Hosting an Open Day

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Some years ago we realised that while we were trying to live more sustainable lives and encouraging others to do so, the impact we were having outside our own family group was negligible. The neighbours were tolerant of our foibles but not really interested and apart from that the only record of our efforts was the odd article in Grass Roots magazine. We were at an eco-show and I talked with a gentleman from the alternative Technology Association who suggested we open for Sustainable House Day and since then we have opened on sustainable house day for 5 of the last 6 years and we now open every year for National Permaculture Day as well.

While it would be quite within the realms of possibility to hold an open day yourself, just for your local area to showcase what you have been doing, there are a couple of advantages to being part of a larger organisation –

Insurance – Unfortunately we live in a very litigious society and if someone hurts themself on your property you could be liable for their injuries. That is not a reason to avoid having an open day, but it is a reason to make sure that you are protected and if your open day is under the umbrella of a larger organisation you will be covered by their public liability insurance. Having said that we have not had one injury since we started opening to the public, but having the protection is wise. Most household insurance policies have a some public liability insurance attached to them as well, but if you intend to open stand-alone it would be worth asking your insurance company whether you are still covered under those circumstances.

Promotion – you can bet that any umbrella organisation you become associated with will have a much bigger budget for marketing and advertising the day than you will. Local leaflet drops and posters in your local library, shops and doctors offices is a cheap way to publicise your open day as well as telling all your contacts on the net but advertising on buses and taxis, magazine and newspaper articles and radio and TV ads are a much more sure fire way to get people to come. We have had over 70 people come in a day and less than ten; I know which I would prefer!

So let’s assume that you are ready to put yourself out there and open your house and home to visitors from the public, what happens next? Well, from our experience, here are some of the issues you might want to think about –

What are you going to open?

This comes back to your level of comfort with having the public snooping through your stuff, you may want to restrict people to the front yard only, give them free reign all over the place or somewhere in between. We open the front yard, garage and backyard and have a process that we take people though covering each area in turn. We do not take the public through our house, which is reserved for invited guests only, but I know of people who do take tours through their house and do it very successfully. It is a decision you will have to make and in part it will be driven by where the interesting stuff is that you want to show people.

How long are you going to open for?

The hours that you open for may be set by any umbrella organisation you are dealing with or you may have some say in what hours you open. We generally open between 10:00am and 4:00pm and if we get a good day after 6 hours of walking and talking I am absolutely shattered and while there may be a lull around lunch time, there may not be so it is good to arrange your significant other to prepare some walk and talk food for you just in case. You may elect to only open for the morning or afternoon and if the umbrella organisation has stuff going on all weekend you may want to open only one of the two days. The important thing is to make your decision early so it can be put on any promotional material and communicated so that your visitors will know when to turn up. Although you should be prepared for people to turn up late, early and on the wrong day as well, not many thankfully but it does happen!

The clean up

You will want your place to look its best when you open so allow a day or two prior to the day itself to preen. Mow the lawns (if you have them), pick up the crap that most of us put up with for the rest of the year and make sure everything looks tidy. If it is possible that your open day will attract children as well as adults it helps to look at the open area at a child’s level and see if there is anything that they could hurt themselves on or that they could inadvertently destroy. In our experience most kids are well behaved and their parents keep an eye on them but all you need is one little rotter to do something unspeakable while everyone’s back is turned to sour you on the whole experience. There is no need to be paranoid but just have the thought in the back of your mind when cleaning up, or is there an area from which kids will be banned to save you the trouble?


If you expect to get more than half a dozen people through in a full day you will need people to help you, even if all they do is provide crowd control. The best helper is the one who knows something about your set up, can give a bit of commentary during the tour and can answer questions, although it is fair enough to defer to you for the curly ones. Fortunately for me my wife and son-in-law are ready willing and able to help me out on open days and they lighten my load somewhat. It is quite possible that the larger organisation may allot you helper(s) and if this is the case be grateful and get them to arrive at least an hour before the day is due to start. This is so you can give them their own private tour if they have not been there before and so you can let them know what you expect of them. If you have to supply your own helpers then friends and family are the best pool to draw from although one year when helpers were unavailable I got several people from one of the forums we are on – Aussies Living Simply and we all had a great day.


