Helsinki’s libraries, museums and centres for sports, culture and youth activities gradually resume operations

The City of Helsinki’s Culture and Leisure Division has begun preparations to start reopening its services, in accordance with recent government decisions to ease coronavirus restrictions. The country’s largest cities, in the metropolitan area in particular, are currently planning a coordinated return of services at libraries, museums, and cultural, sports and youth centres.

On Friday, 8 May, the Helsinki City Library network will start loaning books and materials, and on Thursday, 14 May, outdoor sports facilities will opened to the public. Municipal leaders are working together to determine the timeframe for further reopenings.

“Free-time activities make our city a living and breathing community. We are happy to hear that we can start to gradually reopen these services during the months of May and June. Feedback received during restrictions showed just how much Helsinki’s residents love our cultural venues, libraries, youth services and exercise facilities. We will be sure to look after the safety of our municipal residents and employees in association with the reopenings,” says Tommi Laitio, Helsinki’s culture and leisure division director.

Clear safety instructions will be posted in all premises

Precautions will be taken to ensure customer and staff safety before the libraries, cultural centres, indoor sports facilities, museums and youth centres are reopened. For example, handwashing instructions and reminders to maintain safe distances from others will be posted at the premises. Plexiglass barriers will be installed at customer service locations to limit contact between service personnel and customers. Customers will be asked to use a debit or credit card instead of cash. The number of customers will also be regulated to ensure that safe distances can be maintained in the spaces.

Outdoor sports facilities will open to supervised activities

In accordance with government decisions, outdoor sports facilities will be open as of 14 May, under new restrictions. Helsinki’s outdoor fitness areas will open at this time and sports clubs and associations that have been granted practice times can resume use of the space according to the following principles:

The sports club or association will take responsibility for making sure that training sessions take place in small groups, with due regard for government restrictions and additional instructions from the city. The cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa have drawn up detailed instructions for use of outdoor sports facilities.

Service spaces in outdoor sports facilities, such as bathrooms and changing rooms, will be kept closed until the end of May, as the monitoring and facilitation of appropriate social distancing in these spaces is a challenge.

Competitions, matches, tournaments and events will remain banned until further notice. Sports competitions and series can resume, starting on 1 June, under special arrangements. More decisions in this area are forthcoming, after the state first issues more details.

The use of outdoor sports will be free-of-charge until the end of May, so clubs and associations will have a better opportunity to resume their activities in small groups. In addition, the maintenance and service level of pitches, for example, will not resume as normal until service spaces are reopened.

It appears that restrictions on gatherings will be eased starting 1 June, so the changing rooms and other service spaces will reopen and invoicing for use of the space will resume at the normal price. Football clubs maintain over half of the artificial turf playing fields in the city. In agreement with these clubs, it has been decided that activities on these pitches will resume in stages in May and June in the same way as with municipal facilities.

Water transport will restart in stages

Water transport to Helsinki’s outlying islands normally starts in May, but the coronavirus outbreak brought changes to these services as well. The City of Helsinki has decided that providers of water transport services can decide to move the start of the season back to 1 June 2020 at a maximum.

Services in this area are slowly resuming, and water transport to the island of Uunisaari has already begun. According to the latest information, routes connecting Helsinki with the Kaunissaari island in the Sipoo archipelago, which is managed by Helsinki, will begin on Friday, 15 May, and water transport to the island of Pihlajasaari and eastern archipelago routes will start on 1 June.

Water transport to Helsinki’s many islands is shared between transport services and touring operators that are privately owned.

Loan and return of library materials possible already this week

Recent decisions from the Finnish government have also cleared the way for Helsinki’s libraries to once again start lending out books and other materials. Starting on 8 May, the public will be able to loan and reserve items for pick-up at libraries in the Helsinki districts of Etelä-Haaga, Kallio, Laajasalo, Malmi, Paloheinä, Pasila, Roihuvuori, Töölö, Vallila, Viikki, and the Helsinki Central Library Oodi. Other library branches in the city will start these services incrementally, beginning on 11 May.

Libraries in Helsinki have already started accepting returns via return chutes or temporary return facilities. Current loans will only start to come due starting in early June, so there is no rush to return loaned material. It will be possible to start reserving new items for pick-up via the online Helmet service as of 11 May.

For the rest of the month of May, library customers will be asked to quickly take care of their transactions and make use of loan and return automats instead of interacting with library staff. All library spaces that are not necessary for loan services will remain closed, meaning that customer computer stations, magazine reading rooms and other such areas will be off-limits and no events will be hosted. Only basic services will be available: loans, returns and reserved item pick-ups, until restrictions on the use of public spaces are lifted on 1 June. The second floor of Oodi, for example, will remain closed in May.

HAM and Helsinki City Museum will reopen in June

The City of Helsinki’s museums will also resume their operations: the Helsinki City Museum and the Tram Museum will open to the public on Monday, 1 June, and the Helsinki Art Museum HAM and the Villa Hakasalmi will follow the suit the next day, on Tuesday, 2 June. Smaller seasonal museums in the city, the Burgher’s House and the Worker Housing Museum will remain closed for the time being.

The Helsinki City Museum will open its doors again on 1 June with a new exhibition called Urban Food, created in collaboration with the environmental organization Dodo, that illustrates new methods of urban farming and examples of the past and future food industry. Of its continuing exhibitions, Helsinki Bites will remain open, but the Children’s Town and Time Machine exhibitions will remain closed for the time being. The Villa Hakasalmi will continue to show the State of Mind – Helsinki 1939-1945 exhibition about the wartime era.

Starting 2 June, HAM will feature the Museum of Becoming exhibition in its arched halls. A three-part project from the visual artist Terike Haapoja and the writer and playwright Laura Gustafsson, Museum of Becoming calls for new ways of thinking about humanity and its relationship with the environment, other species, community and future. Enni Suominen’s Mortarium exhibition will present contemporary art, while a long-awaited exhibition of Vilho Lampi’s work and the Genderfuck 1900 exhibition that featured solidly in recent discussions of gender roles and assumptions about masculinity and femininity will also be featured. An exhibition on the beloved Finnish artist Tove Jansson is also open to the public.

The Helsinki Biennial, curated by HAM, has been postponed to summer 2021. The Museum of Becoming exhibition starting on 2 June touches on future Biennial themes.

Youth work will concentrate on outdoor activities

Youth work will restart on 1 June, but in a controlled manner, with due consideration for social distancing and other restrictions. Summer activities will mainly be arranged outdoors, as is normally the case during the summertime holiday. Helsinki’s Youth Services are one of the larger employers of young people each summer, and this summer about 170 young people aged 16 and 17 will be hired to assist with arranging summer activities.

All summer activities will be arranged to conform with gathering size restrictions. Familiar tournaments from previous summers will be replaced with other activities. Activities will also be spread out and staggered throughout the summer holiday, whereas in the past, most of the events were arranged earlier in the season.

Starting on 14 May, some youth centres will be used during the day by schools in need of additional space. Day camps and other summer associations for young people will likewise use the centres in the summer months. There are still some times when the centres are available for use, however, and so a special application period for booking facilities will be launched on 11 May. Youth services will release more information in this on 8 May. Helsinki organisations are welcome to use youth centre facilities free-of-charge. More information about reserving them can be found at the website munstadi.if.

Photo: City of Helsinki