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Coronavirus rehearsal return?
No need to be Amber Gamblers

The latest guidance from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has not given a realistic green light for a return to rehearsals — even if the option is now there...


Everything still on stop?

Stuck in a seemingly never ending queue waiting for the traffic lights to change in your favour, you know that you should always adhere to the rules of the Highway Code.

Frustrated, impatient, time-pressed and financially up against it: You are fed up by a lack of progress and the urgent need to get moving – and quick.  You’re stuck and desperately want to be somewhere else. 

Red. Red and Amber. Green.

And it’s been on red for far too long now…. 

Binary options

Your options are binary.

Remain patient, wait a while longer and proceed in safety.

Or - weigh up the odds and when it flashes red and amber stick your foot on the accelerator and grab a march on rivals before the green light finally signals you on your way.

If you opt for the latter course of action though, you have just become a fully paid up member of Amber Gamblers Anonymous.

It’s a dangerous, potentially fatal decision making game to play. 

If you opt for the latter course of action though, you have just become a fully paid up member of Amber Gamblers Anonymous.


There is no need to be an amber gambler...

Options

The publication of the latest ‘Working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ guidance and support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, (DCMS) (August 15th) also poses uncomfortable binary options for the brass band movement in England.

Stuck behind an unblinking red light since March, and desperate to get back to rehearsal room destinations, it presents frustrated brass bands with stark decisions to think about.

Stuck behind an unblinking red light since March, and desperate to get back to rehearsal room destinations, it presents frustrated brass bands with stark decisions to think about.

Be patient and wait an unspecified time longer for the green light of safety, or take the ‘amber gambler’ calculated risk with your and other people’s health by making a move.

It potentially poses a dilemma - although not in reality.

Cosmetic camouflage

For the brass band movement in England, the DCMS announcement was nothing more than a piece of legal cosmetic camouflage that deflected attention away from the main problem directly affecting the arts sector, and brass bands (it doesn’t apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

On the face of it, enabling businesses or charities (including bands) that run venues under legal business registrations or constitutions to be able to host larger groups provided they can meet COVID-19 secure guidelines and social distancing requirements, seems like a green light to start up rehearsals again – or to at least take a calculated risk to do so.

However, it really isn’t.

Pontius Pilate

This is just another old Pontius Pilate government strategy; the act of showing it has taken on board considerations when in fact it is actually washing its hands of direct responsibility by passing the buck to those who actually need help in the first place.  

And whatever your political viewpoint ( from incompetency to inconsistency to King Solomon wisdom) there is little doubt this particular Stage Four announcement (made around 10.45pm on a Thursday night through social media) was certainly rushed through the spin cycle of rinse washes more times than a load of dirty football kits to avoid scrutiny elsewhere. 

There was a bad news day looming on the horizon for Boris Johnson, so why not get this out and hope people wouldn’t notice that it didn’t really amount to much behind the headlines?   


The social media announcement soon came in for pointed criticism

Onion layers

And so they did – although people soon saw through the thin onion layers of obfuscation.  

Where the sector was crying out for financial support packages for freelancers and low paid workers, what instead came out was a muddled message about professionals and non-professionals (or groups) who could meet up to play in and out doors.

As a result the focus of attention in the brass banding world was shifted from the real problems that could affect long term survival to a series of tick box hurdles to overcome if you wanted to start to organise a single indoor performance, let alone regular rehearsals.  

And where venues were hoping to hear news about the same type of £10 ‘Eat Out to help out’ subsidy scheme that would help encourage audiences back once restrictions were further eased, what they got was an opaque series of ‘reasonably practical’ recommendations to help the DCMS to “reconsider appropriate mitigations” – whatever that meant. 

As a result the focus of attention in the brass banding world was shifted from the real problems that could affect long term survival to a series of tick box hurdles to overcome if you wanted to start to organise a single indoor performance, let alone regular rehearsals.  

If in doubt – just go and check things out at: http://https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/performing-arts

Big and small questions

The big questions were obvious enough.

How was it only safe for up to six players to rehearse outdoors, or with members of two households playing together inside, whilst if you owned your bandroom you could in theory welcome in 30 total strangers playing in a rehearsal?

What about track and trace requirements, people at risk and equality issues? 

Then came the endless list of smaller, but equally important ones – bullet point steps on coming to and leaving premises, staging and capacity, food and drink, toileting, seating arrangements, exits and entrances, people flow, cloakrooms, moving around buildings.

What about public liability coverage and other health & safety requirements?   

And what happens if someone did pick up the symptoms following a rehearsal? What were the legal implications then? 


The guidance covered the big issues and the little but equally important problems...

Impracticable

The amount of work that has to go into producing a comprehensive, workable risk assessment strategy to enable a single rehearsal in those circumstances is impracticable at best – and has to be repeated for every time you wish to meet up for an indoor blow.

And as recent evidence on social media and television has shown, how come two snooker players can play in a venue surrounded by around 300 people, very few of whom were anywhere near sat in social distanced isolation or wearing face masks, whilst theatre goers are have to adhere to the strictest impositions?

Disdain

The social media disdain aimed at Prime Minster Boris Johnson stating that the Phase Four decision,"...will allow more people to return to work and the public to get back to more of the things they have missed", was quick and pointed.  

To this government, that seemingly means pubs, gyms and snooker tournaments – all at a time when the infection rates are on the increase. 

To this government, that seemingly means pubs, gyms and snooker tournaments – all at a time when the infection rates are on the increase. 

The arts sector can be left to wither and die. It’s the pantomime politics of playing to the crowd (except they have stopped those from taking place too) - the latest announcement rather like an “its behind you shout” to elicit a positive interactive response from an audience they have already lost touch with.   


Brass Bands England and its CEO, Kenny Crookston offered clear advice

Structured return

Amid this, it is well worth noting that Brass Bands England has done a great deal of work to try and guide the DCMS into accepting that brass bands require a much more focussed, structured return.

They have been championing a phased implementation of changes that would directly affect long term behaviour patterns to ensure safety in rehearsal and performance environments.

It’s been an eminently sensible approach – even if at present it has fallen somewhat on deaf DCMS ears. (4BR also wrote to DCMS and was informed that the press office would be in touch. As yet we have heard nothing).

They have been championing a phased implementation of changes that would directly affect long term behaviour patterns to ensure safety in rehearsal and performance environments 

Even after the announcement was made, BBE quickly sought further clarification - the result of which placed them in a rather invidious position.

As much as they welcomed the news that potentially allowed a limited return to rehearsals for member bands, it also meant that they had to be clear that any band that wished to do so had to ensure that it fully understood the consequences of its actions.

Full responsibility

As BBE’s CEO Kenny Crookston reiterated in an open statement after the DCMS announcement was made. 

“Bands…must understand completely the guidelines issued by DCMS and accept full responsibility for their actions or otherwise. Accountability is key, so do not be tempted to circumvent any of the most recent advice.”

That rather told you that BBE knows that despite the frustrations of still being stuck in a seemingly never ending red light queue waiting for the traffic lights to change in your favour, the best advice remains in following the brass band version of the Highway Code.

You would be hard pressed to disagree. 

You may still be frustrated, impatient, time-pressed, financially up against it and desperate to be somewhere else and quick, but there is still no need to be an Amber Gambler. 

Iwan Fox

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