Space for Learning

Clore Studio, South London Gallery. Photo Andy Stagg

Adapting – your buildings and learning spaces


One of the ways to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission is good ventilation that draws outdoor air into the building and does not recirculate indoor air. The available evidence indicates that:

  • Transmission of Covid-19 commonly occurs in closed indoor spaces.
  • There is currently no evidence of human infection with the virus via aerosols distributed through the ventilation system ducts of Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning systems (HVACs). The risk is rated as very low.
  • Well-maintained HVAC systems, including air-conditioning units, securely filter large droplets containing the virus. It is possible for Covid-19 aerosols (small droplets and droplet nuclei) to spread through HVAC systems within a building or vehicle and stand-alone air-conditioning units if air is recirculated.
  • Air flow generated by air-conditioning units may facilitate the spread of droplets (exhaled by people infected with Covid-19) further within indoor spaces.
  • HVAC systems may have a complementary role in decreasing transmission in indoor spaces by increasing the rate of air change, decreasing recirculation of air and increasing the use of outdoor air.

From European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVACs) in the context of COVID-19

Air conditioning and airflow

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has provided guidance on Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak and there is government guidance on Ventilation of indoor gyms and leisure facilities that could be useful when calculating the amount of space and airflow needed for indoor performing arts activities:

  • The maximum occupancy of each indoor facility should be limited by providing a minimum of 100sqft per person. For this figure, the area is the net useable indoor facility space available to members to use, including changing rooms, toilet and wash facilities. Reducing capacity in this way whilst sustaining ventilation flows, will increase the typical current 10l/s/p flow rate of ventilation to at least 20l/s/p, as fewer people are being served by the ventilation system.
  • Ventilation systems should provide 100% fresh air and not recirculate air from one space to another.

Government advice Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in shops and branches includes a section on ventilation, and suggests the following steps will usually be needed:

  • Increasing the existing ventilation rate by adjusting the fan speed.
  • Operating the ventilation system when there are people in the building.
  • Monitoring and managing filters in accordance to manufacturer instructions.
  • Keeping doors and windows open if possible.
  • Using ceiling fans or desk fans to improve air circulation, provided there is good ventilation.

If you are keeping interior doors open for ventilation, ensure this doesn’t break your fire or safeguarding regulations. If windows are open, ensure this doesn’t breach your collection care or security protocols.

Visitor numbers

The NMDC guidance Public Safety section contains sections on Managing visitor capacity, Mass gatherings, and Making changes to visitor experiences, all of which provide useful guidance on planning movement through sites.

NMDC advise that where calculating exact floor space is complex, museums may find it more logical to carefully manage the flow of visitors.

Isometric Studio, an exhibition design company based in America, have created a toolkit to help museums consider how to calculate new occupancy limits for social distancing, as well as think about best practice in visitor circulation.

Furniture, layout, fixtures and fittings

You may need to reconfigure learning spaces to ensure you can meet social distancing. This may require you to remove some furniture, change the layout or change the function. You may require different types of furniture that allow for a different type of activity to take place. Avoid soft furnishings that cannot be cleaned easily.

Complete an audit of the fixtures and fittings in your learning spaces. For each item, consider how it could be made Covid Secure. Can it be adapted? Can a regime be implemented to ensure continued safe usage? Which items need to be removed or taken out of use?

Can you remove unnecessary items making cleaning regimes quicker and easier?

There may be workarounds that enable you to continue using items, for example:

  • Is it possible to install no-touch automatic doors? Or can you equip your staff with door opener tools to avoid touching handles?
  • Can taps be adapted to sensor taps?
  • Can you install no-touch light switches?
  • Can you purchase no-touch sensor lid bins?
  • Can you use removable, reusable table coverings that can be placed in quarantine after use?
  • Can you compartmentalise large spaces using room dividers such as portable screens?


Some sites are offering dedicated resources, spaces and times for particular groups to use – for example, a booked group having their own toilet for the day or learning space. Others are designating toilets for a group’s use for set hours and planning cleaning in between different groups’ usage.

As your venue makes adaptations to toilet procedures, can you ensure equality of access for those with additional needs or invisible disabilities? For example, a ‘one in, one out’ policy resulting in a queue could cause issues for those that need quick access to toilet facilities. Consider staff training, effective communications and no-fuss procedures for ensuring toilet access for all.  

A great Twitter feed to follow on ‘all things toilets’ is @MuseumToilets. They teamed up with various other organisations and individuals in June 2020 to host a webinar about re-opening and toilets, and it’s available on YouTube.

From England DfE guidance for out of school settings:

  • It is not necessary for each class or group to use a separate toilet. However, you should consider how you can limit the number of children using the toilet at any one time and, where possible, avoid different groups using the same facilities at the same time. Importantly, you should promote good hand hygiene and encourage all children to wash their hands thoroughly, with soap and running water for 20 seconds, after using toilet facilities.
  • As with all frequently used surfaces, toilets should be cleaned thoroughly using standard products such as detergent and bleach. The frequency of cleaning required will depend on usage but is advised to be more than might have been previously considered appropriate. In most cases we expect cleaning of toilet facilities to take place at least twice a day, and in particular between use by different classes and groups.

Wallace Collection case study

The Wallace Collection doesn’t have dedicated toilets linked to its learning space, operating instead a series of unisex toilets for general visitation. In order to support visiting school groups onsite, they are planning to remove one of their public toilets (the closest to the learning space) from general use on the day the group visits. This will enable Primary classes and Secondary year groups to maintain their ‘bubble’ through the use of a dedicated toilet facility.   

The toilet will be deep cleaned before the visit, and directly afterwards, and returned to general visitation; cleaning schedules will be adjusted in accordance with group bookings. Due to the significant reduction in general visitor numbers due to social distancing measures, they have determined that taking one toilet out of general use will not place pressure on other facilities, for which an enhanced cleaning plan is already in place.   

They also only have one accessible toilet onsite and cannot ring-fence this for visiting groups. However, through close liaison with the school, they determine in advance if there is likely any need for this facility and if so, make bespoke arrangements to have the facility deep cleaned before and after use. This information will be shared in advance with the school so that they can determine suitability. The Wallace Collection aims to admit schools before the museum opens to the general public so if the toilet break is at the start of the session, there will not be any issues around using the accessible toilet. An extra plan will need to be in place if someone needs to use the accessible toilet during opening hours.