Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for museums, galleries and heritage attractions

Good practice guidelines for museums, galleries and heritage attractions

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for museums, galleries and heritage attractions
Fulfilling public purpose

Fulfilling public purpose

Not all organisations will have a charitable or public purpose, but for those that do, as a minimum we expect organisations:

  • to be confident that they can provide the services in keeping with their charitable objectives and public purpose

A change in visiting and visitors

Museums, galleries and heritage attractions and sector bodies indicate that the current working assumptions are being used in planning processes:

  • capacities will be reduced significantly, on average down to 25-30% initially, though there will be differences across sites
  • the cultural appetite of visitors and 'intent to visit' will be altered, some research shows that many visitors are likely to ‘wait and see’ how organisations handle reopening
  • dwell times and visitor flow may need to be altered, providing a different experience of the site
  • visitors may meet a visibly different experience of the site with measures such as more prominent invigilation, ropes, partitions and hand sanitising stations in place

Review whether the museum can meet its public purpose with new measures in place

Discussions between the organisation, the workforce and funders will be needed to identify how the organisation will deliver its objectives.

Organisations will want to consider how they continue to offer sanctuary to vulnerable people or groups, space for enjoyment and contemplation and education.

Organisations may choose to only open partially, or only open outdoor spaces, or may choose to have a staggered reopening of sites.

A different visitor experience

Organisations should consider the visitor experience and how this will be altered by adaptations to safeguard members of the workforce and the public. In consultation with the workforce and communities, the onus is on organisations to decide on appropriate measures to be able to continue engaging with the public:

  • different opening hours may suit different organisations, such as:
    • reducing core hours for general public in order to accommodate special groups (families with children who are not going to school, at risk, etc.) outside of these hours
    • extended opening hours to enable more visits while enabling distancing measures
  • alternative offers to a sit-down café
  • spaces in the museum where visitors can bring picnics
  • alternatives to predominantly guided and/or costumed element of visitor experience
  • alternatives to learning, events and activities. Digital activities may be adopted into delivery models, such as use of virtual events and tours
  • when offering public access to stored collections for research purposes consideration will need to be given to how to provide this, and whether changes to access will be needed
  • where organisations provide services such as function hire or weddings, the onus is on the organisation to ensure members of the workforce and the public are safeguarded
  • where organisations provide access to a collection i.e. books, archives, manuscripts, maps etc. specific risk assessments should be carried out for this. Reference should be made to the guidance produced by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)

A different audience

Museums, galleries and heritage attractions will need to consider potential audiences, review evidence where available, work with local stakeholders and consult audiences and communities. There may be opportunities to engage more diverse audiences or those who have not traditionally visited in the past. There should also be consideration that audiences at higher risk could be excluded. Some of these groups could include, but are not limited to, people who are: over-70, immunocompromised, BAME, unemployed, in poverty, with mental health issues.

Increased visits from the local community will be a focus. Museums, galleries and heritage attractions may want to work with partners to encourage inbound tourism and local audiences, as national travel and international tourism will be slower to return

Managing expectations

Museums, galleries and heritage attractions will need to manage expectations by ensuring visitors are given sufficient advance information.

Museums, galleries and heritage attractions will also need to consider how changes are communicated to visitors in relation to pricing. For example, if the museum admission price remains the same with a reduced offer, this will need to be clear.

Listed Building and Scheduled Monument Consent considerations

Where physical alterations are necessary that affect the character of a listed building listed building consent (LBC) is required. However, it is the government’s view that temporary works that may be necessary in order to allow heritage sites to function safely in response to COVID-19, can be carried out in ways that will not affect the character of a listed building and therefore should not require consent. There are a number of ways in which physical interventions can be undertaken without damaging the historic fabric or special interest of listed buildings, and which do not affect what is important about a place. 

As long as no permanent damage is caused, examples of where LBC is unlikely to be needed include:

  • the addition of temporary screens to protect staff
  • the temporary covering of surfaces
  • temporary floor markings and signage carried out in a way which does no damage to the listed building
  • the temporary boxing in of specific especially sensitive features.
  • the addition of temporary lightweight shelter structures (such as gazebos or marquees) that are attached to listed buildings in ways that do not damage the historic fabric
  • the addition of temporary ramps to allow new accessible routes for staff, customers or visitors
  • the addition of temporary signs that do not damage any underlying sensitive historic surface to allow new routes to be indicated
  • the addition of temporary freestanding barriers, signs and hand sanitiser stations

Planning authorities can provide advice on the need for LBC. 

More invasive, non-reversible, works would normally require LBC. Examples include:

  • the insertion of safety screens or barriers that remove or cut through historic detailing such as decorative cornices or coving or where chases are cut into historic wall surfaces
  • removing or altering features such as historic handrails, even if for a temporary period
  • signage that is intended to be permanent and which affects the physical fabric and/or affects the visual appearance of the structure
  • widening doors, making new openings, inserting permanent ramps, removing stairs or other permanent alterations for new staff, customer or visitor flows
  • extensive nail or screw holes made into important historic fabric in order to secure screens, barriers or other structures

In the case of works that would be likely to require LBC, contact should be made with the planning authority as soon as possible. 

Temporary structures such as gazebos in the grounds of designated heritage attractions, or in Gardens and Designed Landscapes that are erected to provide shelter for queuing visitors may require planning permission in some circumstances.

For scheduled monuments, most works require scheduled monument consent (SMC). All of the works listed above are likely to require SMC. Historic Environment Scotland recognises the contribution many monuments make to the local and national economy, and the impact that COVID 19 will have had. They are on hand to provide advice on whether adaptions to allow visitor attractions to reopen safely require scheduled monument consent. Where scheduled monument consent is needed, they will ensure the application is prioritised to minimise delays. If you need help or advice, please contact them on

Regardless of the need for LBC/SMC, planning permission may also be required for some works and, in relation to signage, advertisement consent may also be required. If an operator is in any doubt about whether consent or permission are required, they are strongly advised to discuss the situation with the local planning authority, or Historic Environment Scotland in relation to SMCs.

First published: 6 Jul 2020 Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 -