Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Rule of 6 Guidance 3 - 'Support Groups'

 Some of the documents I cited last week were updated on Monday. I'm especially interested in what the new covid guidance says about 'Support Groups', as this touches on a lot of what our churches do away from Sunday worship. 

Here's what the guidance ( says about them (commentary in italics):

2.10 When can I gather in groups of more than 6?

If you live in a household with more than 6 people, you can continue to gather in and attend all settings together. This same applies for your support bubbles. All venues should continue to accomodate groups larger than 6 who live together or are in the same support bubble to gather in and use their services and venues.

There are exceptions where groups can be larger than 6 people, including:

  • for work, or the provision of voluntary or charitable services
  • registered childcare, education or training
  • supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care, youth groups and activities, and children’s playgroups
  • providing support to a vulnerable person
  • providing emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm
  • for arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents
  • fulfilling a legal obligation such as attending court or jury service
  • weddings and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions – up to 30 people, in a public place
  • funerals – up to 30 people. This does not include wakes, other than for religious ceremonial purposes.
  • other religious and belief-based life cycle ceremonies – up to 30 people, in a public place. This only covers the ceremonies, and does not include celebrations of these events.
  • organised sport or exercises classes or licensed outdoor physical activity. This does not include informal sport or fitness activity with family or friends – this must be limited to a group of 6.
  • elite sporting competition and training
  • support groups – formally organised groups to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support. This includes support to victims of crime, recovering addicts, new parents, people with long-term illnesses, those facing issues relating to their sexuality or gender, and those who have suffered bereavement.
  • protests – if organised in compliance with COVID-19 Secure guidance

Where a group includes someone covered by one of these exemptions, they are not counted as part of the gatherings limit. This means, for example, that a tradesperson can go into a household of six without breaching the limit if they are there for work.(the same wording is replicated here, in guidance on 'meeting with others safely'

2.11 Does this mean that no more than six people can be in a pub, restaurant or place of worship at once?

Venues following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host more than 6 people in total, but no one should visit in a group of greater than 6 (unless you are all from the same household or support bubble). When you visit one of these places, such as a pub, shop, leisure venue, restaurant or place of worship you should:

  • follow the limits on the number of other people you should meet with as a group (it will be illegal to be in group of more than six from outside of your household or support bubble)
  • avoid mingling with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know
  • provide your contact details to the organiser so that you can be contacted if needed by the NHS Test and Trace programme

2.12 Can I have a celebration for significant or ceremonial life events, other than weddings?

The legal gatherings limit of six people does not apply to standalone religious and belief-based life cycle ceremonies, such as christenings and bar/batmitzvahs. You can have up to 30 people at these events, provided they take place in a public place. This includes events to mark or celebrate a significant milestone in a person’s life, according to their religion or belief, such as events to celebrate a person’s birth (other than a birthday) or coming of age; or to mark a person’s death or celebrate their life following their death.

This does not include celebrations of these events - receptions are only permitted for weddings and civil partnerships.

You should socially distance wherever possible from people you do not live with (or have formed a support bubble with).

the exception here for life cycle ceremonies isn't extended to general cyclical ceremonies, such as Remembrance, Christmas, (plus all the lesser festivals)

3.10 Can I pray in a place of worship?

Yes, places of worship will stay open for services and communal prayer in line with guidance for reopening Places of Worship.

Places of worship can stay open for services for more than 6 people. However, you must not mingle in a group of more than 6 people (other than with people you live with or have formed a support bubble with).

Strict adherence to social distancing is strongly advised and a distance of 2 metres (or 1 metre with additional COVID-19 Secure measures in place) should be kept from people you do not live with wherever possible.

my reading of this is that you can have a prayer meeting in a church building, but people must be kept in groups of no more than 6 with no mingling across groups. 

3.18 Can I go to my support group?

Some types of support group are exempt from the legal gatherings limit.

Support groups can can take place in gatherings of any number in a public place, if the support group is organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support to its members or those who attend its meetings (my emphasis). This includes, but is not limited to, providing support:

  • to victims of crime (including domestic abuse)
  • to those with, or recovering from, addictions (including alcohol, narcotics or other substance addictions) or addictive patterns of behaviour
  • to new and expectant parents
  • to those with, or caring for persons with, any long-term illness, disability or terminal condition or who are vulnerable
  • to those facing issues related to their sexuality or identity including those living as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • to those who have suffered bereavement

This is an exemption to the legal gatherings limit of six people.

Support groups not covered by this exemption can still take place if they do not breach the new gatherings limit of six people. This does not mean that no more than six people can attend. There can be multiple groups of six people attending, provided that the social interaction and shared activity is limited to groups of six. Where this is unlikely to be possible, no more than six people should attend. Anybody who is attending for work purposes is excluded from the gatherings limit.

most midweek groups run by our church have both a social and a support element - the coffee morning which is the 1 piece of social contact in the week for an isolated elderly person, the cell group where people pray for each other and support each other in living out their faith, the baby and toddler group where mums can socialise and get out of the house. My reading of this is that all of this is covered by the above guidance, it can be done in groups of larger than 6, on church premises. The only question is whether they fall into groups 'covered by this exemption' (where a whole group of more than 6 can meet), or groups 'not covered by this exemption', where the whole group can meet but must be subdivided into groups of 6 or fewer, who don't interact with one another. 

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.

The grey area is what counts as a support group. Does it have to be primarily for support (e.g. AA), or with support as one of the collateral benefits? I guess if there's doubt, the group should be organised in clusters of up to 6, which is fairly easy to do with placing of chairs and tables. Not so easy to do with toddlers....

And what's the 'spiriit' of all this? Is it o try to find ways to facilitate groups meeting by interpreting the guidelines generously, or to be consservative and, where there is any doubt, keep the doors shut?

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