Our museums are open.
It is 155 days since those four words were last true across the Science Museum Group. But with the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Science Museum in London today reuniting visitors with our glorious collection, we have reached a milestone that none of us would ever have thought note-worthy before this pandemic; a morning where visitors are welcomed to all five of our museums.
Every one of our colleagues has contributed to us getting to this point and deserves thanks. Some have been supporting our financial stability by being on furlough. Others are caring for our collection at Blythe House in London or the National Collections Centre near Swindon.
Hundreds have been preparing our museums for the altered reality of the post-coronavirus world, ensuring visitors and staff have a safe experience without diminishing the joy of a trip to one of our museums.
The dedication, passion, creativity and kindness on display from colleagues over the past five months has been nothing short of inspirational.
We have also reaped great rewards from being a Group, with shared access to great expertise and staggered re-openings affording us fantastic opportunities to learn from each other.
And let’s never forget that the smallest museum in our Group took on the largest challenge: Locomotion in Shildon led the way on re-opening in July and helped to shape the response of our other museums.
Each of our museums have their own distinct international standing, personality, heritage and crucial role in the cultural life of the regions they serve.
And when combined, our world-class Group is unparalleled in its extraordinary capacity to open minds to the creativity and wonder of science.
Re-opening enables our museums – and the incredible collection we care for on behalf of the nation – to regain their place at the heart of the UK’s cultural life, once again giving people free access to the arts, history and sciences and contributing to their wellbeing, positive mental health and lifelong learning.
And whilst we celebrate our re-opening, let’s not forget the important roles our museums having played during this pandemic: supporting families and individuals through lockdown with our online learning resources, games, apps and BBC Bitesize partnership and the extraordinary work of our Learning teams to support local communities, notably in Bradford, where 27,000 home learning packs were delivered to families with limited digital access.
We’ve also led public engagement with science through regular online content; supported the national effort through donating PPE or chemicals from our Learning team; and of course our COVID-19 Collecting Project, which has already made great strides in chronicling the pandemic and its impact on society to provide a record for future generations.
Throughout this period of closure, seismic global events have prompted deep reflection internally into our working practices.
We have joined millions across the world in standing against racism and re–doubled our commitment to equity and sustainability and to being more open about the progress we’re making and challenges we face in each area.
Exploring solutions to the challenges posed by a warming world will be a central theme in the next decade of transformation of the Group – in our working practices as well as our public programme.
In a recent blog post, our Chair of the Group’s Sustainability Advisory Board and Deputy Director of the Science Museum, Dr Julia Knights, outlined steps the Group has taken to put sustainability at the heart of re-opening.
The decisions we make in 2020, and the leadership we show within our sector and through our public programme, will matter for many decades.
So as our museums and our vast collection speak to the challenges that humanity has faced through history, we must look to the challenges ahead with renewed vigour, and reflect the change we want to see as we now begin the next chapter.