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Celebrating York with History and Heritage

Bex Hume speaks to Visit York about the upcoming Residents Weekend, highlighting the opportunities on offer

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Image Credit: Vist York

Celebrating its 25th year in 2020, York Residents Festival is an annual opportunity for York to give back to the residents and students that make it such a vibrant city. In 2018, The Sunday Times awarded York the title of “The Best Place to Live in Britain,” citing its unique blend of historical beauty and rapidly growing technological connections
as major factors in its appeal. Every year York welcomes almost seven million visitors from outside its walls. However, it is those who call the city home that the festival aims to celebrate.

The idea of the Residents Festival, organised by Visit York, is to give those who live in York the opportunity to experience many of its attractions for free, and its food and drink hot spots for a reduced cost for the duration of a weekend. This year it will take place across the 25 and 26 January and for students, this is an ideal opportunity to get out into York and explore within the tight constraints of a budget. All that is needed to enjoy the weekend is the presentation of your valid student ID card when you arrive at a participating attraction or restaurant.

Talking to Visit York, I learnt why the festival is so important to the city and what is on offer throughout the weekend.
What is the motivation behind hosting the festival? What is Visit York trying to achieve?
“The event is organised as a way of saying thank you to residents for the warm welcome they give to York’s 6.9 million visitors each year, with attractions opening up their doors free of charge for the weekend. The festival
encourages residents to explore their own city and experience it in a different way – discovering a range of attractions, tours and unique events right on their doorsteps."
“This festival is our way as an industry to say thank you and to share the many special ‘Only In York’ experiences on offer, exclusively to residents. With free entry to the city’s leading attractions and a host of special restaurant and shopping offers, there are so many fabulous experiences on offer for everyone to enjoy.”

What is it that makes York such a special place to celebrate?
“York is one of England’s finest and most beautiful historic cities. With Roman roots and a Viking past, York offers an eclectic mix of culture and history – with hidden gems and unique experiences around every corner."
“The city has over thirty world-class museums and attractions to explore, including iconic attractions such as York Minster, the National Railway Museum and JORVIK Viking Centre. York is also home to a range of independent shops full of character and local produce, and a mouth-watering range of food and drink experiences to suit all tastes. York Residents Festival celebrates all these fabulous experiences that the city has to offer and gives residents a chance to
experience a range of attractions for free and access a whole host of restaurant and shopping offers.”

How long does it take to organise the festival? What goes into the planning of it?
“We begin planning many months in advance - working with a wide range of attractions, shops and restaurants to pull together a programme of activity for residents to enjoy over the weekend. Our team work hard to bring together a range of offers and discounts to suit a wide variety of interests which we publicise on our website and through the Festival Guide available in our Visitor Information Centre. This year, we have also had the support of Grand Central as our main sponsor and York BID are working with us to offer residents 400 £5 York Gift Cards during the festival weekend. The first residents to arrive at the Visitor Information Centre on 25th and 26th January will receive a £5 York Gift Card (until they run out), which can be spent in over 200 businesses around the city.”

York’s Residents Festival is now in its 25th year. Is it now a firm fixture in the city and something that is going to continue and grow for the foreseeable future?
“The inaugural festival which was held in January 1996 saw 15 visitor attractions participate – many of which are still
taking part to this day, including York Minster, York Castle Museum, JORVIK Viking Centre and Fairfax House. Over the last 25 years, the number of attractions and tours taking part has increased to 50 - with an additional 50 offers now including discounts on retail and dining experiences. Since the festival was launched, over 333,000 free visits have been taken up with thousands of residents taking part each year and we intend to keep growing the festival each year.”

While many well-known attractions, such as the JORVIK Centre and the Yorkshire Museum will be opening their doors across the weekend to visitors from the city, the Residents Festival also provides a unique chance to showcase many of York’s hidden gems or less publicised places of interest. Many of York’s attractions have fascinating histories, and just a small selection of these can inspire those with all areas of historical interest.

With its oldest sections dating back to circa 1360, the timber-framed medieval Barley Hall in Coffee Yard was commissioned as a hostel for the senior clerics who conducted regular business at York Minster. In the fifteenth century, ownership changed when the house was leased to Master William Snawsell until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, when the house came under crown control. Since then, it has been divided up into smaller sections for uses as diverse as an undertakers to a radio repair shop, until 1987 when it was purchased by the York Archaeological Trust. They conducted extensive research to date and restore what remained of the medieval building hidden behind its modern exterior, and the hall as seen today aims to reconstruct how it would have looked in the late fifteenth century. It is the ideal visit for anyone interested in late medieval history. Barley Hall will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm.

A grade I listed building and member of the Historic Houses Association, Fairfax House is situated on Castlegate and presents a fine example of a Georgian townhouse in the heart of the city. Built in the 1740s, the house was the winter home of Viscount Fairfax and showcases lavishly decorated interiors and refined examples of Georgian art and architecture. The house later became known as St. George’s Hall in the 1920s when it was converted into a thriving cinema and dancehall, with the dancehall still hosting guests until 1980. Careful restoration of the original Georgian interior began after the house was purchased by the York Civic Trust. For six weeks in winter the house closes for continued vital conservation work, and so the Residents Festival provides a chance to see it as it would not normally be seen. For those interested in art history or the eighteenth century, the house is the ideal visit. Fairfax House will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm.

One of York’s smaller museums and winner in the Visitor Attraction of the Year category for under 50,000 visitors at the 2018 Visit York Tourism Awards, the York Army Museum on Tower Street hosts regimental collections of the serving Royal Dragoon Guards and the Yorkshire Regiment, as well as collections of all of the Royal Dragoon Guards’ predecessors and the Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment. It showcases military artefacts spanning from 1685 to the present day, and the museum has also worked with local groups to research and document First World War memorials. While its exhibitions aim to show involvement in global conflict, the museum’s ties to Yorkshire make for an informative visit for anyone interested in local or military history. York Army Museum will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5pm.


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