On our birthdays my husband and I normally take the day off of work so that we can go off for an adventure. for Gavin’s birthday we end up going to a military museum of some sort. While I am not keen on war, or the military I usually enjoy the day, at the very least appreciating how the curation has been put together, focusing on photography and looking for women’s role in war.

I also look for potential activities or displays that could contribute towards a young person doing their Arts Award in the museum. I always end up enjoying these visits to museums that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself, until now.

This year we went to Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker. We really didn’t enjoy the experience for several reasons.

Photography

Shortly after entering there was a sign saying ‘no photos, you will be charged £5, we will be watching you’. The lighting in the bunker was strip lighting, which makes for poor photos, no-one could use the photos from inside the bunker for professional purposes without taking in an entire lighting rig. In which case, yes I could understand the museum wanting to charge.

This sign was repeated numerous times throughout the bunker. It shows a gross lack of understanding of how museums promote themselves these days, primarily through social media. Instagramming and Tweeting cool photos is a key part of a visit these days and most museums have embraced this, regramming/retweeting visitor’s images, and commenting on them.

There was a dress up area half way around, along with a camera and a sign saying ‘your friends will never believe you have been in the secret nuclear bunker unless you take a photo. Parents we are watching and if you press this button you will be charged £2.’ There was no information with the dress up area showing how to put outfits together, or details at all.

What really galled me was at the end there was a sign up saying ‘post your photos on Facebook/twitter and tag us’. I have to say that made me extremely angry.

Curation

There was a lot of ‘stuff’ in this museum and there was very little information about what was there. You had to take the audio tour along with a sign saying ‘we will see if you don’t have an audio tour – you must have one’. The audio was very long winded, and got rather tedious. I also don’t like learning by listening (unless I can take notes), I like to read and occasionally see diagrams, pictures etc.

There was a huge amount of rubbish around the place, often shoved into corners. There was a quantities of telephone banks, piles of Geiger counters, even at one point a pile of different mattresses.

It would have been better to have got rid of a lot of the stuff, restrict access and put more information and interactivity into it. There were many signs saying ‘do not touch – we are watching’.

Having rubbish that has clearly not just been dropped by a school party is unacceptable.

There were some very interesting films, not least the 1950s information videos explaining what to do if people hear the nuclear siren – if you are outside you should hide in a ditch, covering your hands and face apparently! These films could have been made much more of.

 Access

I understand a sub-terrain nuclear bunker is going to be impossible to make wheelchair accessible. However, there could have been seats (there were some in a couple of points, but there were films playing, some of which were quite loud) scattered around for people to rest in.

There had also obviously been a recent leak, with a huge puddle of water on the floor. There was a ‘caution’ sign up, but no attempt to mop up the water, or even catch it in a bucket – really not good.

With very little information provided about the bunker in any form other than the audio tour it was not very accessible to d/Deaf people, or even those who are hard of hearing.

We didn’t see a single member of staff until we got to the canteen, where we had to pay.

Conclusion

All in all, this was very disappointing. The continual signs of ‘we are watching you’ left a very sour taste in the mouth, not only did we never want to come here again, but we have told everyone NOT to go here. It’s certainly not a good way to run a business. It really felt like they didn’t actually want visitors to come here, that it was their private club and they had visitors on sufferance. Well that’s fine and your choice, but don’t charge people £7 an adult and put up with them, while making it very clear that actually they weren’t welcome.

The images here were taken outside, before I saw the ‘no photography’ sign.

Join the conversation

4 Comments

  1. I am definitely not going to visit this museum, when I go to England next time. Sometimes, I cannot take photos in exhibitions and sometimes, I can take pictures, but not use flash. Once in Punta Cana beach, I wanted to take a picture of the beautiful bird that the man was holding, but he expected me to pay $5 which I did not want to do. I have been caught a few times in England and in United States for taking pictures of paintings, statues, and objects in museums. From now on, I decide to read or ask, before I start taking photos.

  2. Thanks for this review. We don’t live far away so may have visited – and my husband is deaf and we both like taking photographs! The place sounds like a bit of a dead loss, such a shame.

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