Following the announcement by the UK government last week, Making Music were told originally by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) that their performing arts guidance for England would be updated on Monday 14 September. The day came and went with no update to that guidance, only to that on ‘meeting safely with others’ and an FAQ which referenced amateur music groups.
We asked for clarification on Tuesday, but have not received an answer.
Groups’ frustration is shared by us: this is poor guidance which does not give clarity and places additional burdens on us as an organisation, spending our time and resources on trying to interpret it, and on all of our volunteer-led member groups which are already coping with an increased work-load due to the pandemic.
In Northern Ireland music groups are also in limbo. The guidance there has not been updated since the 30 July and subsequent changes to the DCMS guidelines now leave parts of it contradictory. We have written several times to the Department for Communities seeking clarification but have yet to receive a response. We will continue to persevere.
In Wales, there is good news for music groups with new guidance published today (16 September) that applies in the same way to professional and non-professional groups. We will update our Wales guidance shortly.
For Scotland, the good news is that there is clarity, even if only outdoor activity is permitted, and no performances – see our guidance tool for the full details which have been checked and confirmed with Scottish government.
Guidance in England
The only bit of new guidance which specifically references amateur music activity is below (with our highlights in bold text), and it is addressed to individuals, not organisations:
3.19 Can I go to my hobby club / amateur musical group / other leisure activity?
"It is against the law to gather in groups of more than six, where people are from different households or support bubbles. The rule above does not mean that there cannot be more than six people in any one place. All activities for under 18s are exempt. There can be multiple groups of six people in a place, provided that those groups do not mingle.
In practice, however, this will make it difficult for some activities to take place without breaking the law. Activities where there is a significant likelihood of groups of more than six mingling – and therefore breaking the law – should not take place until further COVID-19 Secure guidance has been developed and approved to enable the activity to happen safely. This may include extended tour groups, large banquet dinners, society or club meetings, or amateur music or drama rehearsals."
Our interpretation of this – not yet approved or rejected by the DCMS – is this: provided you spell out that your participants should not mingle at rehearsals and have measures in place to prevent that happening, including a risk assessment and a written plan with risk mitigations you are implementing, you can go ahead with rehearsals.
Member groups will need to take responsibility for their own decisions on whether to go ahead with rehearsals or not.
As soon as we hear more, we will of course issue an update.
We are speaking to our networks, including the Association of British Choral Directors and Brass Bands England about our concerns, as all arts non-professionals are unable to issue further guidance. Read a statement from Voluntary Arts.