London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum are all set to fully reopen in August, just in time for the summer holidays. Museums across the country are now easing out of lockdown after almost five months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The nation has reconnected with the natural world during lockdown and there is no better place to discover all it has to offer than our museum,” proclaimed the Director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Michael Dixon.
The South Kensington institutions will stagger their opening dates throughout August in order to reduce footfall on Exhibition Road and avoid overcrowding of the nearby London Underground station.
Like many other museums, it will be mandatory for visitors to book a timed ticket to maintain social distancing. Safety information will be given out before arrival too. A small number of V&A staff have been allowed back on site over the last month to organise a series of new visitor trails, determine places for hand sanitiser stations, and add new signage and labels.
Deputy Director & Chief Operating Officer at the V&A, Tim Reeve remarked that “while in the whole scheme of things, the visual intrusion of new signage is a small price to pay for throwing open the doors, I will particularly miss the ‘Please touch this object’ labels that will have to be temporarily covered up.” In the V&A’s China Gallery, for example, visitors are usually encouraged to touch a priceless Ming Dynasty vase. These types of activities will no longer be allowed according to new guidelines.
For the museums a silver lining of the recent closures has been the completion of essential maintenance projects. “Within the museum itself crucial infrastructure and refurbishment projects – normally the subject of constant deferral to avoid the inevitable disruption to visitors – have been breezing ahead,” explained Reeves.
This includes the major refurbishment of the V&A’s Raphael Court to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death. Reeves marvelled that the scheduled November opening was “a date thought impossible to achieve 100 days ago.”
Although a recent study found that 49% of all Britons felt uneasy about returning to museums, the South Kensington-based directors are eager to welcome back their visitors. “After four months of closure we cannot wait to open our doors. This pandemic reminds us of the importance of reflecting on the world around us, and our impact on it,” said Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group.
The Natural History Museum will be the first to open its doors on 5 August, the V&A will reopen on 6 August, and finally the Science Museum will reopen on 19 August.