Latest update from CCCBR on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Restrictions – Updated 26th February 2021

See the CCCBR website for more details.

Standing Guidance

The guidance for ringing in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland is considered separately here in line with different national rules and guidance from the respective Churches. With the latest level of lockdowns the guidance in each country is very similar.

England

Lockdown 3.0 has suspended the Tiers-based guidance and replaced it with a mandatory requirement to Stay at Home ‘unless you have a reasonable excuse.’ Our guidance is to adhere to that principle and not go out to ring. This is in line with our guidance during the first period of lockdown when the medical situation was not as bad as it is now.

One difference between the first lockdown and now is that attending a Place of Worship is specifically allowed by law as a ‘reasonable excuse’ provided it is to worship alone or as a household group (the Church of England’s guidance can be found here). The ringing of a single bell or Ellacombe chime (or bells in the case of a ringing household) as part of an act of worship is not prohibited, and if you think it is important enough for a bell or bells to be heard in your community, and you can do it without putting yourselves or others at risk, then that is your decision to make.

Scotland

Scotland has gone a step further than England and has closed Places of Worship until at least the end of the month. This therefore means that bells should not be rung.

Wales

Wales is in Alert Level 4. This is very similar to the lockdown in England with Places of Worship allowed to remain open but a general Stay at Home requirement. Ringing guidance is as for England.

Ireland

Both jurisdictions are on the severest lockdown level, thus precluding ringing.

Updated 26th February

On Monday 22 February, the UK Government published a roadmap for exiting lockdown over the coming months, detailing how and when restrictions will be eased if everything goes to plan. It is a welcome and cautious framework for a return to normality. The roadmap provides us with an opportunity for ringing to return over the coming months.

While there is still detail to be studied, and every chance of change, all indications are that ringing in England at least will come out of lockdown as follows:

Stage 1 – 29 March

Rule of six outdoors will benefit handbell ringing (up to 15 for young people)

Stage 2 – no earlier than 12 April

Young ringers groups possible following the ‘out of school settings’ guidance (expect social distancing restrictions)

Stage 3 – no earlier than 17 May

Rule of six indoors enables ringing subject to social distancing rules to be confirmed (could still be 2m)

Stage 4 – no earlier than 21 June

All legal limits removed
(it remains to be seen whether facemasks will still be suggested or mandated – that is not absolutely clear yet)

During any of these stages, ringers may still be cautious as not all ringers will be vaccinated, particularly young people. There is still risk of transmission and infection for us to be aware of; vaccination is not a passport. An article will be published in next week’s Ringing World with updated analysis of transmission in ringing chambers and the benefits of ventilation. This will just be for guidance though to be interpreted in accordance with local circumstances – the law will be the primary driver for what ringing is possible.

Yesterday’s announcement applies to England only, and so we continue to work closely with our contacts in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to understand the situation here over the coming weeks. Scotland for instance has rule of six outdoors from 5 April and churches reopening for limited numbers from that date also. Then from 26 April at the earliest Scotland intends to go back to a “tiers” system of local restrictions.

This is the clearest we can be at the moment based on the information available, and after discussion with the Church of England Recovery Group this afternoon. It is a roadmap, with more detail to be considered as we move forward. We appreciate ringers are all now starting to plan ringing events from late June onwards, and being asked whether bells will be available for weddings, etc. The main word of caution is that the Government is at pains to stress that these dates are the earliest possible, so commitments made for shortly after those deadlines should be made with that in mind.

It does now feel like the end of an incredibly difficult year for ringing is in sight. Thank you for your ongoing trust and support.

Updated 19th February

There is no change to any guidance this week, however next week’s round of government updates on a road map may give more indication of when some ringing can resume.

Updated 8th January

Guidance has been updated to remove all guidance that was based on Tiers and replace that with simple interpretation of lockdown conditions.

Updated 4th January

England and Scotland have entered lockdown again. In England, Places of Worship remain open but in Scotland they will be closed from Friday 8th.

