Coronavirus Guidance for Property

Updated on 28 May 2020 in light of current Government Guidelines*

The Government launched its new strategy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in its document - Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.  A number of points within the plan will have an impact on churches and their properties across the Connexion.  In response to this the Conference Office, Connexional Property Team and TMCP have co-ordinated their approach to develop a set of property related guidance for managing trustees.  This guidance is outlined below under relevant ‘themed’ headings to help trustees find the specific guidance which is relevant to their church, or signposts to other websites for other relevant information.

We also encourage those who do not find guidance specific to their situation to contact property@methodistchurch.org.uk with their query.  This will be used to generate further FAQ’s on the website to assist the wider Connexion

*Guidance in Scotland and Wales

We await further details of the devolved administration policy steps in Scotland and Wales, and therefore guidance will currently only be relevant to England; we will monitor the situation and update guidance when more details are released.

 

Overriding Principles to Planning within local Churches

We wish to highlight two key principles to any planning work being undertaken locally:

  1. “The overriding priority remains to save lives”

This is a quote in the forward to HM Government’s Covid-19 strategic planning document ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ (12th May 2020) – this must be at the heart of any planned use of church property.

  1. Communicate and Co-operate

The implementation of any local strategy will be based upon good communication between all parties and working together in partnership.  This second principle will support the best outcomes for the first principle.

 

Summary of Connexional Guidance in England

Below is a summary of the guidance which is provided to give ‘headline’ decisions in relation to elements of the policy changes affecting churches.  Please note the following general points though:

  • Church property still remains closed, other than designated activites or for weekly inspections.
  • Only the relevant parts of a church property affected by these changes should be reopened.
  • This guidance may not affect all churches and therefore some existing guidance still remains.

As government guidance is constantly being reviewed and updated, please refer to www.gov.uk/coronavirus . The teams will continue to review the guidance regularly and provide updates or FAQ’s over the coming weeks.

Opening Buildings Considerations (general guidance associated with specific situations)

Churches themselves remain closed, but some activities are being encouraged to commence, in some cases these take place on church premises.  Please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment v3 (pdf version) before opening the building.  

Property Projects & Repairs 

Government policy is encouraging the construction industry to restart activities, on that basis, it is now acceptable for churches to consider undertaking maintenance, repairs and building projects. This must only occur if the works can meet the strict guidance for social distancing and the safety of workers and church members.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 as it  covers a different of areas of construction, together with other factors that trustees need to consider in discussion with their professional advisors and contractors.

Education in Early Years Settings (updated 26 May 2020)

Government policy is encouraging the reopening of early year’s settings educational provision which includes nurseries and pre-schools.  Some churches provide accommodation to or directly run these types of provision so it is acceptable, in the right settings and conditions, for churches to consider reopening these provisions or working with those who deliver such a provision.

There are a number of considerations which is covered in the Connexional guidance to assist managing trustees and to cover the different settings, to meet the government guidance and ensure that this provision can be safely delivered.  Please refer to the Early Years Covid-19 Advice for further details.  

Risk Assessments

To underpin any activities starting within the above settings it is imperative that managing trustees risk assess each and every situation and decision.  The Covid-19 Risk Assessment v3 (pdf version) has been created with guidance and generic considerations when undertaking this vital work.  If the church has been closed during lockdown, please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  

Cleaning Regimes

Ensuring that the correct cleaning regimes are established and maintained is imperative to stop the further spread of the Covid-19 virus.  In the Covid-19 Risk Assessment v3 (pdf version), there is general guidance provided  on adapting cleaning regimes.   When first opening a building, please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  If the building is listed, please refer to Historic England's How to Clean Historic Surfaces.  If historic items, such as stained glass, need to be cleaned, please contact the Conservation Officer for guidance.    

Other Property Users (updated 28 May 2020)

Government policy is to encourage continued working from home, but there may be situations where this is not possible.  We provide in the Covid-19 Guidance for Other Property Users to assist managing trustees in making decisions on reopening to other users, together with others who might access the building on an infrequent basis.  At present, the designated uses for use of church buildings include:

  • Food banks or other services for the homeless or vulnerable people
  • Blood donation sessions
  • Support in an emergency
  • Construction
  • Property repairs and improvements, including Manses
  • Property Inspections and maintenance
  • Early Years educational provision

Public Spaces and Outdoor Activity 

Restrictions for movement, and exercise have been amended, this section covers changes in visits, checks and general external maintenance:

  • Property Inspections for churches which remain closed (refer to the FAQ below on empty buildings)  
  • Maintenance of outdoor church spaces including burial grounds (refer FAQ below on gardening)

Further guidance can be found on:

Frequently Asked Questions (soon to be updated) 
These are general questions but if you have a specific questions, please contact Property Support or your DPS.  

