Torbay councillor Mike Morey is this week’s Torbay Weekly guest columnist:
Torre Abbey is an historic building, an ancient scheduled monument dating back to 1196 set within 18 acres of garden and parkland in close proximity to the sea.
It has been a real hive of activity over the years where world class exhibitions are shown side-by-side with creative work from local emerging talents.
So what do you do when you are managing such an historic building in Torbay which has been forced to close because of a pandemic? That was the question facing manager Lucinda Heron and her small team at Torre Abbey Museum when earlier this year, it was forced to shut its doors due to Covid-19.
There were only two paths to follow, you either hold your head in your hands and wait for things to blow over or you start to plan on how to unlock the secrets of the abbey to the public once again.
Well, in the minds of Lucinda and the team, there was only one real choice to take, so planning started on how to reopen safely as soon as the guidelines allowed.
The safety of visitors was behind every planned decision but also there was the recognition that for various reasons, many people had been shielding and had been confined to their homes for so long, so how could they be safely accommodated?
A plan was put in place, although at the same time it was recognised there would be a need to keep it under constant review not only to reflect the many changes in Government guidelines, but also in case there was the need to tweak measures at any point.
So just over a month ago those plans came to fruition and Torre Abbey reopened to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but closed on Sundays, Mondays and Thursday for cleaning.
Tuesday mornings have been reserved for vulnerable visitors and their friends/families.
Other Covid-19 safety measures are now in place such as the requirement to book timed slots - for a maximum of six people from the same visiting group, one-way systems in the house and gardens, hand sanitising stations throughout, regular cleaning of the house and toilet facilities by members of staff and, of course, in line with the latest guidance, face coverings must also be worn in the house.
I met up with Lucinda and a few members of staff at the abbey a couple of weeks ago to see how things were going and was met with a mixture of feelings, but predominantly those of relief and excitement that the public are once again allowed to celebrate the building and its grounds.
I also met, while socially distancing, with members of the public who have been shielding for so long and their excitement at being able to get away from within their own four walls to visit the abbey in a safe manner was only too plain to see.
Unfortunately, within my portfolio I have seen so many attractions and facilities closed due to Covid-19 such as leisure facilities and sports clubs but if Torre Abbey is anything to go by, then with careful planning there is light at the end of the very dark tunnel caused by the pandemic.
As the year 2020 has only too clearly shown us, we do not know what twists and turns the future may hold but I am confident if we can ‘keep our eyes on the prize’, we can come out of this much the stronger!