TWO years after it closed for a £6 million renovation, Oxford's beloved Story Museum has finally reopened its doors.

The museum on Pembroke Street was due to reopen in April but the national lockdown meant that its brand new chapter had to be put on hold.

Last Saturday, however, the team finally allowed visitors in for the first time to visit the galleries in timed sessions.

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Tish Francis, capital projects director, said the pandemic ‘presented an existential crisis’ for the museum as it was created ‘to encourage touch and engagement, closeness with families and children’.

The lockdown also presented a financial challenge as the museum needed to start making money in April in order to survive.

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Communications manager David Gibb pictured in Horrid Henry's bedroom. Picture: David Fleming

Fortunately, the museum was able to reopen last week after it received £210,800 worth of funding from the Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Funding and a further £170,000 from the Government's Culture Recovery fund this month.

Ms Francis said: “Thanks of course goes to these funds; we could not have opened this holiday, or indeed in a quieter way as we did over the summer, had it not been for the Arts Council England’s emergency funding, the recent cultural recovery fund and the kindness of strangers.”

Over lockdown the museum had to rethink all the galleries and spaces visitors would interact with.

One gallery that had to be reimagined was the new Whispering Wood.

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Ms Francis said: “The Whispering Wood is all about whispering into the ears of trees, touching the trees, setting things off - so that needed a radical rethink and again, using the support we got from the emergency fund, we rethought it.

“We are now using 'silent disco' headphones, so when you arrive you are given headphones that are tuned into a narrative."

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Story guide Aladin gets ready to go on bear hunt. Picture: David Fleming

Automatic doors and a one-way system shown by rabbit paw prints are also new features, and the team are even quarantining storybooks for a week after use to make sure they are safe.

Ms Francis added: “These things require both time and imagination, but our main aim is to try and keep the museum magical.

"We started on the ground floor, and particularly the space for under fives, because that was the space we were most concerned about as they are so young.

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“We had an excellent designer, an Oxford-based designer, called Rebecca Lee, who had gone out her way to research really good, tactile things for children with special needs, so we had to rethink it.

“You’ll see now the area is divided into discrete story areas. Whether it’s going on a bear hunt, or going on the bus.

“They are divided so bubble can use this, whether it is a family of two or a family of six, they have time in each space.

“They have some singing and some washing of hands and then they you go on to the next space with our wonderful story guide.”