Access All Areas: Doors Open Days 2019

The vast annual free festival that spans the nation from Shetland to Dumfries, Doors Open Days returns for its 30th outing this month offering the opportunity to delve into spaces that are usually off limits

Feature by Rosamund West | 30 Aug 2019
  • Drumsheugh Baths

Each year Doors Open Days spread across the country, facilitating access to a wide array of buildings and environments to celebrate Scotland’s heritage through spaces and the people who use them. It offers a place for learning and communication, fostering greater understanding between community groups alongside the opportunity for general nosiness. We’ve scrutinised the various city programmes to offer a few highlights from each – use this as a stepping off point for a deep dive into the many and various events appealing to interests as broad or as niche as the people in this small strange nation.

Dundee (14 & 15 Sep)

Immediate standouts on this year’s programme include a visit to the Dundee Sheriff Court – backstage access in this case including a trip to the cells (not again) – and a 15 minute tour of celebrated local boozer The Speedwell Bar, aka Mennie’s. Their toilets are listed, due in part to the ‘Edwardian lavatorial excellence of mosaic flooring’, don’t you know.

Celebrating the 50th birthday of the Dundee City Archives, there will be special tours including access to documents tracing the city’s history right back to the 14th century. Architecture fans can take the opportunity to visit the Frank Gehry-designed Maggie’s Centre and adjoining Labyrinth. The ever-inclusive Dundee Contemporary Arts are offering tours behind the scenes of the projection room and print studio access, Caird Hall offer backstage passes to snoop around the workings of a theatre, and the McManus are providing a curator-guided tour of their Collections Unit.

Glasgow (16-22 Sep)

That’s right, Glasgow’s Doors Open lasts a full week, reflecting the generosity and spirit of the dear green place itself. Scotland’s largest and most diverse city has a suitably eclectic line-up featuring a record 122 venues ranging from Sikh temples (pro tip – they may feed you!) to allotments to the Willow Tearooms, as well as multiple opportunities to see the inside of a cell.

Sub Club have joined the programme for the first time this year and are offering a variety of intimate workshops, demonstrations and live performances. Music fans can also explore the iconic surrounds of the Barrowland Ballroom with the lights on, or visit Barrowland Ballads, an exhibition celebrating Glasgow’s music scene in the Glasgow City Heritage Trust.

The city’s historical links to the slave trade hang heavily over the splendour of the mercantile buildings. The Civic Room hosts of sugar and Bones, an exhibition by Thulani Rachia responding to the foundations and origins of Glasgow's Victorian wealth and development. Amongst the dizzying number of tours and events is Slavery, Abolition and Glasgow's Built Heritage led by historian Stephen Mullen around the Merchant City revealing historic connections with transatlantic slavery, its abolition, and how these connections shaped the modern city.

The hub for Glasgow Doors Open Day as a whole is in The Garment Factory, which will host a series of events and exhibitions ranging from the Future of Iran in Drumchapel to tote bag screenprinting worshops via a talk on Glasgow’s interwar queer community. The range of opportunity within this city’s programme is genuinely inspiring and somewhat overwhelming so we urge you to head to their site to plan your time wisely.

Edinburgh (28 & 29 Sep)

Where Glasgow celebrates a multiplicity of citizen stories, the capital’s Doors Open Day strength lies in providing access to spaces that are usually restricted or private. The Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh is used by medical students and houses Scotland’s biggest collection of anatomical specimens, including the skeleton of celebrity grave robber, William Burke! Also at the University, visit the £45 million Bayes Centre to find out more about the world-leading data science and artificial intelligence teams who claim to be shaping a better future for everyone.

Dean Gardens are usually off limits to anyone outwith a narrow New Town postcode with cash to burn on annual key holding fees. Not this weekend! Rampage through these pleasure gardens of the Victorian rich before heading up to the Drumsheugh Baths, the city’s most luxurious historical swimming pool which is, again, usually only accessible with the payment of a hefty membership fee. Similarly, the vast Regent, Royal and Calton Terrace gardens can be visited this weekend – go marvel at the urban green space you cannot usually access.

Away from the centre, you can visit a converted oil barge with stunning views from its Glass Room in the Vine Trust Barge. It may be prudent at this point in history to visit Barnton Quarry’s Cold War bunker, marvel at its historical circuitry and carefully note down its location just in case.

Beyond these individual curios, Edinburgh throws open the doors to another wide selection of venues from religious institutions to arts institutions to architecturally significant schools. Pick up a programme, head to the website, and immerse yourself in this celebration of the weird and wonderful monuments to daily life and civic pride.