Having closed for longer than planned, the former V&A Museum of Childhood in East London is reopening this weekend with a changed focus on educating the young of today.

The museum, renamed as Young V&A still announces itself as the V&A Museum of Childhood on the outside, but that’s a listed mosaic and not exactly the sort of thing that can be changed. Local street signs have been changed, and the banners outside tell you that “joy is this way”.

Walking into the ex-museum, over a doormat that is a mirror image of the tiles in the main hall, at first glance, not much seems to have changed from a £13 million revamp.

OK, the entrance exhibition foyer is now the shop and the usually packed buggy park is still to the right, but the physical layout of the museum hasn’t changed much, thanks to being a listed building, but what has changed are the displays, which have swept away rows of cabinets to look at, and replaced them with lots more space to play and do instead.

For some reason, the exhibition space, which was on the top right side as you walk in is now on the top left side, and the rest has been broken roughly into three zones — Play, Imagine, Design, and arguably maybe also ascending in age for the visitors.

A venue aimed at people aged 6 months to 13 years old is going to struggle a bit to be relevant in a way that rarely troubles other venues as by the time we reach adulthood, most adults are relatively uniform in how we respond to a space. A toddler is going to crawl around in a way that a 13 year old wouldn’t want to be seen dead doing.

The venue (is it OK to call it a museum now?) surveyed some 22,000 people to design the new space, asking what people want — mainly children, but also the adults that accompany the children.

Rejected ideas included having live animals in the building (phew) and a rocket to take people upstairs (alas).

Along with spaces aimed at toddlers with lots of sensory experiences, there’s a games zone, a drawing studio, a new stage area looking resplendent in theatrical red, an optical illusion room, and yes, still a good number of glass cases with things to look at.

I quite liked the addition of Death Star from Star Wars to the example of homes that people live in — as people lived there after all. How many millions of people died when it was destroyed?

I was less keen that a fake road on the floor lacked a pavement. I know it’s not real, but these things do matter. The carpets used elsewhere are vibrantly patterned, helping to divide the spaces into discrete zones.

When it was the Museum of Childhood, on my visits, it often struck me that the venue often felt like it was more of a large crèche inside a small museum, and the V&A has adapted to that usage, so now much of the building is in effect a very large crèche, with a smaller museum around the edges.

That sounds like a criticism, and as a childless person, I will miss the many glass cases that often made me feel old when I saw that a much loved childhood toy is now a museum object — but the ex-museum is now very much more what the people who use it want.

And that is a good thing, and I am sure it’ll be hugely popular locally.

A discordant note though – in the centrepiece spiral staircase.

It was going to be rather more dramatic in appearance, but they’ve pared back the design somewhat. A bolder design would be more noticeable, but there’s a bit of an optical illusion that it could have foreshortened the length of the hall, so the current design, which seems almost apologetic for existing, expands the size of the space. That’s quite nice.

However, there’s a design choice in the stairs that I cannot agree with.

Modern public stairs usually come with double handrails, one above the other so that adults and children can hold onto a handrail. This new staircase has just one handrail. I’ve been told it’s because the design complexity made it difficult to add two handrails, so they compromised by having a single handrail part-way between the two usual heights.

(Update: have since been informed that the staircase could have had two rails, but a decision was taken by the client not to do so)

Accepting that I didn’t take a tape measure with me, the handrail didn’t seem much lower than usual – and although a double handrail is not a legal requirement it’s recommended, especially in a venue that is aimed at children. If a designer sends over a design that fails to meet a fairly basic accessibility requirement, then it should have been sent straight back.

That they’ve put appearance ahead of accessibility somewhat irked me.

The new Young V&A reopens on Saturday 1st July and will be open every day from then onwards for free.

The nearest station is Bethnal Green on the Central line, or it’s a fairly short walk from Whitechapel station for the Elizabeth, District and Hammersmith & City lines and the London Overground.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with:

This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

  1. Kenneth flemington says:

    I enjoyed the cases and displays in the old museum.It was criminal to destroy it. This seems a woke nightmare to me so its a “no” from me.I won’t be going.

    • Dan Coleman says:

      They’ve adapted and changed to meet their audience, which is what museums should do. I’m not exactly sure what you refer to as ‘woke’, but I’ll assume you use that to mean ‘anything that isn’t exactly the way I like it.’

  2. Kc says:

    They have took the magic away from the museum I used to live round the corner and loved going there as a child. All the old dolls houses on the ground floor, the toys hospital ect. When I last took my girls who were 7 and 9 they both said it was boring. New is not always better. I personally think they have wasted a lot of money, and should have left it alone.

    • ianVisits says:

      So your children said the old museum layout was boring, but also you think they shouldn’t change the layout to make it less boring for young people.

      Maybe pay a visit before condemning it?

  3. Marianne says:

    Looking forward to taking my 4 year old sometime soon.

  4. Graham Smith says:

    Where are the dollshouses? Please tell me they are not in storage.

  5. Matthias Bruene says:

    I can’t wait to go with my children who are finishing school soon and see how it changed compared to when we went regularly when they were little

  6. ChrisC says:

    “I quite liked the addition of Death Star from Star Wars to the example of homes that people live in — as people lived there after all. How many millions of people died when it was destroyed?”

    2 million.

    Not nearly as many as on Alderaan (pop 2 billion)

  7. Buku says:

    Is it free entrance?

  8. Lizebeth says:

    I quite agree with Kenneth, above — but that is me, as an adult, talking. I won’t be going again, either, but perhaps this new look is what children will want to use and enjoy? That’s what it’s for, I guess?

    Glad I visited it in its previous incarnation.

    The V&A now seems to be taking an awful lot of its collection out of the public eye — I’ve noticed this alarming trend in other museums, e.g., Tate Britain etc., also. Do they think the public values spaciousness over actually seeing the things we came to the museums to see??

  9. Fede says:

    Taking my son this week as it’s yet another school strike day, I had never visited before so just looking forward to seeing it !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Home >> News >> Museums