The exact guidance for ringing will be published before the end of the week.

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group, said the following this evening:

“The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible. The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

“However, some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time-being. Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home.

I would urge everyone in our churches to pray for those on the front line in our public services – the NHS and those working in social care, for schools and many others on whom we depend; and for parents and carers of children at this anxious and stressful time.

“There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light.”

Updated 27th December

The guidance for ringing for children’s groups has been updated in the light of the introduction of the new Tier 4.

Unfortunately the Government guidance that allows the running of activities for children in out-of-school settings specifically excludes Tier 4, so young ringers groups can only operate in Tiers 1-3.

Updated 21st December

Christmas guidance for England has changed following the Government’s scaling back of relaxations.

Tier 4 guidance added as in the table above.

The adoption of Tier 1 guidance in Tiers 2 and 3 should be for the most important services over Christmas only, at your discretion and based on local circumstances.

Updated 16th December

Christmas guidance for England is unchanged from the announcement made on 8th December.

The current guidance for ringing in Tier 1 will be adopted for towers in all three Tiers just for the five-day Christmas period – 23rd to 27th. That is to ring up to six bells, with 1m+ separation and using facemasks. The recommendation is to ring for 15 minutes but to assess your tower’s characteristics. Ventilation is key to reducing the risk of aerosol transmission. Note that bellringing guidance no longer has 72 or even a 48 hour recommended gap between sessions, but to maintain good ventilation and hand hygiene.

Review the Guidance Notes on this page to assess the risk of your own ringing chamber and for members of your band to assess their own personal risk. No doubt many ringers (especially those at special risk personally or in their family) will decide not to ring, just as many towers will lack sufficient ventilation to sufficiently mitigate risk even for this one-off occasion.

The Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer are urging us to exercise caution and to “keep Christmas celebrations small, short and local to reduce these risks.” We can do that in our ringing of bells to celebrate Christmas – small, short and local.

Updated 14th December

The specific guidance on ringing for children’s groups has been added to the Guidance Notes. This covers groups of up to six children under 18 ringing together and can be done in all Tiers in England.

The guidance for Northern Ireland has been replaced with guidance for all of Ireland.

Guidance for Christmas services will be confirmed after the 16th December update on tiers in England.

Updated 7th December

There is no change to the guidance this week. Specific guidance on Northern Ireland has been added to the standing guidance by country.

Updated 30th November

New guidance has been published for ringing in various Tiers in England in advance of the end of the lockdown on 2nd December. Guidance has also been updated for the protection levels in Scotland, and for the situation in Wales where ringing is permitted subject to the Council’s guidance.

See the CCCBR website for more details.

Updated 20th November

There has been no change in guidance since the 8th November update.

Updated 8th November

Bellringers in England have been asked to support the Church of England’s call to prayer during this month of lockdown by ringing a single bell at 6pm each day. The request came directly from Lambeth Palace, and has been repeated by many individual Bishops.

The Recovery Group is of the opinion that a single bell ringing is an act of individual prayer, and as such complies with their own guidance and that of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. 

Updated 6th November

This update is specifically for England, and is responding to the lockdown that started on Thursday 5th November and lasts until 2nd December. 

The government in England is asking people to stay at home if at all possible. Churches are closed except for private prayer and broadcast worship. ‘Group bell ringing’ is specifically not permitted in a Place of Worship during this period. 

Detail can be found in this statement from MHCLG

However, the ringing of a single bell on Remembrance Sunday has been specifically agreed by the House of Bishops Recovery Group (with permission of the incumbent and churchwardens). The tolling of a single bell is a powerful symbol of remembrance understood by communities and will mean a great deal to many. Please be particularly aware of the risks associated with entering a tower and ringing on your own – make sure someone knows you are doing it and can watch for you. A muffle is not needed when tolling a single bell.

