How can you have an exciting visitor experience when the doors are shut? Or attract an audience to an event when the speaker isn’t allowed in the building? These were just a couple of the problems BRLSI confronted on that fateful day in March 2020 when the government’s Covid-19 regulations came into play, forcing our institution to close its doors.
We were determined to find a way to keep going, taking advantage of new technologies that, frankly, we had been slow to adopt
Overnight the building, which sees the comings and goings of up to a hundred people a day, was in lockdown and the revenue from putting on world-class talks and opening the building for use by educational, charitable and commercial entities came to a frightening halt. But we were very lucky. A proud history of almost 200 years meant we were determined to find a way to keep going, taking advantage of new technologies that, frankly, we had been slow to adopt.
Instead of physical meetings, three intrepid volunteers rallied to record talks and upload them to YouTube. Next we began to offer live interviews with world-class speakers on subjects ranging from Wordsworth and Jane Austen to Determinism, Free Will, and Monetary Policy. Even better, our audiences could participate asking questions and giving their opinions. Buoyed by the results, we reached out further. Our regular Saturday coffee mornings were made possible via Zoom, we added fun quizzes, even our book club went online. We have been able to bring our community closer together while drawing in people from around the world.
Of course, we are still struggling. But with our handful of staff and our many volunteers, we are doing a pretty good job at keeping going. Through virtual offerings and Zoom meetings our operations have continued. Eventbrite are handling ticket sales for our live online events. Top of the chart so far was a Jane Austen talk with over 140 tickets sold – more people than can fit in our largest lecture room.
Another exciting project in the preparation phase will enable our historic objects to be included on Google Arts and Culture
We are not sure when life will return to normal, but we are slowly starting to gear back up. A new exhibition inspired by our Instagram feature, Take 5, will go on show in August. Only a click away on our site is a gem of 3D photography introduced by Professor Ichthyosaurus. Another exciting project in the preparation phase will enable our historic objects to be included on Google Arts and Culture, the latest go-to place for museum treasures. As for room hire, we have the advantage of architecturally beautiful rooms that overlook Queen Square that are large enough to manage social distancing.
So BRLSI has survived yet another difficult period in its history and we look forward to sharing with the people of Bath not only what we are doing in 2020, but what we hope to do for a bicentennial celebration in 2024. It should be very exciting and we welcome any help that members of our community are willing to give.
BRLSI’s mission to offer knowledge and debate to the community could not have happened were it not for the talent and dedication shown by its community of volunteers. And for that we are grateful.
See also Gerie Herbert’s discussion about why the arts matter: