May 14, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 14 May 2020

We can report on two fronts – reopening and the UMG survey.

(We assume that you are aware of the widely-reported extension of the Job Retention Scheme and the state of play with current funding schemes – links provided in earlier updates).

1 – Reopening

Government guidance for England now indicates that museums and galleries may reopen as part of Step 3 of the roadmap to lift restrictions, scheduled ‘no earlier than 4 July’.

The NMDC remobilisation working group anticipates publishing a short paper within the next week or so, followed by more detailed guidance. It is recognised that the physical conditions of museums differ widely; some historic buildings constrain visitor numbers, given social distancing, much more than others. Some museums cannot open without the support of volunteers in at-risk age groups; some staff may be unable to travel to work without using public transport; in some cases reopening with limited visitor numbers may not be financially viable. Staff, volunteers and visitors need to be safe and also feel safe.

Some museums are now working on plans to reopen in July; others are more focussed on subsequent months; timetables are of course subject to what is happening with the virus, with testing, etc. It is recognised that there will be a communications challenge, as some museums open earlier than others, and a risk that some may suffer from more prolonged closure. It will be important that university leaderships recognise that museums should open in relation to museums regionally and nationally, possibly prior to other university buildings reopening for students.

The Cabinet Office has established five roadmap taskforces; one of these, dedicated to the recreation and leisure sector, will be convened by DCMS; the taskforce will have a Museums and Galleries subgroup, which we have been invited to join. It meets for the first time next Monday.

The Association of Independent Museums is looking at providing detailed guidance specifically for smaller museums, which may also be helpful to some university museums.

2 – Our survey

Twenty-one museums responded to the UMG Covid-19 Impact survey, representing ten English universities and one Scottish, and with a combined audience of over 4 million visitors and 475 staff. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed. As well as vital quantitative information, there is a wealth of insightful narrative feedback, which aligns with the general sector experience but also highlights the specific context and concerns of university museums. All the quantitative data is presented in aggregate and the qualitative responses have been anonymised.

Headline themes point to the greater threat of the medium and long term impacts of Covid-19, with the likely contraction of HE and strong possibility that host universities may retrench, with activities perceived as ‘non-core’ being particularly vulnerable. That said, there is also a strong message about the opportunities present in recovery for university museums to demonstrate their pivotal contribution as an interface between HE and civic society, as specialists in delivering health and well-being, and our agility, with the support and resources, to benefit from the future focus on the digital.

The final report will be shared with DCMS and ACE next week, circulated via this list, and posted on the UMG website. Although the returns have provided ample material for this exercise, we still welcome further responses which can help inform continuing development of our advocacy message. We would particularly like to hear from non-RE funded museums.

Please feel free to feed back more informally, if that is more appropriate for you at this time.

Nicholas Thomas / Nicola Kalinsky
Co-Chairs
University Museums Group