Monthly Archives: March 2011

Guest post: Virginia Mayes-Wright from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses on museum sleepovers

The latest in our series of guest posts comes from Virginia Mayes-Wright, the Director of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, who shares what she’s learned through years of running museum sleepovers.


I’ve always run sleepovers in museums, and I’ve slept in some really odd places. Any museum can run a sleepover, it just needs a bit of planning, the right group for you and a bit of floor to sleep on.

I tried to join the British Museum’s Young Friends at the age of 16, but was told I was too old – so I asked to volunteer. My first museum sleepover there was an incredible experience, opening my eyes to what a gallery could be like at night and how the space could transform. Even a big space such as the British Museum’s Egyptian Sculpture Gallery can feel intimate: a museum at night feels like it belongs to the group inside it. And what better way to get kids interested in museums and galleries than to give them the chance for it to be their space for the night?

Sleepovers at the British Museum involve about 250 adults and children in families. They are split into smaller groups of about 50 to do a series of activities in the evening and the morning. These normally finished with building something gigantic. The Viking long boats were my favourite, probably because we had to stick them together at the surreal hour of 1am after the kids went to bed.

My role at the British Museum was an usher, moving the groups between the different activities. I learnt a lot about the mechanics of organising the event as well as several useful tips. Mostly, I learnt that parents (or the supervising adults) are generally more trouble than the kids! But once everyone gets stuck into the activities, you can’t tear them away. We once ran an activity that involved building pyramids out of sticks, and suddenly had a room full of engineer dads competing to build the biggest structure…

Girl Guides gathered around a cardboard model in a museum

Making cardboard models inspired by museum objects is a popular activity

The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses is a lot smaller. We have a fantastic museum building but it’s much smaller-scale than the British Museum. In fact, as we have so few staff I run sleepovers on my own. So we target a completely different type of group to sleep over, one that I can manage and who already have a keen group identity. This tends to be local Guides, Scouts, and Boys Brigades etc. They come in a small group, already know each other, have a uniform and a strict sense of discipline within the group. The leaders are also very aware that the group is their responsibility, and they are used to sleepovers.

Depending on the group I plan four or five activities in the evening at about 45mins each. I set up the activities in different spaces in the Museum so we have to physically move the group around. This getting up and moving provides a beginning and an end to the activities, even if it’s simply moving from one end of the room to another. It also keeps messy activities contained (although glitter will always travel). The activities include one that makes the kids use the artefacts, a craft activity giving the kids something to take home and remember you by – and there is always storytelling. Every museum has good stories: they’re what we are about. There is nothing better than telling the best stories with the right amount of drama at the end of the night. It also puts the kids to sleep quicker.

We also provide a snack for our groups in the evening, and breakfast in the morning. As our groups sleep on our café floor, this is really easy to manage. It also means that the kids don’t bring too much food themselves; although there is always the midnight feast!

A photo of a Girl Guide looking at the lens of a lighthouse light

A close encounter with a lighthouse lens

My hints and tips for a great sleepover:

1) Invite the right target group, and make sure they are prepared for the experience. Whether it is families or Guides, you need to know how they are going to interact together, with you and the objects. One museum sleepover involved a school group who were nothing but trouble for the whole evening because of their ‘out of school on a trip’ attitude.

2) Plan and design your activities to fit the group. I print out time sheets for the event showing each activity and hand them out. You can always alter a plan if necessary, but do start with one! I always let the group have time to get settled in when they arrive and give a brief welcome. I plan a break after the first two activities, and one at midnight for a midnight feast. Taking food breaks mean that food tends to stay in one area, the one you are sleeping in. Having seen what we can do, one of the local Guide groups now asks for us to help them earn badges. My worst sleepover was a Boys Brigade group who I presumed would enjoy making up scary lighthouse stories. But there is always a way to rescue the situation, and we ended up playing hide and seek in the lenses.

3) Always carry a torch, and keys to the building. Know where the fire alarm is, and generally be prepared for anything that could go wrong. Being stuck in the dark in a gallery because something has turned off is no fun.

4) Finally, avoid sleeping bag races. Most objects on open display in galleries are larger, heavier and more dangerous than children. If you think the kids may need time to let off steam, design a game to exhaust them.


