Information here will be updated when more details are available and as government regulations affecting ringing are changed. A FAQs section may be added later.
- A message from the SACR President – 18th July 2020
- Current guidance from the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC)
- Current guidance from the Church of Scotland (CoS)
- Guidance from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR)
- Examples of practice where some ringing has resumed in Scotland
We all want to get bells ringing again soon because it is a message to the wider world that the Church, in all its senses (and denominations), is alive and active ... as well as being for many of us a physically and intellectually rewarding hobby.
We are beginning to move out of full lockdown in Scotland, with shops, restaurants, and pubs all now opening, and public worship starting to resume in churches, though constraints on what is permissible are still tight. We are all keen to help protect the vulnerable and avoid spreading the virus, while at the same time trying to reopen the economy and resume activities and hobbies.
It is impossible to avoid all risk and reduce it to zero (even staying in bed has its own dangers), so what this is about is sensible risk assessment and risk management. Many of you will be familiar with these concepts from your employment and work situations. The complication for the Covid-19 situation is in getting a good understanding of the risk impact and likelihood for each individual, and effectiveness of the mitigation factors for every conceivable location and activity.
Scotland is now in Phase 3, with restrictions being lifted at different rates and in different ways to England, which means guidance on ringing from south of the border is not always directly relevant to ringers in Scotland. You will be aware the Scottish government has taken perhaps a more risk averse and cautionary approach. This is where SACR has a role to play, in helping Scottish organizations develop a consistent approach to bellringing activities.
Over the coming weeks, we will continue to see substantive changes in the regulations, and – importantly for ringing – more consistent alignment between different sectors. What we experience in our day to day lives will have to be reflected across all activities – already we have seen this with a rapid bringing forward of opening of worship to align better with allowing indoor access to hostelries.
We should expect a phased return to ringing. It is important we encourage all and any resumption if we can, even if just a few bells for a few minutes linked to specific services, because this keeps bellringing in everyone’s minds, and makes sure we are included in planning for the next steps. If we do not stay fully engaged in the early stages, perhaps because it is not like “normal” ringing or it sounds odd, then we risk being side-lined and having to wait much longer before being allowed more extended ringing and events such as practice nights, peals, and striking competitions.
In trying to restart ringing, however, it must always be clear to all ringers that no one is required to ring, there must be no pressure brought to bear on individuals, directly or indirectly, and they should do so only if they are completely comfortable with the arrangements in place at their local tower. Conversely, just because some do not want to ring should not mean others should be prevented from doing so if it is approved by the relevant authority and they are following the agreed risk management plan.
Decisions about ringing rest ultimately with the authorities owning the bells and towers. Each place of worship is required to carry out a risk assessment and develop risk mitigation plans for each site. The approval process for this risk management plan varies with the organization involved. For example, for the Church of Scotland it goes through the Presbytery chain, and for the Episcopal Church it goes in principle (though probably delegated) through the local bishop. For secular towers, it is going to involve local agencies. This diversity is of course what makes things more complicated in Scotland than the CCCBR advice implies.
Each organization will want to ensure it is acting within what is permitted by the government, but the government regulations and guidance are far from simple or clear. Our largest tower has here – for once – a distinct advantage, in that several bells could be rung while still observing a 2m distance between ringers who are not in the same household. However, many activities such as meals in a café can now be carried out at 1m distancing instead of the default 2m provided a long list of criteria have been factored into the risk assessment.
It is going to take time to get clarity for what this means for bellringing, and it should be expected it will take many iterations. It will greatly help if ringing can be moved to the 1m spacing group, though still not result in normality. From my own university day-job experiences with trying to work out teaching room capacities and timetabling, where the same issue is crucial, I know that trying to get meaningful engagement with government agencies on such details is slow, difficult, and stressful, and bellringing is not quite as important as the higher education sector.
None of us is an expert in this unprecedented situation. I would like us to work together, and share information and experiences, as we move forwards. We need to remain calm and respectful, even when we might be frustrated.
At the end of June 2020, SACR was able to engage with SEC to help them formulate their advice. Phase 3 guidance for resuming worship produced by the Scottish Episcopal Church can be found here: https://www.scotland.anglican.org/phase-3-guidance-gathering-together-again
In amongst the lengthy advice, in section G. Other Matters, there is this explicit item on bellringing:
12. Bellringing: bellringing activities may resume in Phase 3 but subject to physical distancing, the observance of good hygiene practice and the Scottish Government restrictions on the number of households permitted to meet indoors. General guidance on bellringing developed south of the border is available at: https://cccbr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Guidance-Notes-23.6.20-complete-set.pdf
Please note that that guidance has been developed in England in the light of the UK Government’s approach to lockdown easing in England. In Scotland the Scottish Association of Change Ringers has issued advice in May to its members on safety and maintenance regarding bell towers. Any further advice issued by SACR should be available from its website: https://www.sacr.org
The safety and maintenance guidance mentioned here was that produced by our Bells and Towers Advisor, as shown at the AGM in May 2020 and circulated to towers afterwards.