Updated 23rd October

Following further discussions with the Church of England Recovery Group, there is no longer a blanket restriction on ringing in Tiers 2 and 3 in England.

See this news release.

Updated 16th October

news item has been published on the CCCBR website today announcing the disappointing news that we believe ringing should be suspended in areas of England designated as being in Tiers 2 and Tier 3. Towers in Tier 1 are unaffected. This is our interpretation of the legislation which is shared by the Church of England Recovery Group.

Although Places of Worship can remain open at all Tiers, at the ‘High’ and ‘Very High’ Tiers there should be no mixing between households (see Church of England guidance website).

The accompanying legislation for Tier 2 (the middle tier) says this:

Participation in gatherings indoors

No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 2 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place indoors.”

The accompanying legislation for Tier 3 (the top ‘Very High’ tier) says this:

Participation in gatherings indoors and in private dwellings

No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in a private dwelling or any indoor space.”

Tier 1, the lowest or ‘Medium’ level continues to apply the ‘Rule of Six’ indoors.

Updated 13th October

Following the announcement on Monday October 12 of a new three-tier risk alert system for COVID-19 in England, we are considering the implications for ringing and will publish our opinion by the end of Friday 16th.

Although Places of Worship can remain open at all Tiers, at the ‘High’ and ‘Very High’ Tiers there should be no mixing between households (see Church of England guidance website).

The accompanying legislation for Tier 2 (the middle tier) says this:

Participation in gatherings indoors

No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 2 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place indoors.”

The accompanying legislation for Tier 3 (the top ‘Very High’ tier) says this:

Participation in gatherings indoors and in private dwellings

No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in a private dwelling or any indoor space.”

Tier 1, the lowest or ‘Medium’ level continues to apply the ‘Rule of Six’ indoors.

Updated 9th October

There is no change to the guidance this week but an article has been published here which explains the Central Council’s current roadmap for guidance, paving the way for more localised decision making. We are also undertaking a wholescale review of guidance documents.

From now on, guidance updates are going to be published on Mondays, which gives time to digest higher-level guidance that is often published on Fridays.

The next guidance update will therefore be Monday 19th October.

Updated 2nd October

The Frequently Asked Questions have been refreshed to remove those which are now common knowledge and add in more recent concerns such as the implications of ringing in areas of increased lockdown.

All restrictions imposed by Governments override guidance either from our Churches or the Central Council. The UK’s ‘Rule of Six’ (in its various forms) for instance is a legal restriction aimed at reducing social contact, rather than guidance.

If (as in the North East of England at the end of September and parts of Lancashire shortly thereafter) no indoor mixing of different households is allowed, then it appears that it would be illegal for anyone other than members of the same household to ring, even if church services are allowed. Places of worship do not appear to have been given a specific exemption, however they have remained open. The position is unclear, although the UK Government’s intention is clearly to reduce social contact in non-essential settings, citing work and education as the only exemptions.

Elsewhere, if extra restrictions (but still allowing six to meet indoors) have been imposed where you live, then the transmission of Coronavirus is high, and the level of risk greater. The CCCBR’s guidelines do aim to be “Covid-Secure”, but you need to make a local risk assessment (focussing especially on the size and ventilation of your tower and the characteristics of your ringers) to decide if it is appropriate to ring – and it may well not be. Remember that the final decision rests with the Incumbent.

Updated 25th September

There has been no change to guidance this week.

The Council’s small guidance team is pleased to welcome David Pouncey to the team. David is a recently retired GP who during a long career spent time dealing with epidemics in Africa, and most recently managing coronavirus patients. As well as taking a share of the workload, David will be specifically looking at the next phase of guidance.

David rings in Gloucestershire.

Updated 18th September

Dicussions are ongoing regarding the potential reduction of distance between ropes, although in view of the upsurge in Covid cases and the number of areas of the United Kingdom entering increasing states of lockdown there is extreme caution over reducing distancing for bellringing at the moment. 

