An exploration of the current reopening positions and perspectives of museums in the South West. 

This post is written by Vic Harding, our Programme Manager, following a review of information gathered from museums throughout June.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working closely with museums across the region to provide development advice and support. A key part of this role, initially, was to support museums navigate and maximise opportunities for emergency funding.  However, for many museums, funding is not the main barrier to reopening.

In tandem with our development support we have been able to draw a picture of the sector’s response to reopening and the key challenges to museums across the region.

A picture of museums in the South West

There are 221 museums (Accredited and Working Towards Accreditation) in the South West region.

Across England, 35% of museums operate seasonally, usually opening ready for Easter and across the Summer season until the October School half-term. The South West has a far higher proportion of museums operating seasonally. In fact, 23% of the museums who open seasonally are in the South West.*

*Data is based on  on our Annual Survey of Museums 2018/19

Looking more closely at the 186 Independent, Local Authority and University museums in the region, the below information reflects these museums’ response to the immediate challenges they are facing.

65% (126) of these museums have provided us with a deeper picture of the impacts reopening their museum.

Readiness to Reopen pie chart - Will reopen in 2020 (43%), Not reopening in 2020 (24%), Unsure about reopening (33%)

  • 24% determined not to open in 2020 with all citing the space limitations of their building as the immediate barrier to reopening
  • 33% are undecided and unsure if they will reopen in 2020.  Many will be considering the new guidance released to further inform reopening
  • 43% are planning to reopen in 2020 

Of the 43% planning to reopen, 9% of these will open in July with many citing a limited opening offer such as gardens/outside spaces, temporary galleries.

Considering those on the front line

Volunteers form the backbone of our workforce.  Over a third of the sector in the South West is wholly operated through volunteers and in 2018/19 recorded almost 18,000 active volunteers with an equivalent economic value of £11.8 million. 

infographic of the workforce data

Read more from our Annual Survey 2018 / 2019 about the museum workforce contributions and other core data collected in the South West.




For many museums the issues around opening go beyond the physical.  We discussed the main barriers to reopening, beyond the physical site issues, in order for them to return to their usual opening hours.

 Chart showing 'Reopening Barriers Beyond the Physical'. 66% are unable to bring volunteers back onsite. 6% need to review and revise their offer. 4% operating costs and cash flow issues. 4% governance or staffing restructure. 2% concerns of the local community. 18% Non-respondents

  • 66% are unable to bring volunteers back onsite to support reopening
  • 6% are considering a complete review and revision to their offer
  • 4% considered operating costs and cash flow prevent reopening at this time
  • 4% impact of Covid required a governance or staffing restructure
  • 2% cited concerns of the local community 
  • 18% non respondents

Collaboration, generosity and honesty

In this moment of such change, it is essential that we work together to support the sector and share practice. At this time, collaboration, generosity and honesty will be important features of our recovery. 

The National Museums Directors’ Council National Guidance  along with the Association of Independent Museums and Museum Development Network Reopening Guidance and Checklist infographic have now been published along with a range of templates and support information

The implementation of this guidance needs careful fashioning to fit each museum and the process will take considerable resources. There is limited value in ‘finishing first’ in the race to reopen and sharing practice from experience is critical to helping all museums along in the process.  

Join us for our panel discussion about reopening on Friday 3rd July 2020, 10:30-11:30.

Hear from some of the museums that have commenced with the process and share their next steps to reopening. Reserve your place to watch the panel discussion on re-opening in the South West.