The General Trustees in Edinburgh produce the guidance that will be used by individual Presbyteries to decide when and how to reopen their churches. Their advice is here: https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/resources/covid-19-coronavirus-advice/advice-for-churches-covid-19-coronavirus
Bellringing is notable by its absence from the CoS guidance on their website (up to and including version 4, dated August 2020). This is therefore a priority for SACR to get bells factored into the CoS processes.
Messages have been sent to the General Trustees asking for a dialogue, but as yet we have no response. The latest approach was made on 11 August 2020.
In the first instance, we should begin planning for an approach similar to that for SEC, and consider how a few bells might be rung before services as a way of sounding out a message of hope and reminding everyone of the bells.
This guidance was developed in Summer 2020 for the Covid-19 regulations that apply in England, and primarily for the Church of England bells and towers: https://cccbr.org.uk/coronavirus [Ed.: Winter 2020/21: this link is now updated with specific guidance for Scotland, and the page is updated regularly].
Whether we like it or not, those responsible for bells in Scotland such as Church authorities are probably going to look at these guidance notes, which is why we also need to be aware of them. The CCCBR has a size (and name) that, rightly or not, will carry some weight. For example, SEC make reference to them but also (see above) makes it clear these are not the be-all and end-all.
In its present form the CCCBR advice is definitely not acceptable in Scotland because it is working on a distancing that is smaller than – currently – allowed here. Despite this, we need to accept that, at least initially, the CCCBR guidance might be taken as a starting point and then be adapted to the Scottish context. We need to be ready with specifics if we wish to deviate.
In my communications, I am already making it clear that SACR is much better placed to speak for Scottish bellringing than CCCBR. Nearly every bell-ringer in Scotland is a member of SACR, and every tower in Scotland with a set of bells rung full-circle for change ringing is affiliated. We thus have direct contact with all those who make bell-ringing happen in Scotland.
This approach has been agreed with Simon Linford, President of CCCBR. As and when we have more detailed advice, it will be added to this website.
CCCRB update of 23 October 2020: https://cccbr.org.uk/2020/10/23/tiers-2-and-3-in-england-update
CCCRB update of 30 November 2020: https://cccbr.org.uk/2020/11/30/covid-winter-plan-updated-guidance-for-england-wales-and-scotland
To help us all to develop our own risk management plans and have helpful discussions with our local authorities, we will put here examples of the procedures being followed in cases where ringing of some kind has resumed at Scottish towers.
St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee (SEC): August 2020: Ringing resumed at St Paul’s to coincide with resumption of morning services in the church on 2 August. On this first occasion, after a check of the bells and fittings, three ringers rang bells 1, 3 and 5, for 15 mins prior to the service. The ringing room door was kept open for ventilation, ringers wore a mask, sanitised hands before and after, and each stayed on the same bell for the duration. Alternate bells were used to ensure social distancing. It is planned to ring at least three bells, and possibly 4 (adding in the 7th), prior to the main Sunday service over the coming weeks (invited ringers only).
St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh (SEC): July 2020: Ringing is taking place on 6 bells on Sundays for about 15 minutes (invited ringers only). This is made easier because the ringing room is large (!) and helped by having some ringers who are from the same household and thus can ring closely spaced ropes. Before the first open Evensong since lockdown, a 240 of doubles was rung on bells 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 on 19 July – see BellBoard here: https://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=1378565. December 2020: Socially distanced ringing following all guidance has been possible on Sundays since July, and there was also ringing over Christmas on the same basis. January 2021: Sunday ringing has stopped, after six months. Six bells were rung each week for 15 minutes, but now there are no longer services and the building is shut; the bells have been rung down until services recommence.
Dunkeld Cathedral: November 2020: With the support of the Minister and agreement with Historic Scotland, limited ringing resumed at Dunkeld Cathedral in November, with ringing for the Remembrance service on 8 November. Unfortunately at this time visitors cannot be accommodated, and ringing is limited to two families in the tower. Ringing is therefore mostly on three and four bells on Sundays.
Haddington: December 2020: Bells were rung at Haddington on Christmas Eve in a family group.
Dunblane: December 2020: Bells were rung at Dunblane over Christmas in a family group.