Are playgroups allowed to resume? (28 May 2020)

If the playgroup is registered with OfSTED or a Childminder Agency under the Childcare Act 2006, then it is allowed to open.  More information on the definition and differentiation on this can be found at here.

Read more on Early Years Guidance during Covid-19

Can a local school use the church hall for an extra classroom? (28 May 2020)

Yes but you would need to speak with TMCP about arranging a license.  You should also look at the Covid-19 Guidance for Early Years as there will be similar issues to consider.  If the building has been closed, you should go through the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment v3 (pdf version).

Please also refer to the government advice:

Is live streaming allowed? (Updated 28 May 2020)

The Methodist Church is updating its guidance on livestreaming or recording services to allow ministers or leaders to do this in Methodist property. (The updated guidance must be read in the context of where you live as devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales may have different guidelines.)

It is acknowledged that over this time many have found creative ways and locations to deliver spiritual support and continue to worship and while the updated guidance is not intended to replace this, it does provide an alternative if individuals wish to consider livestreaming or recording from their church buildings.

The guidance sets out what practical steps need to be considered, including who else can go into the building, how it should be cleaned, general safety and social distancing. This guidance needs to be carefully considered and strictly adhered to.

Read the live streaming from church guidelines.  

Should a record be kept of who enters the building? (updated 21 May 2020)

Yes, you should set up a register track who enters the building.  Hand sanitiser and/or hand-washing facilities should be easily accessible as well as sanitising wipes for cleaning surfaces.  You can also ask people to bring their own pen.

If the church has been closed during lockdown, please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  

It is recommended that you conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version) to determine what changes need to be made in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.  

While a church is empty, is it possible to carry out a deep clean? (updated 21 May 2020)

Yes, the current government guidelines now allow for cleaning to take place.

If the church has been closed during lockdown, please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  

You should conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version) to work out what changes need to be made in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.  

If the building is listed, please refer to Historic England's How to Clean Historic Surfaces.  If any historic items, such as stained glass, need to be cleaned, please contact the Conservation Officer for guidance.  

Click here to view the government's guidelines on cleaning during Covid-19.  

Are we allowed to cut the grass or other gardening in the church yard? (updated 21 May 2020)

Yes, as the current government guidelines allow for more exercise and use of outdoor space.  Up to 2 people from different households could meet to tend graveyards and the outdoor space but social distancing measures must be observed.  Click here to view the latest guidance on social distancing.

It would be worth conducting a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version) if those tending the garden will have use of shared equipment and/or communal areas such as toilets.  If the building has been closed during lockdown, it is recommended to go through the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  

If they use the church's equipment, it should be sanitised after use and if they enter the building, they should sign the register.  

Caring for God's Acre has some advice on allowing natural wild flowers and how to minimising the amount of mowing that is needed.  

Should I be concerned about legionella? (updated 21 May 2020)

Yes, legionella can occur when water is stagnate for long periods of time.  Please refer to the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) for items to check, including legionella, when opening the building.  

If your building remains closed, here is a checklist on how to prevent legionella:  

  1. All water systems should be flushed on a weekly basis and ideally twice weekly.

  2. All hot water storage systems should be switched off (but not drained) and flushed to prevent the storage of hot / warm water.

  3. All taps (hot and cold) should be run at half pressure for five minutes each at every flushing.

  4. All outside taps should be run at half pressure for five minutes each at every flushing.

  5. All toilets should be flushed twice at every flushing.

  6. All showers should be run for five minutes each at every flushing (ideally run these into a bucket to prevent mist and droplets being breathed in by the tester).

  7. All hot water boilers should be run and flushed through at every flushing.

  8. All dishwashers should be run and flushed through at every flushing.

  9. Any other water appliance should be flushed (i.e. washing machines).

  10. If a church has air conditioning and condensers then they should take separate advice from their maintenance contractor.

  11. All inspections and flushing operations should be recorded on a register.   

If a building has remained empty for a period of time without a weekly flush,  then there is a risk that the systems are infected. Therefore when flushing the systems, ensure that spray and water particles aren’t breathed in (wear a mask or stand well clear of the running water and run showers heads into buckets or containers).

