Operating Young V&A

January 26, 2024
A group of people smiling at Young V&A
Young V&A Front of House Team in the Town Square

As Head of Operations and Commercial at Young V&A I had the exciting task of leading the team in creating a visitor operation from scratch, and now, running the day-to-day operation of the museum. The Operations and Commercial team oversee the retail, building, ticketing and gallery operations, as well as visitor engagement and volunteering.

It’s been just over six months since we opened, in which we’ve welcomed nearly 430,000 visitors to Young V&A, and just over 24,000 into our exhibition Japan: Myth to Manga. We’ve sold 9000 kids’ boxes in the café, 1700 tote bags in the main shop, 928 Pokémon cards and 121 Tamagotchis in the exhibition shop. Clearly the 90s are in full resurgence!

Reflecting on the learnings from a front of house perspective, throughout this period the building has been thoroughly stress tested. You never really know how people will behave in a space until they’re in it, and behaviours change depending on several factors (including, I have noticed, wet vs dry weather, and whether we’re before or after lunch). When the majority of our visitors are young and exuberant, it makes the experience of opening and operating a new museum even more exciting.

Surprise behaviours were aplenty. For example, we found that our Mini Museum in the Play Gallery needed a gentle but firm ‘baby bouncer’ at the entrance, to ensure only babies and toddlers under three years old were in the space; the ‘Ames Room’ in the Imagine Gallery found its second calling as a floor slide and the yellow-and-pink cushions in the central atrium, which we call the Town Square, became ‘loose parts’ play material, transformed into forts and stepping stones in the opening week, with a memorable close-down by Daniel, a front of house assistant, cleverly mobilising our young visitors into a game of cheese and ham to get the cushions back in place!

Children playing with cushions
Visitors playing with cushions during opening week

Throughout it all the front of house team has been exemplary and a credit to themselves. As the team cover nearly all the visitor touchpoints, they can deliver a consistent experience and the management team are brilliant at following up swiftly and overseeing the running of these multi-faceted days.

Our Volunteering programme has had a great start, with 1220 hours of volunteering delivered since opening, in over 305 shifts. Most of our volunteers are local to East London, and they’re a great asset to the visitor experience, and a welcome inclusion to our front of house team.  

Here are some of our key takeaways from the first 6 months of opening Young V&A:

1. It’s so important to get the basics of front of house right, to ensure a consistent experience and a solid base to build upon. These foundations include:

  • Focusing on the team, ensuring they’re set up for success, with a comprehensive induction covering visitor engagement as well as the nuts and bolts of systems and processes.
  • Clear team frameworks to cover when things awry and what to do in those situations.
  • Understand our visitors – who they are, building techniques on how to engage and elevate their experience.
  • Sales through service approach – a positive and knowledgeable team environment is reflected in the visitor experience, which creates an atmosphere catered to visitors wanting to spend time in the museum.

2. Teamwork really does make the dream work. Everyone has pulled together, rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in, no matter what the task.

3. Agility and willingness to adapt is a must in a team – we have to expect the unexpected: if it might happen it probably will.

4. Positivity, appreciation and compassion make a huge difference in a high-intensity new environment.

5. It’s okay to not get everything right first time. Everything is a learning experience – so long as you do learn from it and make sure mistakes aren’t repeated.

6. We have to listen to a variety of voices and input from all levels.

7. Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones!


Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more


Explore our range of exclusive jewellery, books, gifts and more. Every purchase supports the V&A.

Find out more