Rhiannon Hiles is the Chief Executive of Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, in County Durham. Here she shares how the pandemic impacted the museum in Beamish’s Golden Jubilee year, from closing three times to reopening with limited numbers and restrictions. Reminding us all that we need to do our bit to help keep the North East open and #BeatCovidNE.
Q. How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
I don’t think I will ever forget hearing the Prime Minister’s announcement in March 2020, that the country would be going into the first lockdown. I was on the museum’s Edwardian Town street with our staff and volunteers on the day we closed, and it was an emotional time seeing the last tram leaving, we weren’t sure for how long.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the museum, which subsequently had to close to visitors for extended periods, and reopen with restricted numbers. We’re a charity and 95% of our income is from our visitors, including admission tickets, retail and catering, so there has been a major effect.
Q. What challenges have you faced?
2020 was to be Beamish’s Golden Jubilee, and we had a year of celebrations planned to mark our 50th anniversary. Instead, we had to close our doors three times due to the pandemic, reopening each time with limited numbers and restrictions.
Having to close a 350-acre museum is certainly no easy task, and we had a small team looking after the site, including our animals, objects and exhibits. It’s certainly been quite a time for everyone, and our team worked tirelessly to secure the future of the museum, and to ensure that Beamish can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Q. What changes have you had to make in response to the pandemic?
We’ve put in an enormous amount of work to make sure that people can still enjoy the much-loved Beamish experience in a COVID-19 safe way.
When the museum had to close during lockdown we introduced a range of creative ways for people to enjoy Beamish from home, including live online Victorian lessons, afternoon tea deliveries and launched an online shop.
When we were able to open our doors again we introduced a range of COVID-19 Secure measures across the museum. We’ve had great feedback from visitors, who really do appreciate all of the measures we’ve put in place.
Q. How have you and your staff coped during lockdown?
Our staff and volunteers are absolutely fantastic and I am really proud of them all, they have been amazing when facing the challenges caused by the pandemic. It has been such a difficult time for everyone and the way our people have responded has been outstanding.
We’re delighted that the hard work of our staff and volunteers in responding to the challenges of the pandemic has been recognised with a national award – we have just won the Pandemic Pivot Award in the Museums & Heritage Awards 2021.
Q. When people visit you, what will they see that is different now?
We have a range of COVID-19 secure measures in place across the museum, while ensuring that people can continue to enjoy their visit and have a great day out.
Measures we’ve introduced include pre-booked timeslot entry, enhanced cleaning regimes, social distancing and one-way systems, additional training for staff and volunteers, hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser stations, glass screens and contactless payments.
We’re proud to hold the VisitBritain ‘We’re Good To Go’ standard for organisations that are following government and industry guidelines, have a COVID-19 risk assessment in place, and have a process to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.
Q. What has the response been since reopening?
The response since reopening has been wonderful! We’re overjoyed to be able to welcome visitors back to Beamish - it’s so great to see people enjoying the museum again.
During lockdown, we had so many messages from people telling us how much they were missing Beamish – and we were really missing them too. It has been brilliant to be able to open our doors again. We’ve had lots of lovely feedback from people telling us how much they’ve enjoyed being back at Beamish, which is so heart-warming and absolutely fantastic to hear.
Q. Why are you supporting the Keep the North East Open campaign?
We’re extremely proud to be a part of the North East. We wanted to support the campaign to thank people for everything they’ve been doing, and continue to do, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is our region, our communities, our local businesses and it’s up to us to look after them. Together we can Keep the North East Open.