If the weekly flush was not performed in a building, then tests are advised.  These tests will take up to ten days to be analysed and during this time water outlets producing mist shouldn’t be used. If the test is positive for either bacteria,  then a chemical flush can be arranged.  

For more information, please refer to HSE's Guide on Legionella for Duty Holders

Can I carry out organ maintenance? (updated 21 May 2020)

Yes, but the person performing maintenance needs to sign the register of who has entered the building.   Hand sanitiser and/or hand-washing facilities should be easily accessible as well as sanitising wipes for cleaning surfaces.  You can also ask the person to bring their own pen.  It is recommended to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version) in order to make changes to reduce the spread of the virus.   

For a church with a larger or mechanically complex organ, prolonged lack of use will result in long-term problems with its performance.  If an organist is available in the neighbourhood, then they can practise to keep all the action parts moving.  If an organist is not available, then the person performing the weekly inspection could carrying out the following steps:

  1. Switch the organ on (consult with your regular organist, as every instrument is different)
  2. Pull out all the stops (or press them down, if the instrument has stop tabs)
  3. One at a time, press every key (black and white) on each keyboard of the instrument, and all of the pedals. Note that the organ operates differently from a piano; keys should be pressed rather than struck.
  4. If any faults occur, such as notes not sounding, or continuing to sound after the key has been released, make a note and consult with your organist or organ tuner.
  5. Cancel all stops by pushing them in (or up for stop tabs).
  6. Switch off the organ.

The purpose of this is to run through all the stops on all keyboards, and the pedalboard to keep leatherwork from sticking and keep electrical contacts clean. 

Is there any funding available? (updated 19 May 2020)

The Civil Society has collated a list of grant funding for charities during the outbreak.  Click here to view the details.  

The Heritage Emergency Fund is short-term funding to support the immediate actions needed to stabilise operations and manage unforeseen risks.  You can apply to us for a grant between £3,000 and £50,000 to cover unavoidable costs you will otherwise be unable to meet for up to four months. You should only apply to us for essential costs and partnership funding is not required.  The deadline for applications is on Tuesday, 30 June 2020.  For more information, click here.  

Heritage Alliance (of which the Methodist Church is a member) has produced COVID-19 Guidance for the Heritage Sector. This includes a Covid 19 Guidance Hub and Covid-19 Funding Hub which outlines the advice and sources of national and regional funding to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Arts Council has announced the availability of grants up to the value of £35k to help with urgent operational costs following loss of income, including:

  • rent or other building costs
  • staff costs
  • overheads such as utilities, insurance etc.
  • costs associated with keeping your organisation operational over the next six months

You must have experience of delivering work that was funded (directly or indirectly) by bodies such as Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Lottery Community Fund, local authorities, universities, public sector bodies, trusts and foundations, libraries, etc. Your organisation needs to have been part of the delivery of publicly funded work, even if they didn’t directly apply for the funding themselves. Application can be made via online application forms. Further guidance can be found here.

The NLCF has been chosen to administer a large part of the money the government has made available to frontline charities. This is not likely to be relevant to most churches. However, churches are eligible for the Community Fund’s general funds. Although there is no dedicated emergency fund, all the funding decisions made for the next six months will be devoted to addressing the current crisis.

To reach those groups best placed to support their communities at this vital time they will prioritise faster payments for existing grant holders and applicants using the following criteria: 

  • activities specifically geared to supporting communities through this crisis
  • helping organisations overcome any liquidity issues caused by COVID19.

Projects must address one or more of the three strategic priorities:

  1. bringing people together and build strong relationships in and across communities
  2. improving the places and spaces that matter to communities
  3. helping more people to reach their potential, by supporting them at the earliest possible stage.

To find out about the open programmes click here

As the building is empty, is general maintenance allowed? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).  

Should the church have its Quinquennial Inspection? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version)

Please refer to the new Connexional guidance for Quinquennial Inspections for further information.  

If churches or Circuits wish to understand more about what professional firms are undertaking during this time they should contact one of the Surveyors’ Panel or alternatively their local contacts.

Can we undertake some essential repairs? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).   

There has been some vandalism, are we allowed to repair it? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).

The following actions are suggested:

  • Notify the local police to report the crime 

  • Notify your property insurer of a potential claim, for example Methodist Insurance and Ecclesiastical Insurance have both prepared advice during this period.

