Running a sleepover in your museum or gallery
Sleepovers can vary hugely depending on your venue and which rooms you intend to use; your goals for the event; and who your target audiences are.
You’ll want to ensure that you have enough staff members and volunteers to supervise throughout the night, and that the rest of your team will be able to cover for them on staffing rotas over the following week: don’t run a sleepover ahead of a big open day that requires all hands on deck!
If you’re running an event for an organised or uniformed group, they come with DBS-checked people who understand child protection and adult:child ratios. If your event is for children, whether as part of a uniformed group, a school or families, make sure that it’s very clear who is expected to take responsibility for them.
You will definitely need to carry out a risk assessment and consider First Aid, Health and Safety and child protection, if your event is aimed at families or young people. It’s a good idea to share a Code of Conduct with your visitors, explaining what will happen when, what to bring, what to wear, which areas they will have access to, where they can get changed, and where they can store bags and coats, for example. Have a plan in place in case a child is unwell or wants to go home.
Programming the evening
Many successful sleepovers are themed around a particular subject: i.e. if you already have an Ancient Egyptian gallery and run a range of activities there already, you can simply repurpose them for your overnight audience. Allow time for letting off steam, and programme a winding-down activity for the end of the evening: storytelling or watching a film are always popular.
The morning after
It’s worth opening your shop in the morning so visitors can buy mementos. A certificate ceremony for all who survived a night in your museum is a great idea, but make sure you have parents’ or guardians’ permission to photograph children. Always offer adults hot drinks with breakfast, as a lack of tea in the morning seems to seriously affect visitor satisfaction scores!
Making a difference
Sleepovers can be terrific for reaching a new audience who wouldn’t normally think of spending time at your venue, giving them a completely unique experience they’ll always remember. They can also be an effective way of attracting media coverage and publicity, and bringing your venue to the forefront of people’s minds.
We’ve published a range of sleepover case studies over the years, which are worth taking a look at.
Developing family sleepovers at the Novium Museum
Dinosaur-themed sleepover tips from Ulster Museum
Suggestions on programming activities during sleepovers from the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
Creating atmospheric historic sleepovers for adults at Pendennis Castle
Cub scout sleepovers leading to a badge at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
A word of warning: although sleepovers are eternally popular and always sell out quickly, they take up a lot of staff capacity. Make sure your team are fully on board – perhaps start with a few Late events and work your way up to overnight ones!
Here’s a link to upcoming Museums at Night festival sleepovers.