The ‘rule of six’ is now in force in England, Scotland and Wales, albeit with regional variations. Places of worship have an exemption provided those in church stay in groups of six.  

Update on 11th September

The period of time between ringing sessions has been reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours. This is on the assumption that all hand hygiene guidance is being followed. 


We do not yet have the green light to reduce distance between ropes below current guidance, but it is under consideration on the basis that this will enable more towers (and ringers) to ring. The CofE Recovery Group is very sympathetic to the case but are consulting with others included MHCLG in the light of the upsurge in cases. 


The ‘rule of six’ is being implemented in England, Scotland and Wales, albeit with slight regional variations. Places of worship have an exemption but the extent of that is not yet clear and further details are awaited. Although this is unlikely to impact on tower bell ringing, if there is any conflict between guidance and the law, the law prevails. 

Update on 4th September

There has been no change to the guidance this week. Updated guidance to reduce distance between ropes to enable more towers to ring more bells has been submitted for approval. Note that ringing is still limited to 15 minutes but does not have to be for a service, provided it is with the permission of the incumbent. 

Guidance on the use of simulators is being written and will be available shortly.

Update on 14th August

Following last week’s update on wearing face coverings for ringing (which is mandatory in churches in England and Scotland) the individual guidance notes have been updated to include references to face coverings. A number of people have enquired whether ringers who claim exemption from wearing a face covering can ring without them. It is our view that face coverings reduce the risk of transmission of the virus and therefore protect our fellow ringers. Anyone who is unable to wear a face covering should not ring.    

Local lockdowns continue and may increase. The effect of these lockdowns on ringing is principally on handbell ringing in people’s gardens.  

Guidance notes 2 and 4 have been amended slightly to clarify the 1.5m allowed separation for ropes which fall in a straight line, i.e. that the middle of three ropes which fall in a straight line should be 1.5m from the two adjacent ropes.

Update on 7th August

The only two things changed this week are that use of the word ‘facemask’ in this guidance has been replaced with the words ‘face coverings’ to bring this guidance in line with the Church of England’s guidance. The churches in Scotland also refer to face coverings rather than facemasks, while the Church in Wales does not appear to have stipulated the wearing of face coverings yet. Face coverings does not include visors.

We would like to also clarify that ringing does not specifically have to be for a service, but should still be with the permission of the incumbent. Ringers have been asked to ring for weddings, and on Sundays where there is no service but where the sound of bells is welcome to remind communities of the presence of the church. It is still only 15 minutes though, whatever the purpose of the ringing.

The wearing of face coverings is mandatory from 8th August in places of worship in England and Scotland (Wales doesn’t appear to be mandatory but advice welcome). Wearing face coverings does not reduce the minimum distances approved for ringing which remain as :

  • 2m spacing between ringers (which will generally mean alternate bells)
  • 1.5m spacing allowable if ropes fall in a straight line (ringers facing inwards not towards each other)
  • Adjacent bells can be rung by ringers from the same household

An increasing number of places may have lockdown restrictions brought back as happened first in Leicester, then in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and most recently in Preston. The effect of these lockdowns on ringing is principally on handbell ringing in people’s gardens

Standing Guidance

The Church of England and the Church in Wales both allow bells being rung in their churches now that cathedral and church buildings are open to the public. It is on the condition that ringing is in accordance with the guidance on these pages. Public Health England (PHE) has reviewed the Council’s guidance, suggesting various amendments which have been incorporated into the guidance given here. It has all been agreed with the Church of England Recovery Group, whose support for ringing is greatly appreciated. The Central Council will continue to pursue a similar situation for other jurisdictions in which there are bells.

We appreciate not all jurisdictions are the same, even within the United Kingdom. The Scottish Association has done a thorough review of the positon regarding ringing in towers in Scotland and has published its guidance here.

