Reopening church

Places of worship across England will be permitted to reopen for individual prayer from Monday 15 June, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed on 7 June 2020.

This move recognises the spiritual and mental health benefits for people being able to pray in their place of worship, and that for some people this cannot be replicated by praying at home.

New guidance will be published shortly to ensure the limited re-opening of places of worship can be done safely and in line with social distancing guidelines. This will recommend the thorough cleaning of shared spaces, hand cleansing at entry and exit and asking worshippers to bring their own items such as a prayer mat or religious text instead of sharing or using communal ones.

Individual prayer will be permitted from 15 June, but communally led prayer, worship or devotion such as services, evensong, informal prayer meetings will not be possible at this stage. Faith leaders should carry out a risk assessment of the place of worship and tailor this guidance as appropriate for the venue and practices being carried out. This will be in addition to any risk assessment already in place.

Individual prayer within a place of worship is defined as a person or household entering the venue to pray on their own and not as part of a group, led prayer or communal act. They should be socially distanced from other individuals or households.

The above establishes that churches and places of worship must, on the whole, remain closed as set out in law. However, with the recent announcement by the government that early years setting providers may be able to welcome back children by 1 June 2020 at the earliest, some local churches have been seeking advice as to how this affects them, where they have an existing tenancy with a nursery.

If or when it is confirmed that nurseries/pre-schools can re-open, local churches affected by this, will need to:

1) Consider whether it is safe to allow use of their church premises for the intended purpose and check the terms of the tenancy that the nursery will be operating under. Further advice or assistance can be sought from the Legal and Trust Officer in relation to any existing tenancy, or if a tenancy agreement is required to be put in place to enable any nursery to resume occupation of the premises.

 

2) Seek confirmation from the nursery tenant that they have complied with all relevant government guidance and advice issued to their sector, including the following:

(a) Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for schools and other educational settings (issued by the Department for Education, Cabinet Office and Public Health England) – https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-schools-and-other-educational-settings

(b) Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak (issued by Department for Education) – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures

The latter, in particular, sets out what childcare services early years settings, childminders and local authorities need to provide during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

 

3) Seek confirmation from the nursery tenant that they have complied with all guidelines and requirements of the relevant local authority and Ofsted, including any relating to physical security and safeguarding.

4) Seek confirmation from the nursery tenant that they have their own public liability insurance policy in place.

5) Seek confirmation from the nursery tenant that they have in place a health and safety policy, and a safeguarding policy, which may need to be reviewed and updated.

In addition to the above, there will be a number of actions that will need to be carried out in relation to church premises before reopening for use by a nursery, including but not limited to:

I. Completing a full risk assessment of the premises in accordance with the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, taking into account current government guidance on numbers of children permitted in each setting to comply with necessary social distancing requirements.

II. Carrying out a physical security check of the building and notifying any incidence to the buildings’ insurer and, where relevant, the police.

III. Carrying out regular Health & Safety checks, including:

  • Regular fire alarm checks, in accordance with legislation, both prior to occupation and throughout.
  • Regular emergency lighting checks, in accordance with legislation, both prior to occupation and throughout.
  • Legionnaires checks – including flushing through taps for at least 20 minutes before use – see https://www.hse.gov.uk/healthservices/legionella.htm
  • Visual checks of portable appliances prior to use and then providing regular checks in accordance with current HSE advice – see https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg236.pdf

IV. Ensuring that the area or areas to be used by the nursery are given a thorough clean and are kept clean throughout use and occupation.

Local churches are encouraged to review the URC discussion paper Ready for the new “normal” which mentions the need for some social distancing and shielding provisions to be kept in place, following the reopening of places of worship, to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all users.

In the circumstances, local churches will need to consider how they can safely allow their nursery tenants to resume occupation and use of church premises without putting themselves at risk, particularly individuals falling within the vulnerable category, whether due to age and/or health condition. Where additional support is required for caretaking (including providing access to church premises, cleaning, furniture arrangement, etc), to safeguard the health and safety of any individual or individuals formerly carrying out these tasks, the local church should consider how these duties can be outsourced and/or passed to the nursery tenant, if in line with the terms of their tenancy, and assuming that this does not compromise the ongoing security of the premises.

 Any local church considering this issue should contact Colin McCracken, Property Officer, on direct dial 07789 764575 for further guidance.