20th anniversary reflections on dissemination: building tours and Open House

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we are reflecting on how the service has developed in a number of ways, this blog focuses on dissemination and how our approach has changed since the service was established in 2002. I have been looking through the Archives of the service and remembering many of the projects that we have worked on. There is also reflection how these activities have changed due to Covid-19 and new ways of working. This was originally intended to be one blog post but I found that we had worked on so many projects that it has turned into a series featuring exhibitions, events and building tours.

We participated in our first Open House event in 2005, I had taken part in this project when I worked at the Royal Society of Arts in 1998 so had the idea that the School would be a wonderful place to provide access to. The Open House weekend is a celebration of contemporary and renowned architecture across London which provides free public access to 100’s of buildings and attracts 1000’s of visitors.

Open House group entering the building, 2011

In the first year, we did not know what to expect and we were overrun with visitors, I had to call my husband to come in and help, and the three tour guides had to take groups of about 40 visitors around the School which was problematic. We became more organised over subsequent years with a rota and a limit on the number of visitors on each tour. I remember that it has always been hard to recruit volunteers to work at the weekend although we were always helped by Open House volunteers which was very much appreciated. After a few years, the organisation was taken over by the Events team which was a relief as creating the tour rota was a complete headache.

Open House London is a great opportunity to connect with the public who would not normally be able to visit our beautiful Keppel Street building. Over the years, we have received positive feedback on our tours and have met many interesting people, some of whom are related to key figures from our history such as the daughter of one of the building architects and also people who live locally who have always wondered what happens in the School. Some days, we welcomed over 400 visitors to the School. I was always exhausted at the end of the weekend but it was a rewarding experience that was worth the effort.

Open House visitors in the Library, 2013

 In 2005, I used the archives and secondary sources to develop the tour script, this has been revised over the years to include information on new parts of the building and recently information has been added on our colonial origins to acknowledge how the institution was established. We also run tours for staff induction day, graduation, student open day, VIP events, student groups and external groups such as the University of Third Age and Camden tour guides. After a two year break due to Covid-19, I recently ran a couple of tours and realised how much I had missed them and interacting with people and seeing their response, rather than talking through a screen. During lockdown we developed a powerpoint presentation for staff induction day, which introduces new staff, many of whom will have never visited to the building, to the history of Keppel Street and LSHTM.

Visitors in the John Snow Lecture theatre, 2011

Conducting tours of the building is a great way to promote the archives and our knowledge of LSHTM to internal and external stakeholders and to connect with colleagues in other departments. We are looking forward to running more tours for various groups in the future as we start to welcome more visitors back to the School.

For more information on tours, please contact archives@lshtm.ac.uk