Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has set out its approach to the reopening of its heritage sites across Scotland as COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
As Scotland’s biggest operator of visitor attractions, with over 300 properties in its care, HES is adopting a phased approach to reopen 70% of its free to access and ticketed properties by mid-September, during Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s route map.
On Wednesday 15 July, HES will provide access to over 200 unstaffed and key-keeper sites across Scotland where physical distancing can be readily maintained and where HES can provide free and safe access.
In addition, this will include the opening up of free access to the grounds of Doune Castle, Caerlaverock Castle and Dundonald Castle. These properties, which would normally be staffed, have external green spaces which can be opened in line with continuing restrictions to offer health and wellbeing benefits to the local community.
26 ticketed sites across Scotland will then reopen on a rolling basis with Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle reopening on Saturday 1 August.
From 1 August, HES will open up the external space at Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle, as well as prioritising access to interior spaces where social distancing can be easily maintained. It is anticipated that by the end of August further internal spaces will open at all three sites, however, this will be assessed in line with Scottish Government guidance.
From August through to mid-September, HES plans to re-open a further 23 key sites across Scotland on a rolling programme including Glasgow Cathedral, Fort George, St Andrews Castle and Cathedral and Skara Brae. The phased approach has taken into consideration the regional picture to ensure that, as much as possible, HES’s reopening plans appropriately consider the circumstances in the local area.
Visitors, including members, will be required to pre-book tickets online and to use contactless payment where possible; one-way systems will be implemented in some locations; and some areas of sites, such as enclosed spaces, will be closed off to visitors. Visitor numbers will also be limited for safety reasons.
Due to the phased reopening, with the exception of Inchcolm Abbey, seasonal sites will not be opening for the 2020 season in order for HES to focus on access for properties which are open year-round. There are over 40 seasonal sites which usually open in April and close in October.
Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HES, said: “At the forefront of our planning is the safety of our staff and visitors, whilst being able to reopen for the tourist season by gradually enabling safe access to our properties and facilities in line with Scottish Government guidance.
“We’ve been working exceptionally hard to ensure our properties will be accessible and ready to welcome visitors, however, it’s important that we implement our resumption plans at the right time given the different requirements for each site.
“This also includes looking at the varying local and regional requirements throughout the country and we have considered this when setting out our phased approach to welcoming visitors back and supporting Scotland’s tourism and economic recovery.”
Alex continues: “We’re very much looking forward to welcoming visitors back to our sites. There will of course be some initial changes including managing visitor numbers at certain sites, as well as restricting access to specific locations, but we can assure visitors of a warm welcome as always.
“We want to ask our visitors to help create a safe environment by behaving responsibly and following our guidance at properties, and we will be providing further information on our website for visitors to help them prepare for their visit.”
HES has also published Policy and Guidance for the reopening of the properties in its care. The standards have been developed from a wide range of sector and industry advice, guidance and best practice, and set the benchmark for the safe reopening of sites and resumption of operational activities. The Operating Standards have been published to provide a resource for the wider heritage sector, and to support and assist other organisations with their own resumption planning.
HES is responsible for over 300 heritage sites, including over 70 staffed Historic Scotland attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Skara Brae. All HES properties were closed to the public on Wednesday 18 March, in line with Scottish Government guidance.
For further information on the re-opening please visit www.historicenvironment.scot
To view the COVID-19 Policy and Minimum Operating Standards, visit: historicenvironment.scot/covid-19-operating-standards
Image credit: Historic Environment Scotland - Edinburgh Castle