Scottish Civic Trust blog post

This article was originally posted on The Scottish Civic Trust website on 23 September 2016 as “A Day in the Life of… Gillian Boll, Project Intern (Doors Open Days)”. Their website has since been upgraded and the series this was part of has been deleted, although it is still available on The Wayback Machine. In the photo above I’m in black, kneeling to the side of the banner.

This week, Gillian reflects on going behind the scenes of Doors Open Days…

During my 16 weeks as a project intern at the Scottish Civic Trust, I have descended a 15 foot vertical ladder into a nuclear monitoring post and ascended to the highest monastery in British Isles, discovered William Wallace’s arm embedded in a church wall and an interest in unloved and eccentric typefaces.  I have observed the processing of co-mingled dry recyclable material and the spiral galaxies of Andromeda and our Milky Way from a “glittering lagoon”. And all from the comfort of my swivel chair in central Glasgow.

The Scottish Civic Trust is the national body for Scotland’s civic movement and is the umbrella organization which oversees local coordination of Doors Open Days, Scotland’s largest free annual architectural event. Doors Open Days has been running in Scotland since 1990 and has become a beloved and eagerly awaited annual event. In recent years however, some financially challenged local councils have withdrawn local coordination support, and my internship was funded by the Festival of Architecture 2016 specifically to help facilitate events in all 32 local authority areas by researching, inviting and sometimes cajoling venues to take part in underrepresented areas. Hence the desk-bound Scotland-wide exploration, aboveā€¦

The Scottish Civic Trust and I found each other with the help of the Internship Hub at the University of Glasgow, where I am training to become an Archivist as a postgraduate student on the MSc Information Management & Preservation (Digital)/(Archives & Records Management) course.

From early June to late September 2016, I worked 3 days a week, generally on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A typical working day would begin by arriving at 9 am at the Tobacco Merchant’s House (no, they don’t sell snuff, as we sometimes have to inform callers) in Miller Street and working my way through the emails that had come in in response to potential venues and following up with calls, letters and other related administrative tasks. Karen, our office angel, will already have a cup of tea ready for me by this time.

For the first few weeks I spent a lot of time working on the production of promotional materials for the wider event, designing leaflets and posters, and a rather lovely green door image in their new colour scheme as the new logo.

The leaflet Gillian designed for Doors Open Days 2016.

Once these were sent off to print, I switched over to working a lot on the new Doors Open Days website, uploading events listings and maintaining the “Building of the Day” feature. As the Doors Open month of September approached, we were able to confirm venues in all 32 local authority areas and I re-focused on social media, finding myself becoming unexpectedly infatuated with Twitter, after having had an exclusive long-term relationship with Facebook. Social media has been such a huge boost to the profile of charitable organisations such as the SCT and has to be at the centre of any professional outreach strategy for the foreseeable future, so it was important to keep content on these streams fresh and engaging.

Left to right: Karen, Gaby, Gillian and Frances present their exemplary practice rendering of the Tobacco Merchant’s House ahead of Cake Fest 2016.

Throughout my time at the SCT, I was also on hand for ad hoc tasks, such as helping out at the Doors Open Days event launch at Greyfriars Gardens and, very memorably, working together with SCT colleagues to render the Tobacco Merchant’s House in edible form for Cake Fest 2016!

An essential criteria in the job description had been “Proven knowledge of, and interest in, Scottish heritage, culture and geography”, which I legitimately had to begin with, but I’ve learned so much here on the job. Full disclosure: my number one discovery was the location of Clackmannanshire.

I was already familiar with the work of many Scottish architects that had properties with open doors for our event (Alexander “Greek” Thomson, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a host of “Lighthouse Stevensons”), but wasn’t so au fait with buildings in Scotland designed by international figures such as Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and landscape artist Charles Jencks, or from the Modernist/Brutalist movement led by Peter Womersley and Gillespie, Kidd & Coia. On each weekend in September, I became a Doors Open Days punter and enjoyed some of these hidden treasures for myself.

One characteristic that the job description didn’t list but which I’ve found invaluable, is having a “fondness for the romantic and strange” (as Craigston Castle in Aberdeenshire describes the Urquhart family who built it; “can even be traced back to Adam and Eve through remarkable ancestors including Esormon Ourochartos (Prince of Achaia who married Narfesid, Sovereign of the Amazons) and Bithiah, the Pharaoh’s daughter who found Moses in the bulrushes”). 

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is drawing out lesser known venues, spreading the word about their opening days, and seeing the ripples spread out on social media. A case in point being a late entry to the Highland programme, a privately owned Mackintosh home.

My time at the Scottish Civic Trust was fantastic.

As well as a real sense of satisfaction in achieving the goal of facilitating Doors Open Days events across Scotland and seeing the results in person, and via social media, it was great fun. I’d been made so welcome and learned so much from the knowledgeable and built-heritage loving staff and hope that this experience opens doors to a successful future career in the heritage sector.