Stewarding at Brasenose for Oxford Open Doors

Open doors BNC1In September every year the Oxford Preservation Trust runs its Oxford Open Doors weekend, on the lines of the well-known Open House scheme in London. Having enjoyed some interesting visits in previous years including Campion Hall, the Fellows’ Garden of Exeter, and the remaining bit of Osney Abbey (I hadn't realised there was anything at all left above ground), I thought it was time to give something back by volunteering myself to act as a steward.  Naturally as Brasenose was opening both the main site and also Frewin, I put that down as my preferred venue and was duly allocated the college on the Sunday as my shift. This was quite a long stint, 10 a.m. till 3 p.m., all the time the college was open that day.

I didn't quite know what to expect, but as it turns out the duties were not too onerous, mainly because of the support of the lodge porters. We were asked by the OPT to welcome visitors, to liaise with the porters, to solicit and collect donations in the buckets provided and to keep track of visitor numbers. The instructions said that clickers would be provided at the busier venues, but clearly we weren't expected to be one of those, as we were doing it with pen and paper. Perhaps next year there will be a clicker, as we had no fewer than 2,200 people through the main college.

I was doubly blessed with my allocation of slot, firstly because of the weather, which was gorgeous whereas it has been dismal on Saturday, but also in my charming fellow volunteer Lucy (the poor chap who did it on Saturday was on his lonesome all day, I gather). Lucy had in fact done a stint the previous day at Campion Hall, too, but it was soon obvious why she had put down Brasenose as a venue. It turned out that although her family doesn’t yet have a connection with the college, it will acquire one very shortly when her nephew matriculates in October. We pretty soon had the division of labour sorted: she kept track of visitor numbers and directed to me the very diverse questions that visitors asked.

We got a good spread of visitors through the door, too. These ranged from an FT journalist I’ve had professional dealings with, who had been in Oxford for her alumni dinner at Wadham the evening before and recognised my voice drifting out into Radcliffe Square, through a handful of Brasenose alumni showing their offspring their old college, though in one case the young chap looked far too young to be taking much in, through many relatively local visitors to a number of overseas groups. Questions ranged widely, too: one or two asking where the famous knocker was to be found, a couple on how the colleges related to the university as a whole, but – most surprisingly, the most popular topic was the Childe of Hale. Clearly his portrait in the chapel had been widely noticed. Fortunately as well as the general handout sheet with a plan of the college, there was a separate factsheet on the chapel, prepared I think by the college archivist, which had a section outlining his connection to the college.

I was very impressed with the professionalism of the lodge team, who had to deal tactfully with some peoples’ tendency to stray into areas not open, cope with the stewards’ demands for more photocopying of the handouts to keep up with demand, and even found time to keep us plied with coffee. At one point the porter had to head off to Frewin to say that he had been called to “an incident” there. On his return a few minute later, it turned out that this was a complaint from visitors that the parents of a student, presumably there to help him move in, had parked in such a way as to ruin the best photo opportunity. One also gained odd insights into the college that I’d missed – for example I’d never really noticed the way the paving in the entrance way slopes, but spending all day behind a table there in a chair with castors rather brought it home! All in all, I had a fascinating day and was really glad I’d put my name forward.

By David Bradbury

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