Almost exactly one year ago, staff and volunteers at Gairloch Museum were putting the final touches to their new museum before its official opening. Scroll forward a year and the picture is a similar one. After a very successful first nine months, during which it welcomed more than 10,000 visitors, the museum was forced to close for almost four months due to coronavirus. Staff were furloughed and only returned to work at the beginning of July, after the Scottish Government announced its accelerated timetable for restarting tourism. Since then it has been all hands on deck to get the museum open. It has taken three weeks but we are almost there.
The first stage of the process was to set up a task force for reopening. This has been led by Curator Karen Buchanan and includes front of house staff and volunteers with responsibility for retail and maintenance. A risk assessment identified that the museum could reopen subject to some changes, the majority of which were in the areas of ticketing and cleaning. It was also necessary to review display areas taking into consideration the risk of spreading Covid-19 through touch.
In order to reduce contact between visitors, it was decided to assign groups of visitors (e.g. families or couples) to slots and to introduce a one-way system for their circulation. The display areas can accommodate a maximum of one group in each of the five galleries at any one time. Using this system, groups should not come into contact with one another other than at pinch points such as the entrance and staircase. Here barriers and passing places have been used to separate two directional traffic. Consideration was also given to how to ensure only one group is using the toilet and shop at a time.
It was decided to use the Art Fund’s ‘Art Tickets’ booking facility for advance booking of slots. This option was chosen as it is free for museums to use, and was a system we had already considered being involved with. Art Fund have been overwhelmed with new users of Art Tickets, but have done a fantastic job getting us onto the system quickly and signing us up for training webinars. As we open, we will be taking telephone and email bookings, but hope to transition soon to Art Tickets when we are more confident in using it. We will try to accommodate those who have not pre-booked and turn up on spec and they will need to supply the details required for Test and Protect. From 9-10am we will only allow 2 groups in and reserve these slots for members and vulnerable people.
We have gone for a two prong approach as regards touching objects. We have signed just about everything. Either it is OK to touch a display (this applies to interactives), or it is not (e.g. open display objects). We have made it clear that touching interactives is at visitors’ own risk, and provided sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and bins next to them. We feel that the signage we have used is user friendly and well designed in communicating the rationale to the visitors. In one area where there are a lot of open display objects, barriers have been placed in front of the displays and new labels attached to the barriers.
We will not be able to allow visitors to use the film theatre in the museum. This is a great shame, as our film is so popular. But it is 25 minutes long and the room it is shown in is poorly ventilated. We have obtained permission from the film maker to publish clips from the film on Vimeo and we aim to do this, though it is unlikely to be achieved before we reopen. We will also produce a large poster to go into the doorway of the film theatre that will advertise the film and have QR codes linking to the Vimeo clips. We have also considered using QR clips to link to an area on our website which would house the sound clips from our listening posts. This will take longer to produce and we will work on it once we are open.
Quite a few of our front of house volunteers have chosen not to return to help out at the museum for the time being. However, we have managed to get enough volunteers to open 4 days a week 9-5. In fact, it has been a good opportunity to recruit and train new volunteers. We will have one volunteer on the desk and one upstairs stewarding groups. Our FOH supervisor will meet and greet.
One of the significant hurdles to reopening was getting hold of the materials we needed such as barriers and hand sanitiser dispensers. We eventually got the latter after about a 4 week wait but one of our volunteers eventually had to go to Inverness to pick it up. Barriers could not be obtained in time so they have been borrowed from a local contractor in the meantime. We have installed a wall mounted or free standing hand sanitiser in every gallery, at the entrance, in the stairwell and outside the toilets. We have also placed one on the way into the shop and are grappling with instructions to visitors on touching shop produce.
It has been time consuming producing the information that we need to get out to visitors in its various formats and for different distribution channels. We have had to change our opening hours on all the platforms that people use (e.g. Google Business, Visit Scotland etc.) as well as our own website. We have dedicated a special page on our website to provide advance information for visitors and have also tried to get this out through social media. We managed to recruit a volunteer to produce a film for us to guide visitors through the new systems in the museum. This required storyboarding and recruiting people to take part in the film.
With hopefully everything in place now, we are looking forward to reopening and to seeing how visitors behave in the museum under these changed circumstances. We are well aware that we need to be flexible and respond to visitor feedback. We will use our museum stewards to assess the effectiveness of the measures we have put in place and to feed back to us. Wish us luck!
Find out about opening times and how to book here – https://www.gairlochmuseum.org/