Volunteer Voices at the Core of the Open House Worldwide Festival
More than the buildings we visit, or the cities in which we see them, the core of Open House is, and always have been, its volunteers. Since the Open House concept was brought to life in London in 1992, Open House volunteers have been at the centre of the annual festivals which today take place on every corner of the globe.
At this year’s Open House Worldwide Festival, the first collaborative public event by the 43 cities in the Open House network, conversations between volunteers from all over the world will be broadcast as part of the 48-hour extravaganza. The volunteer participants were paired up for “blind date” conversations and found they had very much in common, despite their different countries and contexts.
“I had the feeling that everyone felt connected very fast with their match just by knowing that they are somehow connected through Open House,” explains Ariuna Bembejew, a volunteer with Open House Vienna and the coordinator of the OHWW conversations. “I only heard fifty interviews out of thousands of volunteers around the world, and it doesn’t apply to everyone, but Open House has an amazing impact and the volunteers feel proud to contribute to that.”
Volunteers play a variety of roles at the Open House events, including distributing information, organising tours, promoting events and much more. Welcoming visitors to the opened sites is a particularly important part of the role, as it allows Open House to fulfil its main purpose. As Bembejew explains, “It opens the doors which sometimes separate the average person from entering places in their own city. It gives the city back to its inhabitants.”
As Alexandra Bobet, a volunteer from Santiago, Chile, explains, “With Open House we’re trying to get people to understand that maybe Santiago isn’t the prettiest city but it has so much to offer and it has so much beauty of its own. It’s so interesting and dynamic, so we’re trying to show that to everyone.”
Besides visits and the festivals, Open House volunteers have banded together to care for their communities and cities in different situations. For example, this year in Santiago, Open House volunteers organised around the political protests to help gather food and donations. Similarly, in New York, the pandemic meant fewer volunteers were required for the Open House festival itself, so volunteers gave time to local food banks and other social initiatives instead.
For many volunteers, supporting Open House is a way to better get to know the places where they live, whether they are an architect or just an enthusiast. “One of the good things about being part of Open House is to learn more about your place itself. And not just with books but by being there,” says Sophia de Leon in Melbourne. “For me as an architect it is also a way to also learn about an old building or another style of building,” says Erik Neu, in Vienna.
In other cases, being a volunteer is about creating a more open city for everyone to experience and enjoy: “I had an old man who came to the water tower which is very high,” explains Eva Vrbova in Prague. “He couldn’t make the staircase so he asked me, ‘I’m old and I’m not a bird. I can’t walk up.’ I walked up, took some photos, went down and showed them to him and he was satisfied. So, this is about openness. It’s not just the buildings that are open, but your heart must be open too.”
Watch the volunteer conversations as part of the Open House Worldwide festival over the weekend of 14-15th November. The full programme is available here and features building tours, talks, discussions and more.
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