Managing Trustees across the Connexion are involved in early years provision whether that is hosting third party run pre-schools from Methodist premises or running their own pre-school as a Local Church project. Since the Government announced the re-opening of early years provision from 1st June 2020, we have received many questions from Managing Trustees asking whether they can allow pre-schools and other early learning provision run by third parties (Third Party Pre-Schools) and by Local Churches (Church Project Pre-Schools) to re-open. And if so, what do they need to do to plan for this.
This Article clarifies the resources and guidance available to Managing Trustees to help them decide how best to proceed and how to plan, if they decide to do so, for safe re-opening.
Can pre-schools run from Methodist Church buildings be allowed to re-open?
Provided that re-opening - and in weeks to come; staying open - continues to be permitted by the then up-to-date Government advice, there is no reason why Managing Trustees cannot make the decision to partially re-open their building to allow the pre-school to start welcoming children back into education.
There is a wealth of new guidance and resources to help Managing Trustees consider and plan for re-opening Methodist premises for Third Party Pre-Schools and Church Project Pre-Schools on the Methodist Church Website:
- Methodist Church Coronavirus Guidance for Property page –Guidance and links to Connexional Team’s resources on the implications of COVID-19 on property with a focus on re-opening church buildings and what Managing Trustees need to do before doing so.
- “Education in early years settings in Methodist property following government advice from the 13th May 2020” - This guidance from the Connexional Team discusses property and related legal implications including how properties can be adapted and run to ensure that all those accessing and working in the current environment are kept safe. This includes guidance on the main points for Managing Trustees to consider before re-opening parts of their building and the planning process prior to permitting Third Party and Church Project Pre-Schools to operate. Managing Trustees will find the checklists within the guidance on pre-school related considerations and practical tips of particular assistance.
- Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf); A checklist of practical steps for Managing Trustees to take before allowing Methodist buildings closed during the COVID-19 outbreak to be used again. The checklist aims to help Managing Trustees ensure that their properties are safe and fit for purpose.
- Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (docx) – A template risk assessment produced by the Connexional Team, based on the HSE template. Managing Trustees need to ensure that they conduct a risk assessment before re-opening church buildings. The extent of the risk assessment will depend upon whether the pre-school in question is a Church Project Pre-School, a Third Party Pre-School under a lease or a Third Party Pre-School under a licence. Please refer to the Managing Trustees' Responsibilities Re-Opening Pre-schools table. The risk assessment will help Managing Trustees manage the risk posed by COVID-19 in these different scenarios and ensure they are taking reasonable steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to those who use the building.
TMCP Guidance – Legal Implications
Please contact TMCP if you have any queries relating to the lease or licence under which a Third Party Early Pre-School uses church premises. Specific information relating to COVID-19 and its impact on leases and licences can be found on the TMCP website in the Lease COVID-19 FAQs (FAQ 4 to FAQ 8 inclusive) and their Licence COVID-19 FAQs (FAQ 1 to FAQ 3 inclusive).
Please note that TMCP Legal has updated the COVID-19 specific FAQs on its website to help answer your questions on the legal implications of re-opening church buildings for Third Party Pre-Schools. Please refer to new FAQ 3 which deals with re-opening pre-schools specifically and refer to the Managing Trustees' Responsibilities Re-Opening Pre-scools table for a summary of Managing Trustees' responsibilities depending on whether the pre-school is run as a Church project or by a third party under a lease or licence.
The new FAQs include guidance on the following areas:
- Can we allow the Third Party pre-School that uses our Sunday school hall under a licence to re-open?
- Can we allow the Third Party Pre-School that uses our Sunday school hall under a lease to re-open?
- What do Managing Trustees need to do to plan for the re-opening of Third Party Pre-Schools and Church Project Pre-Schools?
- Our licensee is hoping to re-open the pre-school they run from our church hall shortly in accordance with the Government’s guidelines on re-opening early years educational provision. Do we need to make any changes to the licence agreement to ensure they are obliged to follow the Government guidelines and the rules we are introducing to keep our buildings and Managing Trustees safe?
- Our licensee is hoping to re-open the pre-school they run from our church hall shortly in accordance with the Government’s guidelines but will be the only group using our premises as they are otherwise closed. Can we let them have exclusive use?
- Our Third Party Pre-School wants to use additional space to enable them to accommodate the Government’s social distancing requirements. We are happy to accommodate this. Can we simply agree to this informally?
- Our licensee wants to re-open and we are happy to accommodate this as we welcome the income we receive. However, we are worried about our liability should one of the children or their carers contract COVID-19. Is our liability excluded under clause 8 of the Pre-School Licence?
- Our tenant plans to re-open their private nursery but is likely to see a drop in income due to parents choosing to keep their children at home for the time being. They have asked for a temporary reduction in rent, can we agree to this?
- We have read all the guidance on re-opening church buildings and are struggling to see how we can fulfill all the requirements before the third party run pre-school that uses part of our building re-opens. Can we simply ask them not to use the communal kitchen and washrooms they currently use for staff and refuse to provide the usual cleaning services until the crisis is over?
Managing Trustees also need to bear in mind that re-opening and keeping open remains strictly subject to the Government’s guidance and social distancing requirements at any time. Managing Trustees therefore need to use the above guidance in conjunction with the ever changing Government and HSE guidance. Links are provided as External Resources on TMCP's COVID-19 page
Buildings remaining closed
Please note that, for the time being church buildings would however need to remain closed for worship and other uses not otherwise permitted by the Government restrictions and Methodist guidance.
Please keep track of the current position on the Methodist Church Website.
For use under licences (or booking forms) for essential services such as food banks and blood donation, see COVID-19 FAQ 1.3 together with the Connexional Team’s FAQ on blood donation. For ongoing use by tenants under leases, see COVID-19 FAQ 6.2.
How to plan for re-opening part of the church building for use by a Church Project or Third Party Pre-School
Before allowing part of the building to re-open, Managing Trustees need to consider the Connexional Team's guidance on re-opening Church buildings including the specific; “Education in early years settings in Methodist property following government advice from the 13th May 2020” (Connexional Team’s Early Years Covid-19 Advice) and follow the recommended steps including the Re-Opening a Building Checklist (pdf) and carrying out a full risk assessment using the Connexional Team’s template; Covid-19 Risk Assessment, v3 (docx).
Managing Trustees also need to bear in mind that their responsibilities and considerations will vary depending on whether they provide Early Years provisions themselves (Church Project Pre-Schools) or allow a third party to provide early years provision on their premises under a licence or lease (Third Party Pre-Schools). These differences are summarised in the Managing Trustees’ Responsibilities on Re-Opening Pre-School table.
If you have any specific questions relating to pre-schools and/or COVID-19 then do not hesitate to contact us by email or by telephone using the telephone numbers which you will have at the foot of emails received from members of the Legal team.
We continue to wish you and yours well and hope you all stay safe at this difficult time.