Three big York attractions are preparing to reopen, with the ambition to welcome visitors again early in July.
The team at Jorvik Viking Centre, Dig: An Archaeological Adventure and Barley Hall is exploring ways to make the attractions accessible within social distancing guidelines.
With a tentative re-opening planned for York’s retail sector from the start of June, director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust Sarah Maltby is hoping that there will be the critical mass of visitors for attractions to open in July.
“Nobody really knows how people will react post-lockdown,” Sarah said.
“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.
“Our own research shows people keen to return as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, and if they are confident that attractions can provide a socially distanced experience.”
No more Jorvik queue
The trust is drawing up plans to manage low levels of visitor flow.
Sarah said: “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 prebooked visits only 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,” she said.
People used to explore the galleries in their own time. But the new experience will be more structured with presentations delivered by Viking interpreters rather than video content or handling sessions.
The ride experience around the reconstructed Viking city will stay the same but cleaning increased.
Sarah said: “Capsules will be exclusive to groups that arrive together, so we’re confident that 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.”
Changes at Barley Hall and Dig
At Barley Hall the shop will be moved to another part of the building, allowing greater space at the entrance for visitors, and enabling a one-way system.
Dig will supply protective equipment within the digging pits, introduce an enhanced series of presentations, and offer more to see within the galleries.
All sites have been fully disinfected and will reopen with sanitising hand gel available at regular points, sneeze guards and floor markings.
“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.”
Bookings are now being taken for time slots at the three attractions from 4 July, pending confirmation from the government that attractions and museums can open.