UPDATE: On 14 September 2020, DCMS published new FAQs to accompany new guidelines and restrictions across England. In section 3.19, these state: "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."

DCMS have advised that where this is a planned activity which is operating in line with their performing arts guidelines then non-professional rehearsals and performances can take place. It is a requirement that these activities can be organised in such a way that they can ensure that there is no "mingling" of each household/bubble of up to 6 people. Measures need to be in place to prevent any mingling between these groups during the activity.

UPDATE: On 21 August 2020, the Scottish Government published its Guidance for the Performing Arts and Venues Sector: www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-the-performing-arts-and-venues-sector/

We welcome the new guidance and its recognition of the importance that non-professional arts offers to mental health and well-being. It is also good that the Scottish Government has committed to regularly reviewing the guidance and we hope that this will, in time, include the removal of specific restrictions pertaining to wind, brass playing and singing.

However, Voluntary Arts is currently seeking clarity on some aspects of the guidance wording pertaining to gatherings for arts activity outdoors. We will report back once we have received clarification from the Scottish Government. In the meantime, we encourage representatives of voluntary arts groups and umbrella body networks to register to attend our round-table event on 7 September at which questions and comments can be put directly to officials from all of the UK national governments. 

UPDATE: We are pleased to say that DCMS has published updated guidelines (13 August 2020) which makes some additional allowances for the resumption of non-professional activities.

In particular, the new guidelines state: "Additional mitigations, such as extended social distancing, were previously required for singing, wind and brass given concerns that these were potentially higher risk activities. DCMS commissioned further scientific studies to be carried out to develop the scientific evidence on these activities, which has allowed us to reconsider appropriate mitigations. Both professionals and non-professionals can now engage in singing, wind and brass in line with this guidance." 

There are still various restrictions in place in terms of group numbers and social distancing, but this is a welcome change that will mean a great deal to choirs and music groups across England. Voluntary Arts would like to thank DCMS for considering the evidence and making these changes, and also all those who worked with us to advocate for changes to the guidelines.

Making Music has developed a toolkit to help music performers and promoters interpret and apply the guidance from the different nations of the UK:  https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/resource/can-group-get-back-in-person


DCMS Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

New government guidance for people who work and participate in performing arts fails to properly account for the voluntary arts sector with significant gaps evident in several sections.

Updated guidelines for the safe return of performing arts activities in England have been published (9 July 2020) by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. As the voice of amateur participants across the UK & Ireland, Voluntary Arts was invited by DCMS to comment on the draft guidance for people who work in performing arts, including arts organisations, venue operators and participants. Having read the newly published guidelines, we are concerned that the particular points we raised about non-professional arts activity do not appear to have been addressed at this time. 

There appears to be a distinction between professional and non-professional performing arts activity which prioritises allowing the professional sector to resume under the guidelines but with little acknowledgement of the important contribution made by the amateur sector in terms of its vital contribution to wellbeing and local economic activity. The pandemic has raised significant issues around social isolation and the important role of amateur performing arts groups in alleviating these problems must be recognised urgently. 

Particular points state that singing and playing wind and brass instruments in a non-professional context is not permitted and that 'fixed team' approaches to minimise the number of people each person comes into contact with is "not recommended" (4.3) in non-professional contexts unless all participants are from the same household or support bubble. While we recognise the differences between these sectors, many of these risks are no different in non-professional performances and rehearsals and should not be treated differently. There is no explanation or justification for this approach in the guidance.

Voluntary Arts is calling for an urgent redrafting or updating of these guidelines in order to provide clarity and support for the voluntary arts sector which plays an integral role in the maintenance of healthy and active communities across the country. We continue to engage with government representatives in the other nations across the UK & Ireland to ensure guidance is appropriate and considered.

Barbara Eifler, Executive Director of Making Music, said (on 10 July 2020):

We are very disappointed that the new DCMS guidance does not permit leisure-time music groups to meet and rehearse again at all if they involve singing or wind or brass instruments, and only in groups of 6 from different households (England) where other instruments are concerned.

Groups would be perfectly capable of managing the risks associated with meeting, in the same way that professionals can. Groups right now are mainly anxious about being able to rehearse again – not yet necessarily perform in front of an audience; and rehearsals are much easier to manage in terms of risk control.

DCMS has also not factored in that leisure-time music is a significant economic factor in the whole music ecology – so not restoring income to the freelance musicians it engages to the tune of £86.4m a year or the rental income it provides to rehearsal venues across the UK, will mean that DCMS will fail in its aim to restore the music sector to full health, unless the amateurs return too.

We understand research already exists in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Austria which provides clear insights into how amateurs could meet and rehearse, and we urge the government to allow the amateur sector to re-open as soon as possible.

This is a matter of priority not just economically for tens of thousands of freelance professionals engaged by groups, but it is a matter of priority for the mental well-being of the nation which has taken such a knock in the last 4 months.

We invite the Secretary of State to talk to us and visit one of the groups affected, to enable him to see the full picture of the impact on participants during the last 4 months.