

This is a thankyou reception so you are now going to hear about as many as possible of the people to whom the success is due.
First of all it could not have happened without our sponsors. The rules of the Heritage scheme prohibit us from charging for entry so we have to look elsewhere for our money. Our most generous sponsor was the Halesworth Town Council, and I hope they feel rewarded not only be the increased footfall reported by our traders over the weekend but by the increased publicity given to the town by our biggest advertising campaign yet which resulted in virtually a total sellout at our Box Office. Halesworth and Blyth Valley Partnership provided financial support as well as essential banking facilities. Suffolk County Council has offered support. But we also owe a great deal to the businesses in the town. Twenty six of them supported us for the first time. I am not going to name them all. They are listed in the brochure.
Life is not easy for small independent businesses so their contributions are very much worthy of our thanks. Hopefully they too will be rewarded by our putting Halesworth on the map.

Next I think you will want to thank our hard working committee.
They too are included in the brochure but there are a few I would like to name because of their particular contribution. Ann Wilkinson ensured that this year the Church made a major contribution and even got some of their members to make publicity appearances for us in costume. Vic Gray took the major responsibility for press publicity both paid and editorial as well as contributing an interview on Radio Suffolk. Rosemary Lewis took charge of our accounting and Janet Huckle provided invaluable assistance in many ways, especially in taking charge of distributing our brochure. Brochure layout and many contributions to social media came from Rachel Kellett and Brian Howard set up our own website. Simon Raven masterminded the Cut’s contributions and arranged tonight’s event. Lastly Jo Leverett despite being professionally involved in Lowestoft’s Heritage Openings, ensured that volunteers were found to assist at all our openings..

A huge thank you is due to the Cut Box Office. They had the difficult task of distributing tickets for which the demand was always going to exceed the supply and were not helped on the first day by some very regrettable confusion over when the tickets should go on sale, which was not their fault. They also coped with the last minute addition of extra tours. We are in your debt, Peter and Sam.

So much for the back office. The real triumphs of the weekend were the openings themselves. These were made possible by alarge number of volunteers who gave generously of their time to fill these anonymous roles. In some cases like those of Hooker House and Black Eagle they were given the task of introducing the buildings in the absence of the owners. Overall they are too many to name but enormous thanks. We could not have managed without you.

However the true essentials for Heritage Days are buildings and activities. Activities included four guided walks, a play, a concert and some workshops. Sadly Craftivism which was promoted as an activity for this year by the national organization proved too difficult a concept for Halesworth. I hope Gabrielle Maughan has forgiven me for involving her in a hopeless attempt. All the other activities were well supported and much appreciated thanks to their dedicated promoters.

Hopefully most of those who opened buildings are here and we want to hear from you later how you felt about the experience. Allowing people to explore your home is not lightly undertaken. For all that your generosity in undertaking it, you have earned the thanks of all Halesworth.

Overview of Halesworth Heritage Open Days and survey results

The Visitor Survey was completed by just 19 people (17 of these were picked up from The Cut and 2 at St Mary’s Church) representing a sample well below 10% of the probable total number of visitors based on estimated figures from past Halesworth HOD weekends. It would therefore be inappropriate to draw any hard and fast conclusions from these returns. Nevertheless the raw data throws up information which may add to the overall ‘feel’ for how the weekend went.

First, some facts about pre-bookings for Tours and Events (from The Cut HOD Box Office): Bank House – 48/48 / Chapel House – 31/32 / The Cut – 25/40 / Gothic House – 20/20Hooker House – 40/40 / Magnolia House – 72/72 / Wellington Court – 48/48 / Others: St Mary’s Play ‘A Moment in Time’ – 54 Presold, final number unknown / The Cut Choir – 20.

Overall, just over 90% of respondents enjoyed their experience of Halesworth and the HOD event as a whole – this is in line with previous surveys for this event. Most respondents came from within a 15mile radius of Halesworth but we also had visitors from Ipswich, Hitchin (Herts) and even Australia – interestingly this particular person had made a special journey to find out as much as possible about the town from which her family originated! Two comments speak for several anecdotal ones of similar ilk:
“Very grateful to those who masterminded the weekend and look forward to next year”
“Interesting, quirky, colourful”

It is also worth noting that the two ‘first-time’ events – the Medieval experience at St Mary’s and choral singing at The Cut – both drew appreciative audiences and participation.

