Reopening FAQs

Last updated: 11th September 2020

From the 8th September 2020 we are delighted to welcome visitors back to The MERL.

In these FAQs, learn about our reopening in greater depth as we cover topics like how to use our new booking system, what’s new throughout the museum, our new health and safety policies, and more.

Planning and arranging your visit

Is The MERL open?

Yes! We opened on 8th September and it’s been great to have visitors back!

Do I need to book a ticket?

Yes! As part of our reopening, we have introduced a brand-new, easy-to-use booking system using Eventbrite. Here it is – book now!

Before arriving, all visitors will need to book a free thirty-minute timed entry slot. These are available every half an hour from 9.30am to 3.30pm, Tuesday to Friday, and from 10am at weekends.

Please arrive within your thirty-minute timed entry slot. After this, you are welcome to stay at the Museum for as long as you like (until we close, at 5pm).

Cripes, a thirty-minute timed entry slot. So does that mean I only have half an hour in the museum?!

Not at all!

Instead, this is a timed entry slot – a time period in which you will be able to arrive. If your timed entry slot is between 10am and 10.30am, for example, then arriving at 10.15am would be perfect!

This means that we can keep track of visitor numbers, ensuring that the Museum is never too crowded, and maintain a welcoming and safe environment for all.

I see! What happens if I’m late?

If you arrive later than your timed entry slot, then we are sadly unable to guarantee entry. Instead, this will be at the discretion of our visitor services team, depending on how busy the Museum is at that time. We may be able to accommodate you in the garden, where there is plenty of space.

We hope you understand!

And what if I arrive without a booking?

Again, entry will be at the discretion of our visitor services team, depending on how busy the Museum is at that time. If we have slots available, we can book you in. We’ll need to take your details for ‘Track and Trace’. We may have to ask you to come back another time, or we may only be able to accommodate you in the garden, where there is plenty of space.

Got it! So, how does booking work?

Please book one ticket per visiting adult and child. You can do this for up to a maximum of six tickets per timed entry slot.

In line with Government social distancing guidelines, please limit your visiting group to members of up to two households or support bubbles. Thanks!

We are required by the Government to keep your name and contact details for 21 days so that we can provide information for ‘Track and Trace’.

How far in advance can I book?

Slots will be available for two weeks in advance. We’ll add a new date every day.

Do I need to print out my booking?

When you have made your booking, you will receive an automated confirmation email.

You are welcome to print this off, bring it with you and show it to our friendly front of house team when you arrive, or you can simply show them the booking confirmation email on your mobile device. Easy!

I have been in contact with someone showing symptoms of COVID-19 – what should I do?

If you or any members of your household or bubble are showing symptoms of COVID-19, or if you or any members of your household have been in contact with anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, then please do not visit the Museum. Instead, please refer to the most up to date Government guidelines on self-isolating and recovery.

If you need to cancel or rearrange your visit, then please feel free to contact us. All the information that you will need will be provided on your confirmation email.

Is it still free to visit The MERL?

Absolutely – it’s our pleasure!

However, we are extremely grateful for any support that you can give.

If you would like to help us with a donation, you can donate via contactless or cash payment at the till during your visit. We are also still able to accept cash donations.

Can I pay in cash at the Museum?

After our reopening, we will only be able to accept contactless card payments in our shop and cafe. Thanks!

Changes to the museum and reading room

What’s new at The MERL?

Throughout our reopening planning we have taken the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and visitors extremely seriously, with new changes introduced to ensure the safety and comfort of all. We have outlined these measures in our new Visit Us page and on the next section of these FAQs: ‘Health and Safety’.

We are delighted to confirm that from the 8th September we will be reopening all parts of The MERL site, including:

  • The MERL galleries
  • The MERL gift shop
  • The MERL café
  • The MERL garden
  • The MERL reading room

Are all of the galleries reopening?

Yes! All The MERL will be available for visitors to return to, explore and enjoy.

However, please note that in order to visit the Ladybird Gallery on the first floor, you will need to ask for access from a member of our friendly team, who can be found both in the galleries and at our reception.