Virginia Mayes-Wright is the Director of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses (, and is happy to answer questions about her sleepover experiences. Her phone number is 01346 511022 and her email address is You can also follow the museum on Twitter here: @LighthouseMus.

Talking about Museums at Night on Twitter? Use the hashtag #MatN2011!

This morning, I’ve got a quick update for you about how we’ll be using Twitter in the run-up to Museums at Night.

The @Culture24 Twitter account, where we share stories from our network of over 4000 UK arts and heritage venues, is proving very popular with almost 8000 followers. An example of a tweet from this account:

An image of a tweet written by Culture24

We’ll be using this account to tweet about a different Museums at Night event every day. With over 150 events already registered, we won’t be able to mention every single one, but we’ll try to highlight events taking place across the UK in a range of large and small venues.We’ll also make sure to link to each venue’s Twitter profile – here’s an example of a tweet linking to Spike Island in Bristol:

A Culture24 tweet about a Museums at Night event linking to Spike Island

If you’re interested in following the discussion about Museums at Night 2011, or would like to tweet about it yourself, please use the hashtag #MatN2011. Last year’s hashtag (#museumsatnight) was a bit too long, so we’re going for a shorter one this year.

We also own the Twitter account @MuseumsatNight, but we won’t be tweeting from it – for updates from the campaign, which is brought to you by Culture24, you should follow the Culture24 twitter account here:

Guest post: writer Laura Burgess on starring in a Museums at Night photoshoot

We really appreciate all the museums, galleries and heritage sites who have shared pictures of people exploring their venues at night: many of these are now part of our Press Image Library. However, more iconic photos were needed to publicise the Museums at Night campaign, so Culture24 worked with PR coordinator Pandora George and top photographer Pal Hansen to set up professional photoshoots. We’re also very grateful to the Horniman Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum for letting us take photos in their fantastic buildings!

In this guest post, writer Laura Burgess describes her experience modelling in one of the photoshoots.

A photo of a man and a woman dancing surrounded by sculptures

Dancing in the Victoria and Albert Museum at night, surrounded by sculptures

It’s just before six pm when my boyfriend Andy, my friend Jenny and I arrive at the entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum. We’re greeted by photographer Pal Hansen, his assistant Louise and press officers Ellie and Pandora. At this point I’m still not sure what I’ve agreed to – this is no typical Tuesday evening.

Alongside being a journalist intern at Culture24 I was asked to help out with the promotion of the Museums at Night campaign. This makes a huge change: I’m usually behind the lens of a camera, not in front!

With the museum officially closing and the last of the visitors leaving, we help Pal carry his equipment to our location – and the adrenaline of being photographed by someone who shot Keira Knightley merely a few days earlier kicks in.

A photo of two women drinking wine at a table in a sculpture gallery

Drinks and dinner in a museum at night

As we’re led into a vast room, we three models are awed by the huge sculptures surrounding us. The first sequence of photographs involve us sitting at a small table, placed symmetrically in the middle of a huge row of sculptures on either side of us that can only be described at huge chess pieces.

Having posed with wine glasses – which helped with the nerves – we move into a courtyard area where Andy and I dance next to statues of men fighting. The brightness of my emerald-coloured dress is noticeable as Andy twirls me around. We were supposed to be acting amorously, and the atmosphere was unexpectedly romantic as we giggled and swayed.

A photo of two girls drinking wine in a sculpture gallery

Sharing secrets in the sculpture gallery

Finally, Jenny and I sit by a fountain with beautiful lighting and the image of a young, angelic-like figure looking over us. By this point we’re relaxed and having fun, after finishing almost a whole bottle of wine and getting used to being snapped. There’s a feeling of sadness when the security guards usher us off the set as our time ends. I feel delighted and privileged with the photos, and can’t wait till Museums at Night!


Laura Burgess is working for Culture24 on a three-month internship and writes a variety of articles and features for the site – from news stories to reviews. A recent graduate of the NCTJ magazine journalism course at City College in Brighton, she has previous experience working on Film and Photography magazines and has a BA in English Literature and Communication Studies from Bath Spa University. Laura has undertaken work on all areas of the site and has a particular interest in features and reviewing.


Don’t forget, if you have high-resolution photos of people enjoying themselves in your venue at night, your pictures can also be part of our image library for the press to use! Simply send the photos, along with any copyright info and the photographer’s credit, to our PR coordinator Pandora George on