“One family bubble in the gazebo” is not something I’d ever imagined saying to visitors at London Museum of Water & Steam, but it was beyond wonderful seeing our plans and new ways of thinking coming together as families arrived onsite last week.

Since 1st June I’ve been working with the Director to think of every little detail of reopening. We’ve teased out the knotty problems and had eureka moments as we worked out how to make things work for the new reality. Once you get over the initial acceptance that it won’t be the same, it’s amazing how you can find joy in the creativity and freedom to do it differently.

I’d been onsite to set up and film our video (which now has over 5,000 views on Twitter!) but going in to open for visitors was something else. I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was too excited, and lists and scenarios were whirling in my mind.

Even before 11am, I greeted our first visitors of the day, parents with toddlers in buggies and it was the best feeling to say “welcome”. Over the course of the two days I was there, I heard stories of children who’d always loved the museum and hadn’t stopped talking about it, people who’d never been before and had been curiously peering through the fence for months, families who’d found lockdown really hard and barely been out, babies who’d been born since March, families and friends reuniting, concerns for relatives abroad, and children who were looking forward to going back to school. I shared my own stories of my April wedding postponed and the strangeness of furlough. All these conversations were 2 metres apart, but as one dad said to me, it was so good to chat with someone else socially.

And all the while, children’s laughs and squeals of delight were everywhere. Toddlers gurgled and giggled at the Splash Zone, older children zoomed around on the scooters, a group of friends looked for crickets in the long grass and a little girl did colouring in with her grandad. We have a system of quarantining pencils and clipboards after use, wiping down scooters and seesaws, and making sure hand sanitiser is readily available and it worked better than I’d hoped it would.

I came away with the overwhelming feeling that it has been so worthwhile, that museums need people and people need places to be with their loved ones. Museums like ours can be a million different things to different people, and I’m so excited that it will be something special for so many this summer.

Gemma Eglinton, Learning Coordinator

Museum Garden, Splash Zone and Old Coal Yard open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 11am-3pm. No booking necessary, free entry.

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