Event planning case study: Transforming the Thackray Medical Museum’s Victorian building into a quarantined zombie fright night

141 Beckett Street started as the Leeds Union Infirmary, went on to form part of St James’s Hospital and now houses Thackray Medical Museum. It’s a big Victorian building, full of some fairly unsettling objects, and has the potential to be a pretty scary place.

For our Halloween Museums at Night we utilised this scary potential and transformed the building into an infected Quarantine Zone littered with zombies, and invited brave members of the public to come inside.

During the event

On arrival guests were told the tale of how the building came to be quarantined, warned about the infected that lurked inside and advised how best to make their way through the galleries. Those who dared were then granted entry.

Apart from some dim lighting the only extras in our galleries were the zombies, so we really relied on them. They each developed their own character and ways of scaring people. One dressed in pyjamas, accessorised with pigtails and a child’s doll and sung out of tune nursery rhymes before intermittently screaming in the faces of passers-by.

Leaping in fright at the Thackray Medical Museum (c) Ben Gwynne

We had around 30 zombies in total: they were all volunteers and we couldn’t have delivered such a successful event without them. We also transformed the conference centre into a zombie Safe Zone with an undead disco, refreshments and Halloween-themed games.

Advance planning

This is the fourth year we have run this sort of event. What’s great is that they are high impact, but also fairly straightforward to run on the day.

There was a fair amount of preparation in the lead-up, though next year we will be able to recycle much of this. We started vaguely talking about the event in the summer then got into the bulk of the planning in September.

One key aspect of planning was Health and Safety, and by the day of the event we had Risk Assessments coming out of our ears. It was definitely worth it, though, as it meant we could invite people to come knowing it was a safe event, as well as one with great atmosphere!

The lessons our team learned

As with every event there are some definite lessons to be learnt. Planning could probably have been started sooner – a few of the craftier aspects of the preparation were still being completed on the morning of the event. Whilst it all worked out well, it would have been calmer to have got things finished earlier!

Our catering team also ran a happy half hour which was really popular. It did, though, encourage visitors away from the galleries which shut before the bar, so in future we will definitely review these timings.

Developing the event in future

Next time it would be great to increase the event capacity. We might try gamifying the event more by opening up more rooms on route with challenges inside. But we’ll wait and see how that works out when we start planning, a little sooner than last year!

Catherine Robins was Assistant Curator at Thackray Medical Museum.

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