The Story Museum starts its first chapter of phased reopening…
Visitors eager to get their first glimpse of The Story Museum’s £6 million transformation will
be in for a treat this summer. The museum, situated in the heart of Oxford, was due to
reopen its doors at the start of April after two years of major capital redevelopment.
However, like many of the popular stories featured in the museum’s galleries, there was an
unexpected plot twist in the final chapter…!
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum’s grand reopening was postponed until further
notice, and the doors have remained closed to visitors since the lockdown began. However,
following Government guidance and an injection of emergency funding from the National Lottery and Arts Council England, The Story Museum will begin a phased re-opening this summer.
From 6th August 2020, visitors will be welcomed into the ground floor Galleries, shop and café. This includes Small Worlds, a story-themed play space specially designed for families and children aged 0-5, as well as ’City of Stories’, a short film exploring Oxford’s thousand-year literary history. These spaces, alongside live storytelling performances in the external courtyard of the museum and guided story walks around the city centre, will provide families with safe and enjoyable encounters with stories. Visitors will be able to pre-book tickets to access these spaces, which will be open in the first instance for three days a week on
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
CEO Caroline Jones is looking forward to welcoming visitors to this first stage of the
‘Every great story has a twist and for the Story Museum that was being forced to close our
doors before we’d even opened them. After many months of uncertainty about our future, it
feels fantastic to be sharing our plans for a phased re-opening, starting with our ground floor
spaces. We look forward to welcoming local families as well as nursery groups who we’re
sure are ready to come out and play with some familiar story characters in Small Worlds.
We’ve loved inviting our audiences to use their imaginations through various on-line
activities over the past few months but there’s nothing like the real, sensory and immersive
experience visitors will get inside our museum. Alongside our other family activities and
learning projects for children – including some of those most affected by lockdown – we’re
sharing a taste of things to come when The Story Museum can finally fully open later this
To coincide with the partial reopening, the museum is also launching a new digital resource, a burgeoning collection of 1001 of the world’s great stories from different times and places and in multiple forms. This ever-expanding treasure-trove of tales includes those featured in the new Galleries, alongside downloadable resources and audio stories, and is accessible at
The first phase of the museum’s opening has been made possible thanks to National Lottery funding from the Arts Council’s Emergency Response Fund. The museum is very grateful to all its funders and in particular the Arts Council of England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, NESTA and the Wolfson Foundation for their support at this difficult time.
The Story Museum plans to have reopened all its galleries by the Autumn of 2020, so long
as government guidelines suggest it is safe to do so. This includes The Whispering Wood, a
mysterious indoor forest tracing the history of oral storytelling, and The Enchanted Library
where visitors can step inside iconic scenes inspired by much-loved children’s stories, from
emerging through a wardrobe into The Chronicles of Narnia to cutting through into the
parallel realms of His Dark Materials. The Woodshed theatre is likely to be the last space to
re-open for live storytelling and other performances.
The Story Museum is backed by many of the UK’s most eminent children’s authors and illustrators and will bring to life their iconic stories including His Dark Materials, Noughts and Crosses, The Snowman and Horrid Henry, whilst favourite children’s picture books such as Winnie the Witch, Owl Babies, Traction Man and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt will also feature in the museum.
Visitors will encounter gallery and activity spaces which encourage adults and children alike to lose themselves in their imagination. Highlights include the Whispering Wood - a mysterious forest resounding with oral stories from around the globe - and Small Worlds - a patchwork play space featuring well-loved picture book characters. Malorie Blackman and Philip Pullman, who are patrons of the museum, will have their work featured in The Enchanted Library, a series of eight immersive rooms inviting visitors to step inside scenes from quintessential children’s stories. The magic of live storytelling will be celebrated in the museum’s 100+ seat theatre, hosting small-scale shows as well as puppetry, author and illustrator talks and film screenings.
The £6m campaign to transform the site into a major new centre for stories has benefitted from a number of significant grants, including support from Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Wolfson Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, with investment from the Arts Impact Fund through Nesta Arts & Culture Finance and donations from generous individuals. The museum’s work is also supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation, The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Oxford City Council.
The Story Museum started life as a virtual museum visiting local schools in order to help address the city’s poor literacy rates - in 2010 Oxford was the lowest ranking district in the country for reading and writing. Following the acquisition of a collection of buildings on Pembroke Street, the museum was partially open to the public from 2014 - 2018 hosting events and temporary exhibitions.
The Story Museum’s mission to highlight and fulfill the human need for stories is supported by a group of eminent patrons which includes Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell, Cerrie Burnell, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Sir Nicholas Hytner and Dame Marina Warner.
Malorie Blackman, Author and Patron, said: “Stories are a way that we understand not just the world but ourselves. It is important for children to be exposed to stories from this country and around the world, because there's such a rich storytelling tradition in all cultures, be it oral or literary. You open a book, and it's like opening a door into new thoughts, new ideas, new feelings, new people, new worlds. That's what makes them so special and why it's so important to have a place like The Story Museum where we can open that door.”
Philip Pullman, Author and Patron, said: “It’s important to have a story museum, because it shows we are paying proper attention to stories. The more we understand stories and think about them and study them, the more I thinkwe’ll know about ourselves as human beings. Besides, they’re such fun. The Story Museum will be a wonderful gift from Oxford, where so many stories have begun, to the whole world.”
Tish Francis, Capital Project Director at The Story Museum, said: “This transformation of The Story Museum site has been a labour and adventure worthy of Hercules – with much magic and timely acts of kindness spurring us on. All concerned – builders, architects, engineers, designers, storymakers, funders and our magnificent staff and volunteer team - have overcome many hurdles with ingenuity, determination and much cake! Apt perhaps, given that 2020 is a leap year, that such a leap of the imagination has been transformed into such a wonderful reality.”
Hours of opening from August 6th:
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays:various times. Book tickets here.
Cloud Wall in The Story Museum Courtyard. Courtesy of The Story Museum.
Time for Bed installation inspired by Helen Cooper’s picture book The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed. Photo: A Walmsley.
Small worlds illustrations, designed by Rebecca Lee. Courtesy The Story Museum.
Whispering Wood illustration by Tom Piper. Courtesy of The Story Museum.
Whispering Wood in the Story Museum. Photo: Geraint Lewis.