This is because of our new one-way route around the galleries. You can learn more about this new route in the third section of these FAQs: ‘Health and Safety’.

Will the gallery interactives and trails be available?

Whilst The MERL has been closed, we have been busily exploring ways of continuing with us much of our offer as we can. So, to use our touch screen interactives, visitors will now be required to use styluses that will be washed and disinfected by our team. Collect one at our new Information point by the entrance to the galleries, and return it to reception before you leave.

Whilst we are unable to provide visitors with physical copies of trails, we have made all our trails – and even a brand-new one – available online for you to download and print off ahead of your visit. Browse them all here.

We are unable to operate our popular VR headsets, but the videos can be enjoyed from home on our YouTube channel and on our new app!

What’s new in the gift shop and café?

Our shop and café are back with the same quality range as ever. In our shop, choose from artisanal products and gifts made by local and independent producers, and enjoy delicious fair-trade teas, coffees, hot chocolates, cakes and snacks in our café.

We have reduced the seating that is available in the café so that we can maintain social distancing. However, there is lots of space in our expansive urban garden – including picnic tables and new socially distanced ‘crop circles’ mowed into the lawn for visitors and groups to enjoy.

We invite you to bring picnic blankets to cover the tables, as the tables and outdoor furnishings are difficult to clean!

Can I drop in to the shop?

Of course!  But, we will be monitoring numbers in the shop and cafe area, and may need to ask you to wait until there is space. You will need to wear a face covering. We will need to take your details for Test and Trace as the shop is part of our Museum space.

And the café?

This will be at the discretion of staff at reception, and will depend on the number of visitors already in our spaces. We will need to take your details for the Government’s ‘Test and Trace’ scheme.

Has the garden changed?

Like many people lacking access to hairdressers during lockdown, these last few months really saw the garden grow its hair out. The lawn was longer than it had ever been, unexpected flowers bloomed throughout, and even a family of foxes settled in the woodland walk. In this blog, our fantastic gardener reveals what she discovered when she returned!

As we reopen, the garden is looking as beautiful as ever, and we are overjoyed that our staff and visitors can return to it once more.

We have had to temporarily close the shepherd’s hut (due to all the knitted bit and bobs being impossible to clean) and the woodland walk (until we are 100% sure that the foxes have moved out). The tractor is available for children to play on, but please note that we are unable to clean it thoroughly. We encourage all visitors using the tractor to wash their hands before and after, consider wearing a mask, and try and limit the number of people climbing on it to 4 at any one time.

Do I need to book if I just want to visit the garden?

Yes, please do book a timed entry slot even if you don’t intend to go into the galleries. This will help us monitor numbers in our public spaces, as you need to pass through the Welcome Space to get to the garden. If you drop in without a booking, we may not be able to accommodate you.

I’m a researcher – am I able to return to the reading room?


Find out more about visiting the reading room and changes to factor in ahead of a visit.

Please note that you will need to make separate bookings for both the reading room AND the Museum, if you intend to visit both. Which, of course, we highly recommend.

Health and safety

What new health and safety changes are there at The MERL?

As with places across all walks of society, we have introduced many new health and safety measures throughout The MERL to ensure that all our staff and visitors will feel welcomed and safe.
This includes:

  • Installing a new one-way system throughout the galleries
  • Placing hand sanitiser stations at entrances and exits
  • Requiring contactless payment – we are now unable to accept cash
  • Requesting all visitors to wear face coverings (if you can) This is in line with Government guidelines.
  • Asking all staff and visitors to observe social distancing at all times

There are new signs throughout the building that make these new health and safety policies easy to understand and observe. Our staff will be delighted to help if you have any questions during your visit.

Has The MERL reopening been approved by all the relevant authorities?

Yes! We are certified Good to Go by VisitEngland, the industry standard for organisations that have undertaken all necessary steps to ensure a safe reopening. Simultaneously, we have worked extensively with our parent organisation the University of Reading to ensure that all parts of our offer will be safe and enjoyable for everyone to return to.

Further reading

Have a question that we haven’t covered? Or feedback? Reach out to us via social media or email. We would be delighted to hear from you.