Last Friday lunchtime, I was notified by my daughter’s school that one person in her year group had tested positive for Coronavirus and the entire year group was being sent home to self-isolate for 10 days. One of the first things she did on getting home was to say that she wouldn’t be able to fulfil either of her Sunday ringing commitments, and she informed both tower captains. Such is life at the moment.
Her absence from ringing was not just a sense of responsibility to her fellow ringers. The school had given pretty strict guidance on what to do in this 10 day period and it did not include unnecessary outings, however strong the mitigations ringing has adopted. Even socially distanced reduced duration ringing was going to be put on hold.
By and large, ringers are an above averagely sensible group and respect the need for the ringing community to be consistent and act as one on the application of the guidelines. There are outbreaks of ‘cleverdickery’ and ‘whataboutery’, but generally the socially distanced, restricted ringing recommended in the guidance has been adopted. However, we have been at the current level of restriction for a while, and even though we appear to be in the second wave of Coronavirus infection in Britain, you probably want to know what the plans are for ringing recovery.
Before going into what we propose to do next, I would like to recap how we have got to where we are now.
When the guidance was originally discussed with the Church of England Recovery Group it was on the basis that ringing for services was a good starting point for getting ringing going again, and was timed to coincide with the reopening of churches. What then happened was that by no means all churches reopened, and so the guidance was clarified to remove the service ringing restriction, as many incumbents were happy to have bells rung anyway.
That first round of guidance did not enable as many towers to start ringing as we had hoped. Smaller towers in particular are not able to ring enough bells at 2m distance for it to be worthwhile, although larger towers have adapted well. We used this as the basis of our discussions with the Recovery Group on reducing distancing to 1m – that we had not been effective in enabling much service ringing with 2m distancing.
Work on the guidance to this point had been shared by Phillip Barnes, Mark Regan and me, with Alison Hodge’s Stewardship & Management Group also working on detailed guidance and risk assessments. Zoom calls are held with the Recovery Group about every two weeks. Knowing that we needed to move into the next phase of guidance, we invited David Pouncey to join the group to give a fresh perspective and to help shoulder a burden that weighs heavily. David is a recently retired GP with very relevant medical experience who had previously engaged with us and offered his help.
The good news for the future is that we have now agreed with the Recovery Group that distance between ringers will be able to be reduced to 1m+ provided other mitigations are in place. Face coverings are probably the most important of them, as the understanding of the aerosol transmission of the virus has increased over the course of the pandemic. This has particular relevance for ringing given the setting of our activity and our close spacing to each other.
We are very mindful however that announcing a relaxation of restrictions at a time when infection levels are increasing may appear inappropriate, even if that relaxation is based on a very sound interpretation of the current risks, and agreement with the Church. So we intend to move to this next level with an overall revision of guidance that shifts the decision making process down to association and tower level, and which can be based on the overall level of restrictions in a particular place or region. The UK Government looks to be moving to a three-tiered “traffic lights” plan based on number of infections per 100,000 of population and when that is launched, we will align our advice to that.
We are also working on clear guidance for local and personal risk assessment, so that you and your band can decide whether to ring or not based on an informed understanding of the risks generally, and your tower’s particular circumstances. Large well-ventilated spaces are much less risky than small unventilated rooms: those who work closely with others have a much greater risk of spreading the virus than those who work from home or have relatively few social interactions. This could enable the low risk environments to extend ringing time to 30 minutes, although high risk environments might conclude that they should not ring at all. We are looking at whether if any tower is unsure about how to interpret the guidance for them, someone at association level could be equipped to help, which is what appears to be happening in most places anyway. We expect all this to be in place in the next week or two. We want to be ready to act as soon as infection levels drop, and to be able to react more quickly to future changes in circumstances.
Finally, Mark Regan has been looking at how young ringers’ groups could benefit from published guidance for “holiday and after school clubs, and other out-of-school settings.” This guidance allows larger groups of children to meet regularly in consistent groups, which could be very useful.
President, Central Council of Church Bell Ringers
(this article was published in The Ringing World, issue 5711, 9 October 2020)