Young V&A: OPEN!

August 3, 2023
Young V&A, Town Square © David Parry courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It’s ten seconds to 10am on Saturday 1 July. Outside Young V&A in East London’s Bethnal Green, the excitement level is rising. We do a collective countdown from ten to zero with our first young visitors and their families – so loud it can be heard across the neighbouring park. Children are literally jumping up and down with anticipation. Staff too (almost)! When the doors open, in the children stream, with huge exclamations of delight. They run into the museum, they sail in on micro-scooter, on balance bike, pulling their grown-ups behind them, completely at ease, owning the space, sensing that this museum has been designed with and for them, that it is their space, entirely. They set to the serious business of play with exuberance and confidence.

In the Play Gallery they collaborate on the marble run (which, I am told with utmost gravity by a four-year-old in a crown and cloak, is not in fact a marble run. It is a teleporter.). They build fantastic structures with the Imagination Playground. They look – really look – at the objects on display, child with parent, grandparent, sibling, friend. They sit and read to one another in the nooks in the Play Gallery’s Sound It Out giant alphabet told through playfully designed object led displays. They take turns at the sand pattern table.

In the mini-museum, babies and toddlers crawl and wobble their way around an array of surface textures, enjoying the sound tree and mesmerised by the colour totems. We see the same level of focused and energetic engagement across the Town Square atrium and into the Imagine Gallery. Cloak and hats are donned in the Stage and impromptu performances take place. There is dancing. A lot of dancing. There is also light-hearted jostling to draw at the Self Portrait station in the This is Me gallery. Upstairs in Design, children meet designer in residence Clara Chu, in the Shed, next to Open Studio where all day they can draw and make in response to simple design briefs.

Young V&A is a hive of creative activity and exuberant play.  

Seeing quite how engaged the children are across the galleries, from the first moment of opening, has underscored the vital importance of YV&A as a doing museum – a place of active, experiential engagement with objects, in which the Reggio Emilia precept that ‘the environment is the third teacher’ is writ large. As we end our first month of opening, we have learned an enormous amount about how to run our new museum. Alongside the operational practicalities, most significantly we have seen how children relish and need spaces for creative playful learning. In this, we cannot help but return to that moment early on in our co-design process with our young designers, when they told us they wanted the world’s most joyful museum.

One month in and it looks as if this, the best of design challenges, may quite possibly, have been met.

1 comment so far, view or add yours


Congratulations to you and the team! We’re really looking forward to visiting next month, having been big fans of the previous incarnation. Our son is nearly an adult, but he used to love it too, and hopefully we’ll bring our grandchild(ren) in years to come…

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