The restriction on ringing is difficult for bell ringers who are missing the activity that is so much part of our lives. The Church is however very sensitive to the safety of its volunteers and the relaxation of restrictions will not necessarily be as rapid as it is in certain other settings where other factors are under consideration. Failing to follow this guidance could cause this limited return to ringing to be reversed, and we are very grateful to all ringers who have embraced the return to ringing so positively.

By no means all churches are open for services. Opening is very much down to individual Dioceses and incumbents, taking into account many factors. However ringing does not have to be for a service provided the incumbent is happy to have the bells rung. Bells are a powerful reminder that the church is still there in the heart of our communities. Note that there is a specific requirement in the Church of England guidance document that ringers have read this guidance and undertaken the ringing risk assessment.

The Church in Wales includes the ringing of bells in their guidance issued to parishes, which can be found here. Section 1 Paragraph 15 refers to ringing and states “bell ringing is permissible, but bell ringers should observe two-metre physical distancing and hygiene and cleaning regimes should be implemented. Careful consideration of how bell ringers will access the building suitably distanced from other attendees needs consideration, e.g. different entry points or staggered arrival times. Bell ringing arrangements should comply with guidance available from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers [ref to this site]”We have also included in these guidance notes for checking bell installations prior to ringing. Please see our checklist below for some key areas that may need addressing. The Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops’ Council confirmed that for jobs that cannot safely be done by one person, two or three should enter the bell tower to undertake them, following social distancing guidance if they are not from the same household.

This guidance is being constantly inline with any changes in the Church’s own guidance and policies, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This website will be updated weekly on a Friday, whether or not there is a change in guidance. Any requests for clarification can be sent to president@cccbr.org.uk – it will get looked at as soon as possible. 

Guidance Notes

  1. What are we worried about? (PDF)
    Recommended background reading for all
  2. Making your tower as safe as possible (PDF)
    Suggested for Tower captains and steeplekeepers
  3. Checklist for recommencing ringing (PDF)
    Summary for steeplekeepers but see also detailed document from SMWG below
  1. Running safe ringing sessions (PDF)
    Guidance for Tower Captains and Ringing Masters
  2. Can I go ringing safely? (PDF)
    Considerations for individual ringers
  3. How bell ringers are assessing risk (PDF)
    To be given to incumbents to explain how we are making our ringing safe

Click here to download the complete set of guidance documents as a single PDF. These documents are intended to be succinct and easily readable. They do not contain all the detail that could be put in them but instead focus on the key issues. A more detailed group of documents has been produced by the Stewardship & Management Workgroup and can be downloaded here.

  1. Ringing risk assessment post Covid 9 July 2020
  2. Tower and bells risk assessment after non use 15 June 2020
  3. Tower Safety and Risk Assessment 15 June 2020
  4. Risk assessment template (based on HSE)

Additional Guidance

  • The UK Government guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic can be found via this link
  • The Church of England guidance on Opening Cathedral and Church Buildings can be found via this link

Frequently Asked Questions

We have accumulated all of the questions we have been asked by ringers concerning the guidance, such as why the guidance is still 2m rather than 1m, and whether members of family groups can ring on adjacent bells. We will update these FAQs from time to time and this version is all questions up to 3rd July.

Additional Information

A detailed analysis from Dr Philip Barnes and Dr Andrew Kelso is available to download.

This document seeks to provide information and advice for ringers and those responsible for bell towers regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and what issues ringers and church authorities should consider in responding to changes in Government guidance as we start to ease the current lockdown. It is focused on the situation in the Church of England, which is responsible for the vast majority of churches with bells hung for ringing. While the specific advice from leaders of other churches and in other countries may vary, the basic issues for ringers and ringing are the same wherever we ring.

Ringing and COVID-19: What are the risks and what might we do about them?

Useful Links

The latest guidance from the Church of England is available on their website.

The latest guidance from the Church in Wales is available on their website.

The latest guidance from the Scottish Episcopal Church is available on their website.

The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.

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