I recently convened a virtual meeting with representatives of various amateur choirs from across Wealden and East Sussex to listen to their concerns regarding the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on restarting their activities.
Members and Leaders from Ashdown Singers, Hailsham Voices, Fletching Singers, Crowborough Choral Society, Mayfield Festival Choir, Penshurst Choral Society, Heathfield Choral Society and South Downs Singers were present at the meeting, representing the thousands of musicians across Wealden impacted by these restrictions.
According to Government guidelines, ‘amateur’ choirs were excluded from the easing of restrictions on the culture sector as part of Step 3 of the roadmap and only allowed to meet in groups of no more than six indoors.
I am pleased that following my representations, the Government issued a clarification of the guidance, allowing ‘amateur’ choirs to resume activities for commercial purposes. This is excellent news for our fabulous choral groups in Wealden, which are key to our local communities and raise valuable contributions to our local charities through their performances. I stressed in my letter that the catch-all label 'amateur' not only failed to understand how these groups function, but also meant that thousands of local professionals were left without income. We have a tremendously successful vaccination programme, with more than half of UK population now fully protected and I trust that many other precautions have been taken to ensure choir activities resume in a Covid-safe way. I am pleased that I secured this change for Mayfield Festival Choir and other Wealden ensembles.
Kelly Richards, Chair of South Downs Singers, said: "I would just like to thank you on behalf of our choir for all you help, advice, and support in getting us back on the road to performing. It is so refreshing to see an MP complete in a strong fashion what they say they will do. Again so many thanks."
Jane Bolger, Chair of Mayfield Festival Choir, said: “Thank you so much for listening to our explanations and for the way you responded when I and other local choral societies asked for your help seeking clarification from the DCMS. It was so encouraging to have your interest and support and to read the letter you sent to the secretaries of state as a result of our discussions. We were delighted when the DCMS responded saying that "we would remind you that limits do not apply to activity taking place for work or commercial activity". Because we sell tickets for our concerts, and employ professional musicians, choral societies come under the heading of work or commercial activity. We are resuming our in-person (distanced, masked, cleansed) rehearsals with joy this week."
Further information about the virtual meeting can be found here.