  • Following all government guidance for social distancing, seek to undertake an inspection of the damage and any potential repair by a local tradesman.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19.    

  • Do keep your District Property Secretary or Circuit Property Secretary informed of what is happening as they may be able to offer additional support and advice locally.
Our church is part-way through a building project. Can work resume? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).

It is worth being in contact your project funders.  Funders are sympathetic to the current situation and are providing advice on funding.

My church is due to start work on a building project. What should we do? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).

Should gas safety inspections or service to the gas boiler go ahead? (updated 26 May 2020)

Current government guidance now allows for construction and maintenance work to resume.  Please refer to the Construction Advice during Covid-19 v2 on how to proceed.   If the building has been closed, then you may need to refer to Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version) and you will need to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version).

Gas Safe has published specific guidance during the outbreak, which you can find here.

Can we access our churches for other reasons apart from building checks? (updated 26 May 2020)

Yes but social distancing must be observed.  Also, please bear in mind that: 

  • Church property still remains closed, other than designated uses or for inspections.
  • Only the relevant parts of a church property affected by these changes listed above should be reopened.

 A  should be conducted to determine what changes need to be made in order to reduce the risk of spreadCovid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version)ing the virus.  If the church has been closed during lockdown, please refer to the  Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).  

Can I collect the post from the church? (updated 19 May 2020)

Yes but social distancing must be observed.  A Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (pdf version) should be conducted to determine what changes need to be made in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.  If the church has been closed during lockdown, please refer to the  Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf version).

An alternative would be to request a redirection or suspension of delivery from Royal Mail.  

Can the church be used for indoor sports? (updated 19 May 2020)

No.  According to the recent government guidance, only outdoor sports are allowed.  Please click here to read more. 

Can I ring the bells or wind the clock? (updated 19 May 2020)

Whilst we recognise that within the Methodist Church there are few bell towers or clocks there are indeed examples of these within the Connexion. Therefore if you are in a position where you need to access the bells or wind clocks then we say that it is not recommended in most cases, especially as there is a suspension of all ringing of any kind at the moment.  

The key issues are the physical environment of towers including access to ringing rooms or clock mechanisms. Winding clocks does not justify the risk of a lone person climbing the tower. We do not recommend this happens while the current lockdown restrictions are in place. If you can do these activities from ground level and without the need for other people present, then current restrictions do not forbid this. If the trustees consider the bell tower or clock tower represents a serious risk to anyone using this space then a prominent notice must be displayed at the ground floor entry to the tower giving a clear warning of the danger and to give contact details.

Should I be concerned about bats? (updated 19 May 2020)

If your church is known to have bats, then hopefully surfaces will have been covered before the lockdown began.  Ideally a church building with bats that affect worship areas will not be open to anyone until it has had a thorough clean, which will have to wait until multiple people are able to safely enter, and appropriate PPE has been sourced.

However, if you do wish to offer prayer from a building affected by bats then avoid spending prolonged amounts of time in areas with high concentrations of droppings. Any works carried out will be subject to the usual legislation relating to bat conservation and if the trustees are concerned about its bat population then do call the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228

What about groups that lease out space in the building?

It is important to bear in mind that the guidance for closing church buildings is a directive of the government to avoid large gatherings and was specifically mentioned.

TMCP Covid 19 guidance will provide guidance for churches where there are leases

If the rented space is completely self-sufficient, then it would be reasonable to allow them to operate as they see fit (it is their decision whether they close)

If it means some part of the church has to be opened to allow them to operate, then they should be asked to cease operation as this would compromise the current government directive on churches.

In summary, they should only be allowed to continue operation if this involves no input from persons associated with the church – i.e. locking and unlocking.

Does the church need to close?

Yes, according to government guidelines, churches should be closed.  The official Methodist Guidance states: 

 “The Methodist Church is announcing a closure of all its church buildings for the foreseeable future. The only exception will be for churches that are offering essential social outreach such as foodbanks, soup kitchens and night shelters, but these must be carried out closely within Government guidelines.”

