Reopening Heritage Attractions

July 2nd 2020

After months of lockdown restrictions, the UK Government has given the green light for heritage attractions in England to re-open. It is hoped that attractions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will soon follow

For most visitor attractions, the implementation of social distancing and increased hygiene measures will be straight forward. However, owners and operators of heritage attractions may face some challenges when trying to make their site covid secure.

Covid-19 measures need to be introduced to secure visitor safety without damaging the historic fabric that provides a tangible link to our collective history. Therefore owners and managers of heritage attractions must find a way to protect visitors without diminishing the features that they have paid to see and experience.

The UK Government has published some guidance for owners and managers of heritage attractions on how to prepare their sites for re-opening. Most of it contains guidance for regular tourist attractions, however there are useful suggestions for owners and operators of heritage sites and buildings. The full document can be seen here. The following is a summary of the key points together with some of our suggestions;

Risk Assessment

Risk assessments should be used to aid decisions about what should be done to make a heritage attraction covid secure for visitors without damaging the historic environment. They should also be used to decide how staff and volunteers can remain safe whilst at work. We have produced a general risk assessment template that can be used for this purpose. It can be found here

Social Distancing

The current (early July 2020) social distancing requirements in England are to remain 2m apart or 1m with risk mitigation measures if 2m is not viable.

Each site should estimate how many people can visit at one time whilst maintaining appropriate social distancing.

Consideration should be given to controlling numbers so that they remain below the maximum for realistic social distancing. For example this could be achieved by restricting entry to holders of pre-booked timed tickets.

Review the visitor route on your site. Is it possible to implement a one way system so that visitors do not need to pass each other?

Identify areas where visitors have no choice but to pass close to each other because of the design and layout of the building or site, for example two way pedestrian traffic on narrow turret stairs. In such circumstances it may be necessary to temporarily close off an area if a one way system cannot be used.

If you provide guided tours to large groups then consider using a free flow system instead. Maintaining a 2m distance between members of a guided group may not be possible in small rooms. In addition, shouting or talking loudly to a large group to make yourself heard may increase the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus. You may need to consider installing temporary interpretation boards in lieu of the guided tour.

If costumed interpreters are used then ensure they occupy spaces that are large enough for visitors to maintain a 2m distance, especially if a demonstration is to take place. If possible, they should only be used in external areas and they should not sing loudly or raise their voice to minimise the potential for aerosol transmission of the virus.

Where physical social distancing measures such as screens at ticketing points are to be introduced then consider how they can be fixed without damaging the historic fabric. Ideally they should be free standing or otherwise fixed to a non-historic element.

If tape is to be used on historic surfaces to mark out social distancing requirements, consider if the adhesive will damage the surface. If the surface is very sensitive then consideration should be given to using free standing signs to indicate distances or using staff or volunteers to remind visitors of the need to stay apart.

If you substantially change the visitor experience then consider the effect this may have on visitors with a disability. You may need to implement measures to ensure that visitors with a disability do not suffer from discrimination because of any changes.

Cleaning and hygiene

Consider the temporary removal of forms of interpretation that require visitors to touch items or pick them up, for example dressing up costumes or children’s interactive materials.

If possible, and subject to fire safety, collection conservation and security requirements, consider holding doors open to eliminate the need for visitors to touch handles and to increase ventilation.

Where it is not possible to remove items that are to be touched, for example stair handrails that are required to maintain safety, implement a programme of regular cleaning throughout the day.

Identify surfaces that visitors instinctively touch, for example holding the sides of a display case whilst looking at the contents. Ensure that such areas are the subject of regular cleaning.

Consider the effect that cleaning chemicals will have on the historic fabric. Historic England has produced some guidance on cleaning historic surfaces during the pandemic. It can be seen here.

If an area contains an item that is unavoidably touched on a regular basis but cannot be easily cleaned, for example a rope handrail on a turret stair, then consider temporarily preventing visitor access to the area.

When visitors use audio guides, implement a system to ensure that the devices are thoroughly cleaned after use. Try to ensure that the time between the repeated use of each device is as long as possible.

It is good practice to have supplies of hand sanitiser for use by both employees and visitors. A hand sanitizing point should be at the entrance and in the ticketing point / shop.

If you have a shop, visitors should be asked not to handle goods before purchasing them.

Communication

Your covid secure arrangements should be clearly displayed or described on your website so that visitors know if they have to book timed tickets and what to expect when they arrive on site.

Your risk assessment should be carried out in consultation with your employees. This is particularly important when deciding on measures to protect staff. Once completed, it should be made available to all employees and kept under review.

For information on general risks, including offices, shops, staff canteens, WCs etc, please refer to our Covid-19 return to work risk assessment template. It can be viewed here

Lycetts Risk Management Services consultants are experienced in managing risks in heritage properties and balancing safety with conservation. If you would like assistance with managing risks, health and safety compliance in the historic environment or completing risk assessments on heritage attractions then please get in touch with Richard Wade here or Simon Houghton here

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