JORVIK Viking Centre, DIG: An Archaeological Adventure and Barley Hall are developing plans for re-opening, as soon as government Covid-19 advice deems it safe to do so.
So much so that bookings are being taken for time slots from July 4, subject to governmental rubber-stamping.
As the summer season looms ever closer, the team at the three York attractions is exploring ways to make them accessible within social-distancing guidelines, including a move towards pre-booked visits only and extended opening hours over the summer.
A tentative re-opening is being planned for York’s retail sector from the start of June, prompting the director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, Sarah Maltby, to hope there will be “the critical mass of visitors for attractions to open in July”. Albeit this would be a somewhat different experience for visitors, taking into account requirements for cleaning and social distancing.
“Nobody really knows how people will react post-lockdown, but the best guidance we’re getting from the industry suggests that local people will stay close to home, with those living in tourism hotspots welcoming friends and relatives for short breaks,” says Sarah.
“Our own research shows people keen to return as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, and also if they are confident that attractions can provide a socially distanced experience, so we’re adapting our operating plans accordingly to manage low levels of visitor flow where this can be maintained.
“It is challenging, especially with indoor attractions, but we are no strangers to challenging circumstances and have a brilliant team who come up with innovative solutions to maintain great visitor experiences.”
One important change will be a move towards pre-booked visits only, in order to help control visitor flow and numbers, as well as extended hours over the key summer months. “We will do away with the famous Jorvik queue around St Mary’s Square with clearly designated time slots for a limited number of visitors every 20 minutes,” says Sarah.
“Within the building, in Coppergate, free-flow areas like the galleries will be more structured with presentations delivered by our Viking interpreters, rather than video content or handling sessions.”
Sarah continues: “The ride experience around the reconstructed Viking city will stay the same, albeit with increased cleaning regimes, and capsules will be exclusive to groups that arrive together.
“So we’re confident we can deliver a great experience where visitors can learn just as much as ever about the Vikings in York – in fact, some people will certainly prefer the far quieter experience, making it a great time for locals to rediscover the heritage on their own doorstep.”
Similar operational plans are being developed for Barley Hall, in Coffee Yard, and DIG, at St Saviour’s Church, St Saviourgate, including relocating the Barley Hall shop to another part of the building, allowing greater space at the entrance for those visiting to wait for their time slots and creating a useful one-way system around the hall.
DIG will introduce an enhanced series of presentations, as well as protective equipment within the digging pits and more to see within the gallery spaces.
All sites will have sanitising hand gel available at regular points in the attraction, plus sneeze guards and floor markings. In addition, they have been implementing increased cleaning programmes since the pandemic first breached British shores, in particular fully disinfecting the attractions during the shutdown.
“As a charity, we rely on the income from our visitor attractions to support much of our research programmes, so we will do everything we can to keep these attractions open, operating and appealing, but safety has to come first,” says Sarah.
“We are watching how the pandemic plays out, and will continue to adapt to the latest guidance and recommendations, so our visitors can be reassured that they can visit safely.”
As trailed earlier, bookings are now being taken for time slots at the three attractions from July 4, pending confirmation from the Government that attractions and museums can open.
Any updates and changes will be advised directly to ticket holders and shared across social media channels. In the meantime, virtual visitors can enjoy Discover From Home experiences on the Jorvik website: jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk/discover-from-home.