We are hopeful that before long there will be a very cautious return to some ringing in our churches and cathedrals and I am writing to give you some background. I hope that all ringers will welcome this but it is important to note that at first it will be extremely cautious and focused on ringing for services rather than any other ringing.
The Central Council has produced a set of guidance documents which were published on the CC website (https://cccbr.org.uk/coronavirus/) today (Friday June 26th). While we do not yet have a firm date for a return to ringing – as this is still being discussed with the Church of England and Public Health England – there are a number of important things we can do to prepare for this.
- Everyone should read the guidance carefully. It is designed to help us get back to ringing safely and to ensure that it is seen as part of the return to a more normal pattern of worship within our churches. The detail matters. Please make sure that your Tower Captain sees this – if he or she complains that they see it more than once they can blame me!
- If you are a Tower Captain contact your priest and make sure that a specific risk assessment with regards to the tower and ringing is included as part of the overall risk assessment that all churches are required to produce. Guidance on undertaking a risk assessment for ringing and towers is included in the Central Council pack. Do not undertake the inspection or risk assessment alone and ensure that when undertaking these social distancing and hand hygiene advice are followed.
- As well as making sure the bell chamber is inspected and the bells are safe, undertake a detailed set of measurements in the tower so you know precisely how closely together the ropes fall. Also take the opportunity to declutter the ringing room so there are fewer surfaces for virus to rest on.
- Contact your band if you have lost touch during the period of lockdown because when ringing restarts each session of ringing will need to be planned with only the number of ringers needed to ring the set of bells you are going to ring attending.
You will see from the guidance that, at first, only a group of bells with ropes at least 2m apart should be rung and the maximum duration of ringing should be 15 minutes. So, sadly, that means no practices, quarters, peals or outings for now. While the virus remains active in the population (and it is still active in the population in England including the South East outside London) we need to remain alert and careful. The risks of virus transmission are highest indoors, in poorly ventilated environments, when people are closer together and when they spend relatively extended periods together. Unfortunately ringing rooms tick all those boxes so we need to be very cautious.
That means that some of the other resources that have flourished during lockdown such as Ringing Room, Handbell Stadium, Zoom sessions and so on will remain important to us for some time yet.
While it is very frustrating not to be able to return entirely to normal, I hope you will understand why the return needs to be very cautious and focused on ringing for services. Our churches have also suffered greatly by the changes during lockdown as have our colleagues in choirs. We need to be part of a unified front in reminding our communities of the churches in their midst and, as one senior Church administrator said to us, the bells will help remind people that it’s Sunday.
There will be some who do not wish to return to ringing yet either through concerns about the risks or because they have specific reasons for not being able to do so. No one should feel under any pressure to return, and those of us who do return should not pressurise others to follow. However, I hope that many will wish to do so while taking care to remain within the church and other guidance.
Finally, please make sure that your Tower Captain sees this – if he or she complains that they see it more than once then please blame me!
With best wishes and looking forward to a brighter future.