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Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust looking at July reopening date

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | Attractions | Published: | Last Updated:

With social distancing now part of everyday life, the experience of visiting cinemas, museums, and restaurants will be very different to pre-coronavirus Britain, and one of the county's major attractions is busy preparing plans for how it adapts to an uncertain new world.

Nick Ralls, chief executive at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

For the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT) the impact of the pandemic has been huge. The organisation, which brings thousands of people – and pounds – to the county every year, currently has all of its buildings closed to the public and 90 per cent of its staff on furlough.

It is sadly almost forgotten by those not directly affected but the pandemic also arrived just as Ironbridge was recovering from its worst flooding in years.

The trust was badly affected by the February storms and found itself closing due to Covid-19 before it was able to complete its clean-up operation.

Nick Ralls, chief executive officer of IGMT, said that the Museum of the Gorge "is still in the state inside that it was in back in February. It is like time has stood still."

That is just one of the issues facing the trust, with Mr Ralls, who only took on the role in in December, undoubtedly enduring a baptism of fire at the reigns of the organisation.

Nick Ralls, chief executive at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

That said, he is not without disaster experience, having been in charge of the Severn Valley Railway as it faced crisis in 2007 after parts of track were washed away in flooding, leading to a nine month closure.

He said that plans for reopening the gorge museums are entirely dependent on government permission, but that they are well in hand and would see new measures such as timed visiting slots to make sure the public are comfortable, and that social distancing can be observed.

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Provided government approval is forthcoming it could mean that visitors are able to enjoy some of the trust's attractions in July.

The trust has also been buoyed by the responses to a survey on whether the public would even want to visit, with 70 per cent of the 700 respondents so far saying they would consider visiting a museum when restrictions are lifted.

Mr Ralls said: "Obviously following what the government advice is at the time being, and we are aware at this stage museums are not to open, we want to make sure we start the process of working out how we are going to open.

Nick Ralls, chief executive at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

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"We are looking at a model of phased reopening, we have carried out a risk assessment on for example how Blists Hill could reopen safely, with social distancing measures and removing all the touch points where possible."

The task at Blists Hill may be easier than other locations, with the open air museum set over more than 45 acres with a large car park and the possibility for distancing.

Mr Ralls added: "We have looked at what doors can either be removed or wedged open, how do we get a one-way system in place?"

The chief executive said that when the doors do reopen they would need to provide a system that allowed for booking.

He said: "We have started by making sure we have some sort of pre-booking system in place so we are on top of the number of people who are on site at one time and to put a limit on people turning up unexpectedly and being disappointed because there is a huge queue.

"It is difficult to say when we will be able to reopen but we have pencilled in some time in July – but that is all subject to change because we have to wait for the government's authority on that."

Nick Ralls, chief executive at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

As well as Blists Hill the Trust is looking at three of its other 10 sites for an initial reopening.

One is the Furnace Kitchen, which Mr Ralls revealed they want to open as a takeaway and potentially outdoor eating area.

Another is the Museum of Iron, with a potential one-way system, while the front portion of the Museum of the Gorge could re-open, with entrance free.

Mr Ralls said they would need to stringently monitor the progress after reopening.

He said: "It will be very much monitoring how that goes. We hope there would be a strong local response of people visiting local attractions but we will monitor and review it to make sure it works.

"We are aware it is a new world and there will be lessons we learn."

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