How do I keep the building secure while it is empty? (updated 5.4.20)

Owing to the potential length of time properties may be empty for, there are a few simple steps to take to ensure the ongoing security, safety and condition of the property during this time which include:

  1. Weekly Inspection - An individual from  property team (or individuals on a rota basis) to visit once a week to make an internal and external inspectionThis is bearing in mind the guidance around limited travel or movement outside your own houses.  It should therefore only be carried out as part of a daily exercise regime or essential shopping trip.  Note: This advice has to be in accordance with the government guidance at the time. 
  2. Communication - Ensure that communication is maintained between parties and that local Circuit and District policies are adhered to during this time.  As well, be aware of lone working practices and government guidance on social distancing. 
  3. Security - Ensure that all perimeter fences/railings/gates, security lighting and other deterrents to thieves (particularly lead theft) are maintained or repaired.   Ensure that all CCTV is working and notices are in place.  Smaller rural churches might check if local neighbours, neighbourhood watch or wider CCTV coverage can be asked to also monitor the property (where practical).

  4. Outside the building - Check the gutters, flashings, downpipes and gullies are not blocked/damaged from ground level and where practical.  Check for any break-ins or vandalism.  
  5. Inside the building - check for any leaks to the mains water supply, other pipes running through out the building and the heating radiators/pipes.  As well,  it is advisable to run the hot and cold taps for 5 minutes in order to prevent legionella.  If a manse is empty, it is recommended to remove shower heads as well. 
  6. Heating - Although we are moving into spring, it might be beneficial to ensure that some heating is retained in the building to avoid any issues with pipes bursting if there is a cold snap.
  7. *Weekly Checks - If the fire alarm or fire detection system is normally checked weekly, then test it.  If there is a mechanical organ, it would beneficial to play for 15 minutes to keep the moving parts clean and from sticking (see FAQ below for detailed steps).  
  8. Post - Collect the post if not redirection or suspended. 
  9. Leaving - When leaving the church, ensure that all doors, windows and other points of access are secured.

  10. Concerns - Please liaise with your District Property Secretary or Circuit Property Steward and don’t hesitate to contact the Connexional Property Support Team if you have any queries or concerns.

This advice should be adhered to until further government or Connexional advice changes and movement or use of property restrictions are lifted or updated.

 

What about funerals?

Please refer to the FAQ on funerals on the Official Methodist Church Coronavirus guidance.  

What about rental income?

Please refer to TMCP's FAQ's Regarding Leases during Convid 19.  

It is recommended to contact TMCP if you need to discuss a specific query. 

Do we need to lock the church grounds?

The government guidelines allow for daily exercise and in some place, the church grounds are the only available green space.  Thus, the grounds can remain open but social distancing (at least 2 meters apart) must be observed.

As well, you should take reasonable steps to secure the site when possible.  Gates should be closed and locked overnight and vehicle access should be restricted to the car park.   If there is a public footpath, it should not be obstructed.    

However, if the church grounds become a gathering place, the police may come to move people along.  

What should we do if people are gathering in the church grounds?

This is a matter for the police to enforce.  Do not put yourself at risk by attempting to break up the group.  

We are in the middle of buying and selling a property - what should we do?

Please refer to TMCP's guidance on Covid 19 and Residential Conveyancing Transactions

If your query is not covered in the guidance, please contact with TMCP regarding specifics.  

What about erecting public notices outside churches?

We endeavour to process applications for listed building approval in accordance with approved processes during the lockdown period. This is to permit churches to continue planning their projects and to allow them to be ready to start works once the lockdown has ended and life has returned to normal. As a consequence of the approved process and primary legislation you may be asked to erect a notice outside of your church in public view. This should be done in the safest way possible and in full accordance with current Government guidance on social distancing. However, whilst we recognise that posting a notice is a statutory requirement we certainly do not wish to place anyone in a difficult situation or indeed to jeopardise anyone’s health as a result.

Consequently, and for the time being, we are therefore content for churches to make the information available through alternative mediums such as social media or relevant email lists and for details, including plans and drawings, to be made available via church, Circuit or District websites. This will ensure that we continue to operate a transparent and robust internal system of control whilst observing current restrictions appropriately applied by Government. Posting in this way may also be an opportunity for churches to engage with a wider audience and may encourage those visiting your website to become more engaged in church life, and the development of mission within it.

Equally, the church may feel that it wishes to wait until the Government restrictions have been relaxed or lifted to post the notice externally. By all means it can wait, and we are content to work with this extended timescale. Moreover, whilst we are happy to deal with the consultation aspect of any listed building application, if you can delay it then we strongly advise you to do so. If you have any questions then please contact the Connexional Conservation Officer on conservation@methodistchurch.org.uk.

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