How to create Covid-safe learning spaces

Sam Cairns shares advice from the Space for Learning guidance
Learning and Engagement
Sam Cairns
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Art Club in the Clore Learning Studios at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo Nick Singleton
Art Club in the Clore Learning Studios at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo Nick Singleton

In May, a group of colleagues from across UK museum, gallery, heritage and performing arts learning teams gathered online. Led by the Clore Duffield Foundation and supported by learning organisations (Engage, the Group for Education in Museums and the Theatre Education Forum), we wanted to combine our expertise to develop guidance on how our sectors could adapt their learning spaces and programmes in response to Covid.

The group identified what we needed to know and formed task and finish groups to collate the information, research and case studies. In August we published the Space for Learning: Covid Guidance online, and we are continuing to update the guidance as new research and government guidance is published.

The guidance covers all the aspects we felt a learning team would need to consider when planning to deliver a Covid-secure service, and includes sections on:

  • Workforce safety and wellbeing
  • Adapting your buildings and learing spaces
  • Adapting your processes
  • Your audiences
  • Delivering activities

Managing risk

The key thing I learnt from the process is that preparing to be Covid secure is all about understanding and managing risks.

Nothing is ever risk free, and we have always planned our learning services and activities to minimise risk to ourselves, our workforce and visitors. This still holds true, and the key to running a learning service during the pandemic is identifying where there are risks of Covid transmission, what measures you can put in place to stop transmission, and – depending on how effective those measures are – deciding what level of risk is acceptable and appropriate.

For example, if you can run an activity that meets the following conditions, then you may decide the risks of Covid transmission are very low and you can go ahead:

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  • Visitors arrive and leave your venue without coming within two metres of other bubbles or staff
  • Visitors stay in their family or school bubbles while doing the learning activity
  • Staff maintain a two-metre distance from each bubble
  • Resources can be cleaned between uses by different bubbles or quarantined for 72 hours

If you can’t deliver in one of the above areas, then you could put further mitigation measures in place such as asking adults to wear face coverings.

Cutting risks

Don’t forget the impact of ventilation (the greater the flow of air drawn from outside through an indoor space) on cutting the risk of transmission.

It is important not to recirculate indoor air. Taking activities outside is the best approach if possible. If not, can you reduce the number of visitors so fewer people are being served by the same ventilation system?

The duration of an activity also changes the risk – the longer people are indoors near each other the higher the risks. So another mitigation could be to cut the length of time of activities.

Washing hands to cut down transmission is a key piece of public health advice. You can also look at ways to cut down the number of surfaces visitors touch. Can you prop doors open or have a member of staff touch the door rather than visitors? Can bathroom fittings or bins be swapped to touchless?

Research on the length of time coronavirus can survive on difference surfaces has resulted in the advice about quarantining objects for 72 hours. Interestingly copper has been found to inactivate the virus very quickly, in some studies within 60 minutes.

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In healthcare settings copper alloys are already being used to make workplaces healthier places. If you already have brass door handles, providing they contain at least 70% copper they should already be fighting against fomite (surface) transmission of bacteria and viruses.

Audiences and access

A key concern with all the measures we put in place is how it will affect our visitors.

Face coverings can impede non-verbal communication with audiences, particularly those with sensory impairment, mental health and communication conditions, or a dementia diagnosis. Some audiences rely more on touch as a method of learning. This is especially true for early years and for children and adults with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities SEN/SEND).

The full Space for Learning guidance suggests ways to ensure you are not limiting access to your services. Some examples include adjusting your welcome, providing more information to visitors in advance of their visit and adapting activities.

Most importantly have conversations with visitors and groups to find out what they want and what will be appropriate for them.

Blended learning

What if you decide you can’t mitigate the risks of transmission to an acceptable level for your visitors? Many sites are looking at how they adapt services to deliver blended learning – a mix of in person and online activities – and the guidance includes case studies showing how different sites are approaching this.

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Digital delivery is now a vital element of the work of most learning teams.

We will continue to add to the online guidance and will be running monthly online workshops to discuss the guidance, share case studies and identify what more we need to know. Find out more on the Space for Learning website.

The Space for Learning: Covid Guidance is available on Space for Learning and as a stand alone PDF document.

Sam Cairns is the project manager of Space for Learning at the Clore Duffield Foundation

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