London Transport Museum held it’s first Explorer event for families with additional needs back in 2014. This came out of a family’s feedback that a quiet time to visit was needed for their child as the Museum gets very busy and loud. We started with two mornings for the year but as of 2019, we now run 7 events annually; every school holiday, and two during the longer Summer holidays.
The day before an event, a Visual Story is sent out to those who’ve booked, so families can find out what to expect. When they arrive, the Museum is quiet, with all the gallery sounds turned off or down low. This includes the Front of House team having their radios on low volume, and turning off hand dryers in the bathrooms, instead providing paper towels. We have Sensory Explorer Bags available for families to sign out, knowledgeable volunteers offering object handling, the wider school holiday family activities running, a capped capacity of 150 people, and all of the galleries open exactly the same as our regular opening hours, so families can explore together to their hearts content!
Receiving positive feedback from families is wonderful! But it has also been helpful to receive constructive feedback. Originally the mornings ran for an hour, from 9 until 10am, but we consistently had families asking for more time, so we extended to 90 minutes, from 8.30 to 10am. I didn’t think that families would get into Covent Garden that early but on the first morning we opened at 8.30, there they were waiting to come in and explore. Families told us that hot drinks were important, so we arranged for our café to be open for the whole morning. Families asked for more events and wanted to know the dates further in advance, so we’ve added more events and published them much earlier than we used to – all seven dates for 2020 were on the website and available to book as of September 2019. And families were so helpful in creating our current version of the Visual Story, feeding back that it was too long, and some information wasn’t necessary.
However, one of the most consistent points of feedback has been that mornings can be near impossible for some families who would greatly benefit from these Explorer Events. So, in August 2018 we trialled an Evening Explorer event. We only had 36 adults and children join, but it was clearly a worthwhile event to run; most of the visitors that evening had not been to the Museum before and would not have been able to visit during a morning event or regular opening hours. It was so positive trying something different that in 2019 we ran two of our seven Explorer events in the evening and are doing the same again in 2020.
During an Early Explorer morning, families who feel comfortable to do so can stay on in the Museum after we open to the general public at 10am. However, for Explorer Evenings, we have to ask everyone to leave when the Museum closes at 6pm and then let all the Explorer families back in at 6.15pm. It’s a bit clumsy and I’m not sure how else to do it right now but so far, we’ve managed, and families have been very accommodating with this.
Aside from that, it doesn’t seem like there’s any other reason not to be running Evening Explorer events at LTM. We get the dates set early so there are no clashes with other Museum evening events; more families can enjoy the collection who wouldn’t otherwise be able to and for those families, we get to be a part of creating more opportunities for them to learn, play and share their interests together!
To attend one of these events, we highly recommend booking in advance which you can do by calling +44 (0)343 222 5000.
- Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow, October 2019