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 restrictions 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.
    This week’s announcement applies to England only, and so we continue to keep in touch with our contacts in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to stay abreast of the situation there 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.
    Simon Linford
    President, CCCBR
  • Thoughts on returning to ringing offered by Giles Blundell


    Given that no-one has yet suggested a date for us in England to come out of lockdown, you might think that it's a bit early to be asking this, but I don't think so.

    Even if we all come out of lockdown at the same time (unlikely) to being able to fully freely associate and ring together (also unlikely) it doesn't seem likely that everything will be just as it always was. Some ringers will no longer feel up to ringing (whether through their age or health): others will have found other things to do: some will one way or another have fallen out of contact: some, sadly, will have died.

    We're not out of Covid yet, but I hope I am not being wildly optimistic to hope that we're nearer the end than the beginning. So we should be starting to think about what we should do once we're back.

    The Central Council and the Association of Ringing Teachers have pulled together some thoughts on this at

    https://ringingteachers.org/survival-and-recovery-toolbox

    and there's something there for everyone - whether you think of yourself as a member of your tower band, or as a leader, or a branch or association officer. Please have a look at it, and see what you can use.

    But my personal suggestions would be:
  • is my analysis of how things will be right? I'd suggest that it's for branches to ask their towers or members of their best guess of how they will be when all this is over - let's get some real information instead of my speculation!
  • in the light of what we know, what should we do in the short term? Are there ringers or ex-ringers we can encourage back? If we have three towers with only a couple of ringers continuing each, should we encourage them to ring together at one tower each Sunday?
  • how, in the longer term, do we rebuild? Should we be setting up schools to teach bell-handling at one tower in an area, before learners move on to their permanent home tower?
  • what, in England, can we learn from the experience of other places with ringing who have already managed to tackle Covid? That's not just Australia and New Zealand - it's also the Isle of Man.

    My feeling is that Covid has not fundamentally changed anything for ringing - but it has pulled some threatening declines forward by maybe five or fifteen years. So if we want ringing to continue, we can't afford to take a watching brief and see what will happen. We need to get our best information to predict what will happen - and get ready to act if we don't like the prediction.

    Giles Blundell