Assessing Visitation at the Charles Dickens Museum in 2022

Sponsor: Charles Dickens Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Cindy Sughrue and Jordan Evans
Student Team: Jorge Castro
Sydney Hobson
Aria Yan
Cara Yorina
Abstract: The Charles Dickens Museum in London struggled with low attendance after COVID-19 induced lockdowns. We conducted museum interviews and street-intercept interviews to develop strategies for encouraging local visitation to the museum. The visitor experience at the museum was overwhelmingly positive as visitors enjoyed personal ephemera from Charles Dickens and the authentic Victorian house. We recommend small-scale changes for better accessibility, inclusivity, and convenience at the museum. We also recommend additional marketing tactics to promote awareness of the museum to targeted audiences.
Link: CDM Final IQP Report.docx

Executive Summary

The arts and culture sector has struggled with declining attendance numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic as international tourism and large gatherings were central to many businesses in this field (for example, musical performances, museums, and art galleries). The Charles Dickens Museum has had low attendance since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and has been dealing with the repercussions of minimal international travel. The museum is interested in exploring different ways to engage with the local community to make up for the decreased number of international tourists.

Our project identified factors that affect the visitorship of the Charles Dickens Museum post-lockdown and recommended strategies for how the museum could increase visitor attendance. We established two main objectives. First, we identified who the Charles Dickens Museum’s visitors were in 2022, why they were visiting, and how they perceived the visitor experience. Second, we identified awareness of the Charles Dickens Museum and any perceived barriers to entry for locals within the one-mile radius.

Both quantitative and qualitative data analysis of long and short museum interviews, community interviews, and visitor book comments contributed to our results. Specifically, through both the short and long museum interviews we collected information about the visitor experience at the museum, as well as visitor demographics. We gathered information on peoples’ perception of Charles Dickens and the museum from our street-intercept interviews.

We collected 130 responses from the short museum interviews, 42 responses from the long interviews, and 151 responses from the offsite interviews. To add to the qualitative analysis, the team also transcribed 2500+ comments from three complete visitor books with data spanning the past three years (2019-2021). We utilized NVivo software to conduct sentiment analysis of our qualitative responses and created graphs to analyze quantitative data and determine any trends. Using our short interview demographic data, we compared age, ethnicity, and gender to the Camden Borough 2011 Census data to explore differences between the group.

Results, Analysis, and Recommendations

Visitor Experience
The overall sentiment towards the museum was overwhelmingly positive. Every visitor we interviewed found their visit to be either good or excellent. Over 99% of the visitor book comments were positive. The middle-class Victorian lifestyle portrayed at the museum engaged visitors. They felt immersed in Dickens’ house, especially in terms of the sound design in the socializing rooms and the attention to detail in the furniture. They were interested in seeing how Dickens drew inspiration from his real life when he wrote his books. Most of all, they loved imagining Dickens sitting at his writing desk, creating his wondrous stories.The visitors who used the audio guide liked the information it provided, but had differing opinions on the pacing of the audio guide. The museum might benefit from creating two different options for audio guides: one shorter guide and one longer guide. Many visitors, particularly the older ones, had trouble using the audio guide due to technical issues and would rather have an actual guide instead. The museum could offer free tours at the museum that visitors could sign up for. We also recommend lending out audio equipment for free with a refundable deposit so that the museum could provide tech support.

Many visitors had trouble reading signage at the museum due to their antique look. We recommend increasing the font sizes and brightening up the lighting of signs. We recommend changing the font to Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana, or Computer Modern Unicode on the museum signs and the museum website. Some visitors had trouble reading Dickens’ handwriting without a transcription to compare words to. We recommend adding a few transcriptions to important letters and manuscripts for visitors’ reference.

We noticed that most people with mobility issues were afraid of being bothersome by asking museum staff for permission to use the lift. We recommend increasing the comfort level of visitors by having more available staff close to the lift or making sure the staff member at the front desk mentions the lift is available. Older people mentioned they would have liked somewhere to sit, so we also suggest including resting places on each floor. We also recommend making a clear label for available seating so visitors will not have to worry about sitting on fragile, antique furniture.

Demographic Data
While Camden has a large population of young individuals, the museum’s visitors were slightly biased towards an older generation. According to the 2011 census, nearly 50% of the population was between 20 and 39 years old. We suggest the museum take advantage of the opportunity to attract more young individuals by increasing its social media usage and partnering with creators of London-themed Instagram accounts (for example, @timeoutlondon or This collaboration can reach a wider audience than just the Charles Dickens Museum Instagram itself, @dickensmuseum.

The Camden census included a higher representation of ethnic groups than the Charles Dickens Museum visitor demographics, particularly Asian groups. We suggest that the museum explore ways to be more inclusive of different ethnicities. For example, having a Lunar New Year themed event could entice members from Asian communities to the museum. Additionally, we recommend the museum advertise more on sites that are frequently used by other ethnicities, such as the Little Red Book (the social media platform). By making these changes, the museum will attract and be more inclusive to a wider community.

Community Deterrents
People attending other museums knew less about the location of the Charles Dickens Museum than audiences in other community spaces but were more interested in visiting the Charles Dickens Museum. The museum can benefit from a targeted marketing strategy, and partner with smaller, more niche museums. This partnership can be in the form of a discounted package price similar to the National Art Pass (a pass that lets you enjoy free entry to many museums and 50% off of exhibits in the UK). This cross-promotion not only increases awareness of the museums, but it could also be of interest to locals who have already seen the bigger, more popular museums and give them an opportunity to explore the lesser-known museums. We suggest that the Charles Dickens Museum collaborate with Sir John Soane’s Museum, Carlyle’s House, Handel and Hendrix in London, and Keats House.