North Yorkshire’s Ryedale Folk Museum reopened in July, and feedback from visitors was that they felt safe and easily able to socially distance while exploring our heritage farming area, allotment, traditional cornfield and orchard across the six-acre site.
But we knew we’d need to think creatively when it came to our 20 heritage buildings (all of varying sizes and representing a range of historic periods).
Some larger buildings, such as the late 16th-century Manor House, have space for visitors to move freely, while others can be navigated easily by a one-way system.
But two narrow cottages were to prove more difficult. The first is a three-bayed thatched home from the nearby village of Harome, which is based on a typical late 19th-century cottage and features a Victorian parlour, a range-kitchen and interesting collection items such as a rare lacemaker’s candle stool containing flasks that acted as lenses to intensify the light.
The second is a 17th-century cruck-framed longhouse with a very rare witch post in situ.
In both cases, there is only one main door, used for entering and exiting; narrow passageways that force close proximity; and additional rooms where visitors can tuck themselves away and not be spotted until the last moment.
At one point, we were considering closing these buildings, something we were keen to avoid.
Instead, we realised that we needed to limit entry to one “bubble” at a time. We needed a system that allowed visitors to know when the two cottages were vacant and therefore safe to enter.
It was not practical for staff to supervise this, so we instead developed a simple flip sign that could be manoeuvred easily by foot, umbrella or walking stick.
One side tells visitors the building is vacant. They simply flip over the wooden leaf so that the red “occupied” sign shows as they enter, and return it as they leave.
It has proved surprisingly popular with visitors who have even taken to photographing the flip signs and sharing them via social media. Visitors also appreciate having an entire cottage to themselves and their family group or bubble.
This simple and effective solution has had a very positive impact on our offer as we can continue to open two historic buildings.
The flip signs were designed in-house by museum staff. We also created a reminder about the two-metre rule using one of own carts, which is the exact length needed. All our new signage in response to Covid-19 is in a distinctive and friendly blue and yellow.
Paul Chapman is the site project officer at Ryedale Folk Museum