With the easing in Covid-19 restrictions, many churches will be either in the process of returning or considering returning in the near future to physically meeting for services in their premises. When returning to regular use of a building, there are some important practical elements from a building maintenance perspective that should be considered as set out below.
Churches should continue to follow any government guidelines and requirements around gathering and re-opening church buildings. It is recommended that it is always best for churches to ensure their broker (or insurer if insured on a direct basis) is kept up to date with occupancy details. The current guidelines provided by Ansvar are available here. The church should also check that their Public Liability Insurance policy is still valid, in case this has perhaps elapsed during the period of lockdown restrictions. This would also be a good opportunity to review the level of contents insurance currently in place, as the church may have perhaps invested in some additional audio/visual equipment during the lockdown period for the broadcasting of services etc.
To avoid any risk of legionella when re-entering the building all toilets should be flushed and all taps in basins and sinks should be run for five minutes to flush the system through. If the building is initially to be occupied on a reduced basis, it should be ensured that this flushing routine is carried out on at least a weekly basis.
Even with certain elements of restrictions being eased, restrictions such as social distancing, use of masks and hand hygiene will still apply when churches are returning to meet in person. To this end it is still of key importance to ensure surfaces that church members will be coming in to contact with are kept clean and sanitised regularly after meetings. Particular attention should be given to ensuring regular cleaning to toilet areas.
It is now generally accepted that adequate ventilation of spaces helps to reduce the risk of virus spread. It is key therefore to ensure that spaces where people will be meeting such as the main worship area are kept as well ventilated as possible. For buildings that do not have mechanical ventilation systems this can mean opening windows to provide natural ventilation. Most modern uPVC double glazed windows within habitable spaces will have trickle ventilators installed to provide background ventilation, so it should be ensured that these ventilators are kept in the open position and that they are regularly checked to ensure they remain clear and unblocked.
All existing fire and smoke alarms should be tested upon return to use of the property to ensure that these are all functioning. The church should also review their current fire risk assessment document to check if there is any requirement for this to be revised to account for any change in use, function, or occupancy of the spaces.
The period just prior to returning to the church building would be a good time to check on the status of compliance items such as gas safety certification which needs to be carried out annually, fixed-wire electrical testing which needs to be carried out every five years, portable appliance testing of relevant electrical appliances which should be carried out annually and lift safety checks which, where applicable, should be carried out every six months. If the current certification period of any of these elements has elapsed, the church should arrange an inspection to be carried out by a competent professional who can provide the required certification for these elements.
The heating system and controls should be reviewed to ensure that any thermostatically controlled cycles align with any new or revised occupancy/usage pattern of the building. It would be wise to check that all the Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) are functioning correctly. It may be necessary to bleed your radiators valves to remove any air trapped in the system.
Damp, Mould & Water Ingress
A visual inspection should be carried out throughout the building to see if there are any notable signs of damp, mould or water ingress. The signs could be indicative of an issue with the building that may need remedial work, and the long period of infrequent use could have made any potential issue worse. If the church feels like there is an issue they should seek some specialist advice in order to try and address the issue in a timely manner, ensuring it does not become a larger problem which could be more costly to address.