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Discover the Buildings Involved in York Unlocked as It Returns for a Second Year

york Unlocked Bishopthorpe Palace
What's on
August 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

From 7th-8th October, York Unlocked returns to open the doors of around 70 buildings across the city for you to discover their secrets

This unique two-day event offers access to magnificent buildings and open spaces across the city that are often closed to the public, aiming to allow both residents and tourists to uncover hidden treasures and experience familiar places with fresh eyes.

This follows a hugely successful first event last year in which around 20,000 visits were made to more than 60 buildings. Visitors came from York and nearby cities, and from as far afield as Australia and the USA.

Favourites from last year’s event including the Assembly Rooms, Duncombe Place Masonic Lodge and King’s Manor are back on this year’s programme along with new additions for 2023, including Bishopthorpe Palace, the Archbishop’s Walled & Pleasure Garden, St Peter’s School, St Mary’s Tower and Minster Refectory. Other buildings involved include The Star Inn the City, Bedern Hall, Theatre 41 and York Medical Society. This year’s event will also feature a special Architecture of the Ouse cruise in collaboration with City Cruises as well as new ‘insider tours’.

York Unlocked is a registered charity and the event is run entirely by a small team of volunteers, supported by the goodwill of building owners and managers. The weekend has also been made possible thanks to funding from York BID, the Dulverton Trust, RIBA Yorkshire and the York Common Good Trust. Five volunteers (with full-time jobs) delivered the event last year and were all exhausted by the end. This year, there’s a bigger volunteer planning and delivery team, and slightly more funding.

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Assembly Rooms
Cameron Walker Court

‘Having had such a great event in 2022, we wanted to maintain the momentum,’ says Kathy King, marketing/market research and project lead. ‘We also know from other cities that have "open buildings" weekends that it takes a few years to become well established. Also, the day after we finished York Unlocked 2022 people were demanding the date for the next one. It is quite wonderful to have so many enthusiastic people cheering us on. We hope, ultimately, that visitors gain a better understanding of York’s built environment; our ability to recycle and repurpose buildings plus the challenges an ancient city faces to remain resilient in modern times. 

‘Visitors and building owners loved the event. Many building owners commented they’d had the most visitors ever, and that visitors were not "typical" (i.e the "usual heritage crowd”) so most were eager to become involved again this year. Visitors also were very enthusiastic; many travelled from outside of York and stayed the whole day or even the whole weekend (we had people from London, Bristol , Manchester etc as well as from Hull, Sheffield and Leeds). We had quite a few families visiting, and a few people determined to access every building in the programme. What was also great for York was that people stayed and spent money in shops, restaurants and hotels; we were independently assessed to have made a significant difference to the local economy that weekend. But we also learnt that people who live in York often haven’t been into some of our amazing buildings, even the ones that have reasonable accessibility. I think perhaps we are so surrounded by amazing buildings we stop seeing them. York Unlocked actively "invites" people to go inside and be nosey – who can resist that?’

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St Mary Tower

Kathy and her team wanted to offer some fresh buildings as well as a few of last year's favourites. ‘Unusually perhaps, we've added some pubs. York has around 400 pubs, many are quite extraordinary so the team decided we’d showcase a handful each year. Some of last year’s building owners have worked hard to bring something new to our concept of "unlocking mysteries”. For example, Bar Convent is opening up its hidden chapel roof structure to show visitors the design secrets. We chose our buildings to reflect diversity of type and purpose. There must be new as well as old, domestic and public, and open spaces too.’

Volunteer manager Olivia Sharrard has been been developing the volunteering programme for York Unlocked since February 2022, and has been aiming to create a programme that is as inclusive as possible. ‘I love connecting people with things that they love doing; be that heritage, people in their community, new experiences, or pathways to developing their career,’ she says. ‘It’s been an honour that so many people have wanted to get involved with York Unlocked, helping to develop the project and/or steward during the October Event, and I have truly enjoyed seeing our volunteers get so much out of their experiences with us.  

‘The volunteering programme consists of a main strand of volunteering; this being volunteering as an Event Steward for the weekend event in October, and this year I have also developed some additional “project roles”, such as involvement with buildings research or social media content creation. To give something back to our volunteers and say a big thank-you, I have also set up some volunteer-only events throughout the summer months this year which are branded our Sneaks & Socials. These involve having a behind-the-scenes tour of a chosen building, and then heading to a historic York pub for a catch up and getting to know fellow volunteers within the team. It has been a fantastic opportunity to get to know the people who volunteer with us, and it reminds me just what an amazing team of people we have who make York Unlocked happen!’

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The Star Inn the City
Bishopthorpe Palace

The event itself has a personal element because the people who own or run the buildings are actually there opening their doors, and are available to chat to and find out first-hand what they know about the building and what has happened there. ‘I mention that the experience of finding out about buildings can also be empowering; one of the aims of York Unlocked is that by educating people about York’s buildings and how they are used today, individuals have more knowledge and influence about planning decisions in York,’ Olivia adds. ‘For example, York’s old buildings are amazing, but also need to be fit for people to live in today, as well as being able to sit aside new, modern buildings. Knowing how and why this happens is empowering for people who might otherwise have been left out of decisions about the future of York’s urban landscape.’

Visit for a list of buildings and events for 2023. The full programme will be confirmed in August. To find out more information about volunteering, email

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