South Kensington museum district unveils reopening plans with fewer visitors

The Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and Science Museum are to reopen in August – but are planning for around a fifth of the usual number of visitors.

South Kensington’s museum district – usually a tourist and school holiday hotspot in London – has been closed in lockdown.

The three institutions are opening their doors again with new safety measures.

Timed, free tickets will be needed to enter the museums.

The V&A is initially opening from Thursday to Sunday each week.

Its director, Tristram Hunt, said it will see what the “appetite” is from the public for visiting.

“Finances are still very precarious so there is little point having very extended opening hours if no-one is coming through the door,” he said.

“At the moment, we haven’t got the demand we would necessarily hope for but that will grow and we will go with it.”

The V&A and the Natural History Museum said they are expecting around an 80% reduction in visitors initially.

The Natural History Museum will reopen on August 5, the V&A on August 6, and the Science Museum on August 19.

The V&A said the “seven miles of galleries” in its building will reopen in phases, beginning with the ground floor collection galleries.

Mr Hunt said that “reopening is only the first phase to our recovery, which is set to last well into next year”.

Its Kimono: Kyoto To Catwalk exhibition, which closed just two weeks into its run, has now been extended and will reopen on August 27.

An exhibition on handbags will open later this year, while exhibitions on art, design and culture in Iran and an Alice In Wonderland exhibition are planned for next year.

V&A Dundee will reopen on August 27 with its exhibition on Mary Quant, and the V&A Collection at World of Wedgwood, near Stoke-on-Trent, will reopen on July 20.

Natural History Museum director Sir Michael Dixon said he is looking forward to reopening “our wonderful cathedral to nature”.

The “period of lockdown” has inspired new exhibition ideas, he added.

The museum will open Wednesday to Sunday.

An exhibition inspired by Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s “fantastic beasts” will open later.

Museum chiefs said visitors will be able to explore collections without the usual crowds.

Face coverings will be recommended but are not yet mandatory, although museums will look at the latest Government guidance.

The Science Museum will open seven days a week until September 6, after which it will be open Wednesday to Sunday.

At the Science Museum, Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery will be open for younger visitors, with enhanced cleaning and safety measures.

Its basement – popular with very young children – will be shut because of potential issues with overcrowding.

Headphones, which have become very “fashionable” in museums as a way of learning about exhibits, will not be in use.

Mr Hunt said “young people have been let down in the last few months”, criticising the response of “some education leaders”.

Museums want to help and support teachers so that “creative subjects stay in our schools and are not stripped out when schools return in September”, he said.

Museum bosses said they were “impressed” with the Government settlement but long-term viability would be more of an issue.

They are expected to need more Government support to survive long term if social distancing continues.

It is expected that there will be fewer exhibitions, which will remain open for longer.

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