Determining Building Capacity

The Scottish Government have removed the cap on the maximum number of people allowed to attend a place of worship at any one time in protection levels 0-3. Those congregations who are located in a local authority in protection level 4 will have their occupancy level capped at 50 for worship. Each congregation are responsible for establishing their building's capacity level based (PDBC) on guidance provided by the Scottish Government. Congregations must read and comply with our guidance on Public Display Notice of Physical Distance-Based Capacity Limit (PDBC). Restrictions will remain in place for the number of people attending life events such as wedding/civil partnerships and funerals.

The Scottish Government have reduced distancing from 2m to 1m, and have indicated a likely removal of distancing completely over the summer months. As such, it is recommended that all congregations work to understand the difference these changes will make to capacity and work to amend their Risk Assessments to ensure they are ready to comply when changes are brought in.

In determining the capacity of your church building, you must consider how the seating arrangements for your church building will impact on the total number of people who can safely occupy the building. For example, you should calculate how many single occupants will be allowed in the church building alongside how many couples/family group spaces will be allowed at any one time. If some spaces that you have identified for couple/family use are then used by a single occupant during worship or life event, then this will reduce the total number of people previously identified that will be allowed to safely attend the church building at that particular time unless the entire worshiping/life event space is reconfigured.

Congregations must consider and ensure that:

  • The 1-metre physical distancing rule can be safely followed at all times and in all the areas of the building that will be open. This includes any additional spaces opened to accommodate simultaneous worship through, for example, a live video link. This rule applies to anyone standing, sitting or moving in or around both inside and outside the church buildings.
  • Balconies and galleries can now be used for seating during worship and life events and if used, must be included in the occupancy number for your building. Congregations must ensure that reasonable precautions are taken to ensure that anyone accessing balconies or galleries can do so safely whilst maintaining 1m physical distancing. All other precautions such as face coverings, and cleaning and disinfection must be implemented and followed at all times. Congregations must ensure that members of their congregation can access and egress balconies and galleries safely without causing a pinch point, particularly when the entry/exit points are shared by those sitting in the sanctuary.
  • Additional resources are available and are in place to ensure that the church building can be adequately cleaned and disinfected and that all control measures such as hand hygiene, face coverings and Test and Protect can be followed. Increasing the number of people who can attend a church building may also impact on the use of toilet facilities.
  • Additional volunteers may be required to assist and support the congregation with the increased number of people attending worship, and for assisting those attending church with complying with the control measures in place.
  • Occupancy levels are calculated for all areas of their church buildings which may be used for other activities such as sport groups and youth work. Congregations will need to consider occupancy of those standing and those seating depending on the space available and the activity undertaken.

Although congregations will be able to welcome more people to their church buildings from 26 April 2021 to participate in worship, all other precautions outlined in this guidance will still apply. Congregations should continue to consider and reflect upon the following factors when considering the capacity of their church buildings:

  • How will people arrive at your church buildings?
  • If several people turn up at your building at the same time, how will you ensure that they can wait safely to enter your building?
  • What will you do if more people arrive at your building than you can safely accommodate?
  • How will people know where to go and where to sit when they enter your building?
  • Will people leave your building by a designated exit or will they be entering and leaving your building by the same route?

There are likely to be other factors that congregations will need to consider depending on their own specific circumstances. For example, if your sanctuary has chairs then it will be easier to plan your space for physical distancing. If you have pews, then you will have to consider how you will allocate "safe pews" and how you will deter people from occupying pews too close to another person.