No Early Reopening of Chapel from 4th July

Posted on May 23, 2020 by Julian Smith

Downlock is beginning for non-vulnerable people in England with government guidance now allowing unlimited day return travel, exercise, one-to-one meet-ups, and the opening of some office settings where work cannot be done from home. This is all subject to 2m radius social distancing, an HSE guided risk assessment per premises saying it’s also otherwise safe, and public transport not being used. This is to be extended to schools in June and the government hopes to extend it further with retail, leisure and worship spaces being opened from 4th July.

In light of the 4th July potential reopening of places of worship, our London and SE district of churches, the LDPA, has established a working party comprising Rev Martin Whitell (District Minister), myself (legal / regulatory guidance), and Revs Duncan Voice and Daniel Costly (risk and other issues respectively). At the core of what the working party has said to-date and what it seems to me will remain constant as things progress, is that for all it’s clear business needs to reopen to the full extent reasonably possible as early as possible to save jobs and boost the economy, we are not under the same pressures and have different priorities. We do not have to attend our churches to make a living and we can participate in worship from home via online services etc, which if unsatisfactory to some have been well-received by most. Our main priorities are therefore to: continue to do our bit in the fight against Covid-19 by staying at home for worship so as to protect ourselves and, more importantly, our large number of elderly and otherwise vulnerable people; and to await further LDPA guidance.

Furthermore, central to the consideration of the reopening of worship spaces etc is, as I say, the carrying out of an HSE type risk assessment to determine whether any such reopening can be done so as to reasonably ensure 2m social distancing; the policing of the same on-site; the regular cleansing of surfaces; and the ready availability of washing facilities, paper towels, disposable handkerchiefs, hand sanitiser, depositories, etc. The early stages of such an assessment by Brixton and her user groups, including two churches eager to reopen at the earliest reasonable opportunity, has also firmly concluded that we should not prepare to reopen on 4th July. Even if each group could manage to run a tight ship within the terms of government guidance and a comprehensive risk assessment each: it would all be rather laborious and far from risk free; numbers would be limited to 9 persons per meeting in the hall and chapel each to ensure 2m radius social distancing; 4 of those would have to be involved in running each session, leaving only 5 as ordinary attenders in each space; and not only would hymn books and orders of service be precluded, but singing as the singing voice can project potentially Covid-19 infected aerosolised water droplets way beyond 2m; and again the 9 persons would also exclude those reliant on public transport and the vulnerable, namely the self shielding with serious health conditions and the self isolating because of underlying health conditions and being over 70. Clearly such effort would be best directed towards online services and other matters. For example, we are probably to bring forward our repair of the hall roof.

Government advice permitting in advance of 4th July, the trustees hope to be conducting experiments with the operation of a full HSE type risk assessment related to our worship, so that we’re in a very informed position on logistics and all set supplies wise etc for when it is finally safe and worthwhile for us to open again physically for public worship. This information will be shared with the LDPA’s working party which will be advising Brixton Unitarians etc further as downlock proceeds. For now, however, everything stays the same and all our churches are strongly advised at this time not to announce any reopening after 4th July whatever the advice from government and to prepare themselves for a longer period of not being open physically for public worship. Again, this is clearly the time to focus on other things. Which reminds me, I need to finish the new Covid-19 wayside pulpit posters to give our wider community pause for thought, encouragement and hopefully a smile.

I’m gradually visiting all those able to engage in one-to-one meet-ups outdoors and keeping in touch with all by telephone, etc. And of course we meet virtually by conference call at 4pm each Sunday and Wednesday. If you are not already participating in one or more of the above and would like to, drop me a line via the contact page on this website in the first instance.

Much love

Julian