COVID-19 Secure - places of worship

05 November 2020

The challenges COVID-19 has presented to churches and other places of worship have been particularly significant. Not being able to provide spiritual support face to face in the local community at a time of national crisis being one of them.

Making sure everyone remains safe will be a priority for you.   

Deciding how to do this in your own particular circumstances will be key. You will want to do everything that is practicable given the risk presented. This means following closely any local restrictions that might be in place, official guidance provided by Government or Devolved Administrations and any guidelines provided by your denomination. In doing this, you will need to apply these whilst recognising you will not be able to eliminate the risk that the virus presents completely.

The current position

Local restrictions will determine what you can do at your place of worship. These vary across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  In some cases, it might mean that your place of worship has to close except for certain activities.

If you can open it is important to remember that some activities may still not be able to take place.

If opening your premises, you will need to follow the relevant guidance applying it to your own particular circumstances. In many cases, you may have adequate arrangements already in place. Again, official guidance varies in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland. All of this information remains under review, so it is important to keep up to date with the latest directions. You can follow developments and access the latest advice by using the relevant resources highlighted below.

In some cases, you may also need to refer to other guidance depending on the activities at your premises. Examples include guidance for multi-purpose community settings, tourism, retail, restaurants and other hospitality industries.

Denominational guidance will also help you decide how best to comply with your obligations. In applying the guidance, the precautions you take will need to reflect your own particular circumstances. This will take account of the size of your premises; their type and layout; the numbers of employees, volunteers or visitors you have; and the nature of the activities involved there. You may also need to think about how your premises are organised, operated, managed and regulated.

In some cases, it may not be possible to open safely and you may decide to remain closed.

If you are an employer, you may also find this information helpful.

You may also need to protect people from discrimination in implementing your precautions.

Making a start

With all of this in mind, here are some broad points you may like to consider when opening your premises. Some may be more relevant to you than others and the list is not exhaustive.

  • If your premises have been shut for some time, you will want to check that they remain in good condition. This will include making sure that utilities, heating and water systems, work and emergency equipment (such as, fire-fighting or fire detection equipment) remains safe. This includes any statutory inspections that might be required. You may also want to check footpaths and that there are no accumulations of waste that could present an additional hazard.
  • In starting up any equipment, such as heating, you should make sure that this is done safely following any necessary procedures.
  • You may need to carry out additional cleaning, making sure that those involved in this are kept safe. After that, you will need to decide how frequently this is done and allow enough time for this. Specific guidance is available along with the guidance on waste disposal. For some places of worship the guidance on cleaning historic surfaces prepared by Historic England may also be useful.
  • You will need to implement suitable precautions to:
  • protect those who are clinically vulnerable/shielding or extremely vulnerable, making sure that anyone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or self-isolating does not physically come to the premises. Here, remote participation should be considered. The guidance is different for funerals. If anyone becomes unwell with symptoms they should go home immediately and be advised to follow the stay at home guidance.
  • restrict capacity to maintain social distancing. This will need to be decided locally taking account of the total floor space, any likely pinch points, busy areas, alternative or one-way routes etc. and applying the information set out in relavent guidance.
  • maintain social distancing, including in any car park. This could include: additional entry/exit points, booking systems, staggering arrival times, floor markings, signage, changing layouts, improving ventilation, protective screens, face coverings, queue management, one-ways systems, preventing access to non-essential areas, staggered exit, using alternative rooms, using different spaces, announcements to advise congregants of the importance of social distancing and hygiene etc.
  • make sure that premises and any equipment remain clean, in particular surfaces touched more frequently e.g.door handles, rails. You can use standard cleaning products for this and further guidance is available.
  • provide adequate sanitation facilities so that good hygiene can be followed. This includes facilities for washing hands using soap and water or the provision of hand sanitiser. You may need to provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations. You should also display signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique.
  • make sure toilets remain clean and safe to use. This could include: social distancing marking, limited entry, good washing facilities or the provision of hand sanitiser, single use paper towels, increased cleaning, good ventilation, additional waste facilities and collection, displaying a visible cleaning schedule, using signs and posters to advise on good hygiene.
  • protect young people and children. This would include: proper supervision, maintaining good standards of hygiene or following the guidance for out-of-school settings or that provided for formal childcare and educational settings if this is appropriate. If providing outdoor playgrounds, you will need to follow this guidance as well.
  • safely dispose of any waste in accordance with the guidance provided.
  • provide information to others about the precautions you have taken or those necessary if people are thinking about coming to your premises.  You may want to inform certain groups of people who may be at increased risk of the symptoms and the current stay at home and social distancing guidance, as well as discouraging them from attending. Alternatively, you could set aside a time for them to attend for individual devotions.  Any information provided should be available before they first visit, accessible and appropriate.
  • The guidance also provides further detail on the use of shared items; the provision of food and drink; singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments; weddings and other life events; outdoor worship; the use of water; and handling cash donations.
  • Depending on the precautions you have taken or if you intend to use a different building or space for worship, you may need to revise or complete a fire risk assessment.
  • If you are an employer, you may need to introduce arrangements to support the NHS Test and Trace serviceFurther guidance is available.
  • Even if you are not an employer, you will need to keep accurate records of those attending your premises. Further guidance about what is required is available. A template for collecting consent and contact details is provided in the guidance (see Annex B).
  • You may need to allow for the wearing of face coverings where this is mandatory.
  • In some cases, you may also have to consider any changes to protective security as a result of any precautions you have taken. The guidance provides detailed information on this as well as signposting useful resources.
  • You will want to carry out periodic checks from time to time to make sure that the precautions you have taken remain effective and adequate. This may include simple inspections to check that premises remain clean or any equipment is safe.
  • You may need to report an outbreak of COVID-19. Specific guidance sets out how to recognise an outbreak, report it and understand what measure the local health protection teams may advise in order to contain it. The guidance also provides an action card for places of worship that you can download to display or refer to.

Want to know more?

Information and guidance on managing the risk has been provided by the Methodist Church