2020: The Not-so-great Viking lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 an unforgettable year, as the virus brought much of the world to a standstill. In an unprecedented move, the UK imposed a national lockdown, shuttering all non-essential businesses and ordering the public to stay home.

The New Normal

During the lockdown, the lights inside JORVIK were turned off and most of the staff remained home on furlough. However, a small core of the attraction’s staff worked tirelessly to keep other essential services running.

Schools continued to operate, with most pupils learning from home. Yet, they still required educational activities, particularly those delivered online. This allowed JORVIK to continue offering its Virtual Outreach sessions to children studying both in class and remotely. Additionally, the downloadable resources became even more popular during this time.

Initially, no one knew how long the lockdown would last. It wasn’t until mid-August that visitor attractions could reopen, but with strict social distancing rules in place. For JORVIK, this meant rethinking the free-flow areas of the attraction and limiting capacity. An extended queueing space was created around the glass-floor area of Discover Coppergate, as guests waited for the Time Capsules. Strict sanitization procedures were also implemented for all touch-points within the attraction. The reopening continued until the end of October half-term, when the second national lockdown came into force.

The Thing became the worlds largest online Viking Festival

That JORVIK Viking Thing

As the February 2021 JORVIK Viking Festival approached, it became clear that hosting the event in its normal form would be too dangerous due to the risk of large crowds gathering. Instead, a small team got to work on creating a digital alternative, which they dubbed “That JORVIK Viking Thing” – the Viking word “thing” referring to a communal meeting.

The team produced a variety of digital content for the festival, which they released during the February half-term. This included a 360-degree virtual tour of the JORVIK ride, multi-chapter sagas, and “Meet the Viking” segments. They also brought in world-renowned Nordic musician Einar Selvik for an informal “In Conversation” session hosted by music journalist Alexander Milas. Additionally, they held a virtual mead tasting where samples were sent to participants in advance, as well as a walking tour of the set led by the head of interpretation, Dr. Chris Tuckley.

The digital festival was a resounding success, reaching over 3.1 million people across every continent (except Antarctica). It was the largest digital Viking festival in the world.

Windows on the past brought history to highstreets across the country

Moving past 2020

With museums closed, the JORVIK team created a project called “Windows on the Past.” They set up mini-museum displays in empty shops, providing a cultural experience for those taking socially-distanced walks during lockdown. The displays featured QR codes that linked to explanatory videos – an innovative way to engage the public when they couldn’t physically visit JORVIK.

JORVIK reopened on May 17, 2021 when the final lockdown for museums was lifted. Reduced visitor numbers allowed for continued social distancing, but life gradually returned to normal for the Viking-Age Coppergate community and those visiting them.

Windows on the past brought history to highstreets across the country