Coronavirus: London museums 'looking forward to seeing visitors'

By Tim Stokes
BBC News

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Image source, AFP
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London's galleries and museums have been closed since the lockdown began in March

Following the government's announcement that museums and galleries can reopen from 4 July, many venues have expressed their excitement about being able to welcome visitors once more.

However, social distancing rules mean that it is still not possible for others to open their doors.

BBC News spoke to several of London's institutions about whether they will be expecting guests over the summer and the challenges which they will be facing.

Florence Nightingale Museum

Image source, Florence Nightingale Museum

"We're really looking forward to seeing our visitors again," says David Green, director of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

The venue is planning to reopen but not until around 1 August. This will allow time "to prepare, make sure the museum is thoroughly cleaned and ensure that our staff are thoroughly trained", he explains.

Nevertheless, ideas are already being developed about how guests will be able to experience the building, situated on the site of St Thomas' Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Visitors will have have to buy advance tickets for an allocated time slot and they will first gather in an outside space where they will be met by an actor playing the famous Lady with the Lamp.

"Florence will give them the rules for going round the museum and as a disciplinarian she'll explain exactly how she likes things done with hands being washed and faces covered," the director said.

Even with the doors reopening, Mr Green believes the future of the museum remains "in the balance".

"We really need people to support us. We lost our big earning months," he said.

Charles Dickens Museum

Image source, Charles Dickens Museum

The director of the Charles Dickens Museum says she is "quietly confident" there will be "a surge of interest" from local visitors when her venue reopens its doors.

"In the last 10 days we've had lots more phone calls and people knocking on our door asking when they can come in," Cindy Sughrue said.

Like the one dedicated to Florence Nightingale, the Dickens Museum, based in Bloomsbury, will not be ready for guests on 4 July.

However, Dr Sughrue said they were "geared up to open as soon as possible over the summer".

She believes the fact that it is based in Dickens' old home is "fortunate" for when visitors come back through the doors as it "has a natural one-way system".

"I think people are ready to get back to some sort of normality and do the things we all love again," she said.

The Postal Museum

Image source, The Postal Museum/Miles Willis

While the government's announcement has been welcomed by many museums, the chief executive of the Postal Museum says they remain "in a state of limbo".

The restricted space inside, particularly on its Mail Rail ride, means it will not be able to admit enough guests to make it viable to open, even with reduced distancing rules in place.

Laura Wright says the venue has similar problems to those which theatres and concert halls face when they try to reopen.

"We're in London where people need to use public transport to visit us. It's an enclosed space and we've got a ride which is expensive to run.

"It costs too much for us to open at the moment," she said.

Nevertheless, Ms Wright believes the announcement overall is "brilliant news" as people are "yearning" to visit attractions.

"We'll continue to work on how we can open safely," she said.

"However, the government needs to remember all museums are so different and it's not the same for everyone," she said.

Royal Museums Greenwich

Image source, Reuters

With four historic venues to look after, including the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, Royal Museums Greenwich is taking a staged approach to reopening.

"We plan to start with Cutty Sark then roll out to other sites over the summer so they're all open by September," says chief executive Paddy Rogers.

Opening the venues one-by-one will allow bosses to keep a check on everything and ensure "staff and visitors are comfortable, they have a good experience and that it meets the guest's expectations", he said.

With timed ticketing already in place, a one-way system will be in force throughout the historic ship while interactive exhibits will be altered to make them hands-free.

"Greenwich has been very busy over the last few weeks. I think there's an appetite among people to get out for some tourism," Mr Rodgers said.

What about London's largest museums?

Image source, AFP

The government's reopening plans have been "welcomed" by the capital's largest institutions.

In a joint statement, the directors of the Tate, Science Museum Group, Natural History Museum, National Gallery, British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum said they would "work closely with government, trade unions and supporters to see how and when we can open our doors again in a financially sustainable manner".

"The reopening of museums - whose galleries speak to the creative, resilient power of the human spirit - will provide solace and inspiration as Britain looks to the future," they added.

The Museum of London, based near the Barbican, also said it was "not currently in a position to confirm an exact reopening date".

A spokesperson said discussions were "ongoing around an appropriate and safe time and any necessary measures".

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