Huge festival celebrating heritage, food and culture coming to Sheffield in September

Sheffielders are proud of their history but mix in some food and you have a recipe for a moreish Heritage Open Days festival in September.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 27th August 2021, 1:28 pm

The 10 day annual event celebrates the city’s roots but doesn’t just focus on old buildings – there will be churches and museums but also woods, parks, cemeteries, libraries and theatres. You’ll find walks, talks, behind the scene glimpses of hidden gems and demonstrations.

This year’s theme is Edible England which has given organisers an opportunity to celebrate everything from brewing to breadcakes.

Seventy events, all free, are listed and while the printed brochure is now out, it’s worth keeping an eye on the website for updates and late additions as Sheffield is one of the largest Heritage Open Day festivals in the country.

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Heritage Open Days organisers are hoping to attract young people with special events at the National Videogame Museum.

It will probably be one of the first large scale heritage events to take place across the country but anyone stepping back into circulation slowly after the pandemic will find plenty of outdoor tours.

Although government restrictions on social distancing have been lifted, many venues will be taking precautions against overcrowding so advance booking will be required for some activities.

Janet Ridler, in her role with Sheffield Civic Trust, has coordinated Heritage Open Days for the past five years and says it’s wonderful to see so many organisations getting on board again after a difficult year for the sector.

“The feeling we’re getting is that people are looking forward to getting out and about again to visit old favourites and new venues.

This photo of Victoria Quays was taken by Carol Hall and chosen as the cover photo for the Heritage Open Days brochure.

“We are increasingly becoming a nation of foodies and what we eat and drink is at the heart of much of our culture, our history, our communities, and our lives.

“It’s a doorway into hidden histories, regional differences, and the myriad cultures around us. It’s a universal language and one of our basic needs, the perfect starting point for another diverse and fun festival.”

Events are eclectic and include woodland foraging; forgotten recipes; regional delicacies, international cuisine, the Italian ice cream families of West Bar; music hall grub: a Mediaeval reenactment of herbal remedies from the past and the city’s traditional beverage – a pint of beer.

Janet stresses this is not a restaurant guide. “Food covers a tremendous amount of things and there are so many different angles. We’re celebrating growing food on allotments to stained glass windows that feature images of food.

Janet Ridler, coordinator of Heritage Open Days.

“There are so many different things you can do, it’s not just a restaurant guide, it’s far more than that.

“Food binds us together as communities and also opens the door to all sorts of different cultures around us. There are lots of regional differences but food is really like a common language.”

Last year’s HODs was completely online due to the pandemic but Janet says there was a positive side as it opened up events to people who are disabled, elderly or have childcare.

“We had around 30 events last year which was pretty good to say we were in the middle of the pandemic and things were starting to close down again

“It went really well and it was a new thing for us. We had online talks and virtual visits to places and one of the things that came out of it was we helped venues to reach a far wider audience.

“Sheffield venues were getting hits from all around the world and people were discovering places they would never set foot in so that’s become part of what we offer now and there will be permanent events online. It gives another dimension to what’s happening.”

Organisers – who start planning the festival in January nine months in advance – are keen to attract a non-traditional audience, namely younger people, this year with a special event in conjunction with the National Videogames Museum.

There will be a special one-off chance to go behind the scenes at the museum with exclusive previews, talks and insights and over 60 games to play plus more events yet to be unveiled.

“Young people generally don’t engage with heritage so we came up with a scheme called New Wave which pushes the boundaries in terms of what people may traditionally expect from Heritage Days.

“We’ve decided to celebrate Sheffield cultural heritage as a world leading centre of excellence for creating video games as a lot of people don’t realise that we are real world beating in this field, hence the reason that the museum is in Sheffield.

“It’s also within the old Castle House building, the grade II * listed building in Castlegate, at the heart of where the town of Sheffield was born over 900 years ago so it’s a link between Sheffield’s natural history and its role today.

“Sheffield is constantly evolving and heritage isn’t just about old buildings, the past is about what we do now and how we celebrate who we are.”