England – Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions

Many towers have already come to the conclusion that ringing needs to be suspended in the Tier 2 (High) and Tier 3 (Very High) regions. This is also the view of the CCCBR and the Church of England. The headline situation for Tier 2 is that “No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 2 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place indoors.” Tier 3 has at least the same restriction.

The Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions published by the UK Government are not guidance – they are law, with enforcement provisions. There is no exemption for Places of Worship although places of worship do remain open. The Church of England’s own interpretation of the Permitted Activities in their buildings can be found here. You will see that both Tiers 2 and 3 say of public worship “Permitted as an organised gathering provided any person attending is: alone or part of group all from the same household or from two linked households; and must not join any other group or mingle with any person from another group.”
The chances of a police officer entering the tower and deciding on whether or not a band of three or four people is considered to be a ‘gathering’ or not is of course very slight, but we should still consider the spirit of what is intended. The government clearly wants us to reduce our contact with others to try and get infection levels back down again. The room from which we ring doesn’t become safer because it is inside a church building. The Council’s view is that we should show leadership in keeping people safe.
Fortunately for many towers, we are now able to move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach that has seemed so unjustifiable in the past. Towers in Tier 1 can continue as they are now, and we are working on the guidance that will enable further consideration of setting and personal risk. We will also be able to work on revised risk assessments for towers in Tiers 2 and 3 so that when infection levels fall again and the regions drop back to Tier 1, we can take advantage of what will essentially be pre-approved guidance. Furthermore, we are working with ART on a “Survival and Recovery Toolbox” to help bands recover from this.
You can study the Statutory Instruments and study the Church of England’s interpretation thereof, and find ways to convince yourself that your band is not a gathering, that staying 2m apart with face coverings on does not constitute mixing, that if the church is open then it means the tower is open – legislation cannot cover every eventuality or define every term. If you or the rest of your band have a different view, or believe other considerations carry greater weight, at least agree that view with your incumbent and/or churchwardens, who may then share the responsibility with you.
Simon Linford
President, Central Council of Church Bell Ringers