An exapmple of labelling

If you have intentions of doing this more than once, or even if you don’t you may get sucked in and having some labels on your creations and a little bit of blurb about what they are and how they work this will support your unskilled helpers and give people something to look at and read until you become available to talk to them. We do it fairly simply using Microsoft Word, a large easily read title, a smaller sentence or two of information and a bit of appropriate clip art to add colour all on a piece of A4 copy paper. Print it out in colour and then laminate it so you can use it year after year and these days with the cost of a small A4 laminator and some pouches and you can do it all at home.

Unfinished projects

The unfinished aquaculture system

Don’t hide these, let people know that you are on a journey too. Showcase the works in progress as well as those finished masterpieces that you are rightfully proud of because sometimes seeing the process you are following will make it easier for someone to repeat what you have done than by just seeing the finished product. You may even deliberately keep an unfinished work to demonstrate how something is made or how it works. We did this with the latest open day by keeping a self watering vegetable growing container that is not filled with potting mix, so when we got to that area of the garden I could pull it apart and show how it was constructed. This makes it much easier to demonstrate a concept and hopefully helps people remember what they have seen.

Take-away material

Do you want to have material on offer for people to take away with them? It is easy for us now, we had a stack of business cards printed up with our site address on it and when I am talking to people, particularly those who take notes, that what they will be seeing is covered on our website. Back in the days previous to our website I would photocopy some of the articles that had been published in Grass Roots for people to take. We get quite a bit of material from the sponsors of Sustainable House Day including free ReNew magazines to give away as well. You might want to download stuff from the net about what you are doing if you don’t have any written material of you own or you might not want to bother with any take away stuff and that is fine too.


There are two issues with the taking of photos – yours and someone else’s. If you want to have your own record of the day, and it can be fun to look back on, don’t plan on doing the photography yourself; you will be too busy walking and talking. This is an ideal job for one of your helpers, preferably one of the ones who will be doing crowd control rather than one who could be pressed into service if a busload of people arrive. That way you can get a complete record of the day. The other issue is do you want to allow visitors to take their own photos? I don’t see a down side to this and we always let people take any photos they want but you should think about this and not be forced into a decision the first time someone asks if it is OK to take photos and decide what you want.

Note: I wish to thank Carmel from the Penrith Council Sustainability Team and Robert from Permaculture Sydney West for the photographs used in this article.


The display at the back of the house including weather protection

One of the things that you can’t control is the weather. The open days we have are in May and September when the weather in Sydney is very changeable, so we are constantly looking at the weather forecast and praying not for rain! We have had all kinds of weather for open days from cold, wet and windy all the way through to the best weather imaginable. As the old saying goes – Hope for the best but plan for the worst. We have a number of tarpaulins that we can set up including one over the washing line and one over a frame in front of the garage and they provide cover for static displays of gear we have made and areas out of the weather for visitors to stand. On hot days the cover we have up also provides room out of the sun so have a look around your place and work out if there are covered areas you can erect for the day to make the experience more comfortable for you and your visitors. You may also want to have some cheap umbrellas to lend to visitors in case they do not bring their own.

If you are a bit nervous about taking people through what you have been doing that is understandable, but just remember that you will know more about your activities than them and they are there to learn more. When it comes to public speaking nothing is more satisfying than talking about a subject you are passionate on to an attentive and motivated audience. If someone does ask you a curly one the response is simple – “I don’t know the answer to that but if you leave your contact details with me I will find out and get back to you”. Then do it!

Another thing is not to be put off if you feel that you haven’t got enough to put on a show. There are people out there from all parts of the spectrum including the absolute beginners and sharing with them where you are on your journey is also worthwhile. We all have to start somewhere and by showing them what you have achieved you may just prove to them that they can do it too, so that they will go home prepared to give it a go.

There is some work involved in setting up and running an open day but don’t let that put you off, it is a hugely fun thing to do and very satisfying when you are relaxing at the end of a hectic day spent walking and talking to all manner of people. We have certainly made friends out of some of the people who have come to look so if you are in any way interested in getting involved with an open day or setting up your own don’t delay – go for it!

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