What community activities can we, or can’t we, use our church for? Is a yoga class allowed?
THERE are legal limits on what can happen in your church. No activity that is illegal in itself can be allowed. Then there are activities that may be outside the remit of your church, but can be licensed. Alcohol licensing will restrict drinking facilities in line with the various licensing structures that apply. But check that there are no old covenants on your building that mean you cannot have alcohol at all.
If you hold music and dance events, you may need to be licensed for these, although churches are under fewer strictures than other community buildings since a new law was passed a decade or so ago. Your local-authority licensing officer should be able to give you details (or your archdeacon). Very occasional events may need no licence at all.
If you hire out your building for regular use for music and dancing, you will require a public-entertainment licence, to ensure the safety of users and to avoid public nuisance.
An occasional theatre licence may be required for performances; again, the safety of the performers and audience is the key issue, and an officer may visit to check, for example, that seating is safe and stage sets are not likely to fall on someone. For showing films in church, for public viewing there are considerable restrictions: such as licence and copyright. You cannot show DVDs released for home-viewing in your community centre.
The Church of England has determined that its churches may not be used for worship other than Christian worship, even when redundant. And there are churches that have internal “by-laws” that ban racist organisations, from the National Front to Nation of Islam; there may be other organisations that you may want, on principle, to bar. But yoga, as an exercise and method of meditation, would not be on my list of proscribed activities.
It is a good idea for the person who takes your bookings to have a contact point with whoever manages the programme of community bookings so that it is clear who may or may not book the church, and what activities are unacceptable, need a special licence, or are downright illegal.
Besides this, it is important that those booking the church know where they stand with regard to insurance and liability (the church insurance will cover only activities organised by the church); standards of behaviour, tidiness and cleanliness; respect for the church, and its fixtures and fittings; and respect for church staff who may have the responsibility of oversight of premises use.
Ensure that it is clear that the vicar and churchwardens have right of access at any time, and will respect the user group that is present when they come or go. There may be times — for example, when a group of children is in church — when access has to be carefully considered. If the church is up to date on its safeguarding checks, however, this should be solveable.
Make available a booklet of terms and conditions for letting, a sign-up page for the adult responsible for a booking (so they know their responsibilities and potential liabilities), and a booking form that gives enough detail for the church’s records of use.
Finally, if your church will be very busy, it would be helpful to have one person, or a small committee, that always knows “what’s going on” and is the contact point for all the queries that may arise.
Send your issues and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.