It is hard to believe that it is mid-November already! I was writing up some notes for the next edition of the Beamish magazine (which will feature an article on the museum’s buses past and present as well as the usual transport news update) and became quite reflective about the year so far. So I’ve included this text below as a summary of our experience of operating the museum during a pandemic. It’s written from the health & safety perspective (which I coordinate at present) and may be of interest here:
The year 2020 has certainly been remarkable in Beamish’s 50 year history! The rate of change with regard to the national picture under COVID-19 Secure restrictions has been reflected at the museum too. The planning and preparation for reopening stood up well to the rigour of operating through the summer holidays and into the early autumn period. That said, the Operational Risk Assessment is now 35 pages long and into its thirteenth edition with another due to be circulated next month!
There are also several supporting documents, issued to clarify the rules or provide additional guidance for staff in their work. This includes first aiders, managers or teams where there may be a reported case of infection. We also have in place a watching brief that would enable us to liaise with the local public health services should there be an ‘outbreak’ of infection at Beamish. All of this worked well and we had no positive infections reported until mid-November, which we were very pleased to be able to record.
We were making good progress on our planning to replace the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) with the Job Support Scheme (JSS) at the end of October when the landscape changed yet again. This resulted in a further period of closure for Beamish, though also saw the continuation of the furlough scheme through to 2021 (announced to cease at the end of March). This lifeline was good news for the museum, and made up for the disappointment and disruption due to closure through November. At the time of writing we are planning for a winter/Christmas season, and should restrictions allow, we hope to recover something of the year both operationally and financially.
The measures that we put in place to safeguard people from the virus have proved to be durable, and there has been both consistent and good practice evident in the way staff apply the mitigations (distancing, hand washing and adherence the zoning system in place on site) as well as physical – the glass screens have proved to be excellent and whilst they are a barrier (and reflection or glare can be a challenge in some areas) they have blended in and enabled us to open areas that would not otherwise have been possible to do so.
So, what next?! I think it would be foolish to make any sort of predictions so we must confine ourselves to planning for the winter opening and then review what is possible in 2021. Economics will be a driver, but there is also the practical challenge of reopening behind-the-scenes areas such as workshops and larger offices, whilst applying social distancing measures, at least until such a time as these are no longer required. The guidance and mitigations will continue to be reviewed, and I look forward to the day I can close down the COVID-19 section of the museum’s Sharepoint directory and close off the applicable risk assessments. As we are a museum, I have ensured we have copies of all of these documents and the measures put in place to enable us to get through 2020, and these will be placed into the archive (perhaps ceremoniously!) in due course.
There have been lots of lessons learnt along the way and there has been some very good practice that we intend to carry on beyond the pandemic. The staff inductions, which are mandatory and a mixture of ‘taught’ and online assessment, have worked well and provide us with an excellent audit trail of training – I think this is certainly something to continue with the health & safety training and inductions and possibly some other elements of common assessment (manual handling springs to mind).
We have also found that advanced booking has greatly improved the visitor flow in the Entrance building. Being cashless has also shown advantages, though post-pandemic could be seen as a barrier to some visiting the museum. We have also seen that we are able to react quickly and creatively to challenges and this is certainly something that we can reflect on with a view to applying this to other elements of the operation. So, 2020 – the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts…
Dave Young’s homework…
As with so many consequences of the global pandemic, the frustration of not being able to carry out the usual workshop activities has been felt by volunteers as well as staff. Dave Young had finally exhausted just about every job he could find to do in his home workshop, do has been given a package of work that whilst repetitive, would keep his machinery busy. The job in hand is the preparation of a large quantity of cast fittings that are used on tramway (and future trolleybus) overhead line equipment.
Dave has made terrific progress on this job and the parts will be added to a growing stock of overhead line components that have been prepared, catalogued and carefully stored by the Beamish Tramway Group prior to lockdown in March. Along with the haul of components that we purchased from New Zealand, this stockpile will sustain the tramway as well as enable us to construct the trolleybus route (phases of which form part of the Remaking Beamish development project). 2021 should see progress on the design of the trolleybus route Phase 1, which is certainly something to look foward to.
We will then be able to operate, at peak times, a passenger service consisting of up to four trams, two Colliery buses (the B and the D replicas), two 1950s buses (Rotherham 220 and Darlington 4), two WAVs (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles – J2007 and Crosville 716), two trolleybuses (Newcastle 501 and TMT 11) plus the SOS and Dodge buses – though it is highly unlikely this would all be at the same time – that is a lot of crew to find!
For those who want to see TMT 11 and NCT 501 in action, there are a number of videos available online, including the two below:
The cover photo for this post is a reminder of what we are aspiring to – Newcastle Corporation Transport 501 parked at the Foubridge bus and tram stop. The work to develop the trolleybus route will be involved and extensive, but the reward will be the longest working trolleybus route in the UK once it reaches its fullest extent, and the ability to take a trip from somewhere to somewhere helping us achieve a significant increase in seats per hour for the museum’s visitors to make use of during their day.
Photo of the week…
Here is a new feature, to include some more varied content on the blog and which I’ll try and remember to keep up! It’s aimed at showcasign some Beamish transport at its best and is basically my rolling desktop wallpaper, in installments!
We start this series with a view taken at the Power from the Past event in May 2009. I’ve also included a gallery of additional images taken over the same weekend for those who want to delve a little further into the archive with me! I’ve commented below, but look how few visitors there appear to be at this early event! It was the first year of running these mixed exhibit events, following the experimental steam gala in September 2008. The may ‘Steam Glorious Steam’ event was replaced from 2009 onwards, with less parading and more ‘traffic’ on the roads. This photo is a favourite and includes the Daimler lorry (now in the Roadmenders depot but which I really feel needs a better display space one day). There was also a family/childrens road making activity in an adjacent marquee, that became notorious amongst those who had to run it and is seldom mentioned today! I think the mixture of water, toy plant equipment and mud was a heady cocktail for kids and a ‘challenge’ for the supervising adults!!!