Coronavirus guidelines

News from the House of Bishops and National Church Institutions

New risk assessment template

In response to the government’s announcement that individual private prayer may resume in our churches and cathedrals from 15th June we have today published a revised risk assessment, to help parishes and Chapters decide whether they are in a position to safely open and, if they are, to fulfil the requirement that we understand will be in government guidance that a risk assessment be completed. It is very important to emphasise that churches may open from 15th June, not that they must or should.

The Bishop of London, as Chair of the Recovery Group, wrote to all Bishops earlier today:

As you are already aware, the Government announced at the weekend its intention that individual prayer will be permitted by law in places of worship in England from next Monday (June 15). This is very much a permissive change rather than a prescriptive one - it will still be a matter for local churches and cathedrals in liaison with their bishops or deans to decide to what extent they wish to take this up, if at all, in light of their own particular circumstances. We are awaiting new Government guidance and regulations on this area to be published but, in the meantime, we have now updated our risk assessment template for church buildings. That can be downloaded from the Coronavirus page of the Church of England website.”

The current version is marked as a ‘planning document’. This is because we don’t yet have the final government guidance and so will update this document as soon as it is available.

You can access the risk assessment, in an editable Word format, here: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/20510.

New guidance on temporary permissions

We have published a new document which outlines the approach the Dean of the Arches and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission believe should be taken to the temporary necessary changes to enable social distancing and hygiene measures to be put in place. The message from the Dean of the Arches has been sent directly to Chancellors and Registrars. You can access the guidance on permissions here.

As part of our general work checking and consolidating guidance we have combined the existing guidance for contractors and for construction workers into a single document with a separate, dedicated risk assessment at the end of the new document. You can access this revised document here.

Later this week I hope to also be able to let you know of an update to our general guidance document on accessing church buildings, which will reflect changes in various elements of government guidance and recent decisions of the House of Bishops.

There are now resources available on the main Church of England Coronavirus pages from the Liturgical Committee, and advice notes to help with planning for when ordinations, baptisms, and weddings can take place, as well as advice on Holy Communion. These will be updated as the situation develops. These are not primarily focused on buildings matters but are intended to help churches and cathedrals plan for the near future.

Guidance on singing and music is in preparation, although we are dependent on government for when it may be published. Dr David Knight from my team is involved in developing that and we will circulate it as soon as it is available.

Funerals in church buildings

Following a meeting of the House of Bishops this morning, the Bishop of London wrote to outline a decision of the House relating to funerals:

Following on from that Government announcement, and in light of the changing circumstances it reflects, including a welcome reduction in the rate of Covid-19 related deaths, the House of Bishops has revised its advice on conducting funerals inside church buildings from the June 15th as long as they take place within Government guidance. However, as with individual prayer, this is permissive and not prescriptive. There will be places where, for a number of reasons, it might not still be advised to conduct funerals inside church buildings and the decision will be taken locally, with the diocesan bishop.”

There is a guidance note available on the website to help local churches plan to conduct funerals safely.

Accessing church buildings for clergy, staff and volunteers

We have been working with government to gain confirmation that accessing cathedral and church buildings for purposes of preparation to re-open is allowed under the Emergency Regulations, even though this purpose is not specified in the legislation. Happily we have now received this update from MHCLG:

The regulations require a place of worship to be closed except for the uses permitted: funerals, to broadcast worship, provide essential services and early years childcare. Our lawyers advise that if the place of worship is being cleaned or preparing to open, there’s a strong argument it’s still closed whilst these activities are happening, provided members of the public can’t access it.”

We have asked for specific clarification on the matter of organists or other musicians coming into church buildings to practise, and will update you on this as soon as possible. At present under the Regulations it is not permitted.

Government officials have also provided some information on more than one person being present in the place of worship for these purposes:Reg 7 covering mass gatherings should be considered if there is to be more than one person working in the place of worship at any one time, which says that more than one person gathering indoors is not permitted, unless under certain exceptions in 7(2), the most relevant of which would be if the gathering is ‘reasonably necessary […] for work purposes, or for the provision of voluntary or charitable services’. This should cover those employed by the place of worship, or those contracted to provide services such as cleaners, maintenance staff, but this could also cover volunteer members of the community.”

News from elsewhere

Historic England Covid-19 Emergency Heritage at Risk Response Fund

This new £3m fund has just launched and is now open for applications.

Historic England announced the fund, saying “The Covid-19 Emergency Heritage at Risk Response Fund will award grants to help fund urgent maintenance, repairs and surveys at some of England’s locally-cherished historic buildings and sites. The work funded will help heritage sites reopen to the public and thrive once again as quickly as possible – subject of course to Covid-19 restrictions. The business generated will help heritage specialists who, we know from our recent research, have been severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. This, the second fund launched by Historic England to help the heritage sector recover from the effects of the pandemic, is a £3 million temporary funding stream.”

Grants of up to £25,000 will be offered for urgent minor repairs to problems such as damaged roofs, masonry and windows, to hire scaffolding to prevent structural collapse, or to commission surveys necessary to inform urgent repairs. The work funded must be started before Saturday 31st October 2020. There are various criteria but the Fund application process has been designed to be as simple as possible. It is a two-stage application with no requirement for permissions to be in place at the initial expression of interest phase.

The deadline for expressions of interest is Sunday 28th June. Please circulate this to your contacts. Applications can be made online: https://historicengland.org.uk/coronavirus/covid-19-HAR-fund/

Government Cultural Taskforce

Some of you will have seen the announcement of Neil Mendoza as the new Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal. Neil was a member of the board for the Taylor Review of Cathedral and Church Buildings Sustainability and is a long-term supporter of church buildings as part of England’s cultural heritage and contemporary social purpose. I continue to attend weekly meetings of the Heritage Working Group that is feeding in to Neil’s work. At present much of our discussion is focused on the re-openings that have started at gardens and open sites, looking forward to the planned July re-openings of many heritage and visitor sites. However we are intending to start discussions on the medium-term issues that need to be thought about to support places not just opening up, but staying open. This includes issues of funding, VAT and other taxes, the need for regionalised support, support for specialist skills and training, etc. I will write in more detail on this when I have more information.

Visit England Re-opening Campaign

I have met with officials at Visit England who are in the process of preparing an online assessment tool for visitor attractions of all types and sizes to use to establish that they have done the best they can in relation to making their sites safe for visitors to return to. This ‘Good to Go’ toolkit will be launched in the next two weeks and will, I think, be very helpful for parishes and cathedrals who want to show they are open and able to welcome visitors and tourists once more. I have been assured it is a simple tool, and there will be a telephone helpline for anyone who requires help completing it. I will let you know as soon as this is launched.

For now, Visit England are keen to hear of re-opening plans that they could use as part of their social media campaign. Short bullet points accompanied by photos or videos of cleaning, virtual tours on offer, installing physical distancing measures etc. would be very welcome. If any churches would like to send anything in, please email it to pr@visitengland.org.