The brochure’s ‘look & feel’ was similarly rated as good/excellent by the vast majority of respondents.

The enthusiasm and knowledge of HOD ‘staff’ (this includes volunteers, tour guides and property owners) was generally praised but this time there were one or two strong criticisms – mainly concerning lack of preparation as evidenced by a heavy reliance on “reading from a script as if for the first time” by some tour guides. Nevertheless we also received appreciative comments such as:
“Enthusiastic guides, fascinating info.”
“Staff excellent – all interesting in different ways”

If there was a consistently more critical element in the responses, it was over the matter of ‘bookings’ – although even here the good/excellent rating was in the region of 85%. Nevertheless, nearly half of the respondents commented that they did not manage to see the particular venues that they had most wished to view, and I know that Peter at The Cut Box Office had to remain extremely calm in the face of some quite unpleasant and misdirected criticism. The main problems concerned confusion over published box office opening times and one or two mis-timings or clashes between individual events – eg. choir rehearsals and Cut tours / the Malt Trail walk not being available on Sunday despite what was said in the brochure.

The reality is that there will always be an over-demand for the ‘hot’ properties (Bank House is the prime example this year) in relation to their limited availability. Consequently a large number of people are always going to be disappointed, irrespective of any confusion over box office times. I suspect that the much clearer and more informative photos included in this year’s brochure probably also stoked up an increased demand for visits to the highlighted properties. Two suggestions from respondents are worthy of consideration for future HODs:
Include a note of tours and walks in date/time order on website and brochure so that the viewer/reader can immediately pinpoint alternative sets of choices.
Have a brief ‘online-only’ pre-booking period before opening it up to walk-in ticket hunters, so that visitors from further away have an equal opportunity to book themselves into popular venues. [NB. This from a visitor coming all the way from Australia for the occasion]
Someone also commented on the fact that there were fewer tours on Sunday, thus contributing to a further limiting of choice on the second day of the weekend.

Finally, as in previous years, the majority of respondents said that they had spent between £5 & £15 in the town during their visit, although the number spending more had also increased somewhat as a proportion of the total (the visitor from Australia booked into a local hostelry for the weekend).

Simon Raven – 24/09/15

Halesworth Heritage Saturday

Sunshine, groups of people meandering through town, down alleyways, cats cleaning, volunteers learning about Witch marks, Bell ringing for the day, bunting, ballons, queues outside Bank House, tracing family ancestry in the Library, maps of old and new Halesworth, it was a full Heritage Saturday here.

St Mary’s Church Halesworth

St. Marys Church, Steeple End IP19 8LL
Map No 1

The hub of Halesworth”s Heritage Open Days, our 2019’s activities feature the Argentine family, a colourful play about a local family. David Argentine fought with William I at Hastings. Reginald, a descendant, married Rose of Halesworth in 1130. Bellringing, music, dance and chanting will enhance the Mediaeval experience. Visitors may even wish to participate. This production will be filmed for future educational and fundraising purposes. Since the drama will be presented in the round there may be incidental inclusion of audience. Suitable for children 9 years and above.

Bellringing tasters – feel free to turn up and have a go! In the early 15th Century five bells hung in the tower. Now there are eight, including one of the original. Peals have been rung to mark major events throughout the centuries ever since. If you’d like a taster of bellringing or wish to renew an earlier skill, come along to the try out session on Saturday morning. Please note this is not a suitable activity for children under 10.

Saturday 21st –
9.30 to 11.00 Bellringing (no booking required)
11.30 A MOMENT IN TIME – HALESWORTH, A.D.1415. (Only one performance)
Maximum number 80
Booking Essential via Cut Box Office

Saturday 2.30-4.30 The Mediaeval Experience – Activities for all ages to include, costumed tour, dressing up, dancing, designing of coat of arms, making of lavender bags.

Wheelchairs and mobility scooters have access via south porch and central aisle to a dedicated viewing area. For the event please request this space on booking, and arrive a little earlier to be assisted. Outer aisles are narrow and floor uneven, so restrict access to some parts of the building.

Church 3
Church 3 Long