Dorset Church cancels Christmas concert

Kingston Lacy Choir

A Christmas concert at the St Stephen Church on the Kingston Lacy estate near Wimborne in Dorset was cancelled over safety concerns.The 16 strong Collegium Vocale had planned to present Handel’s Messiah.’,’

The Concerns

There seems to have been two main problems:
1. To access the church people would have to walk up an unlit, tree lined path
2. The church did not have any emergency lighting and so if there was a power cut people may be injured trying to evacuate.

Reporting of the story

An article in the Telegraph on 17 December 2008 refers to comments made by the choirmaster, Ian Davis, who carried out a risk assessment. He said: “The law states that a dark church is dangerous if it does not have relevant health and safety procedures in place.” Also, “The walk up to the building is in darkness at night and the law states that we need lighting outside in case there are potholes and rocks.”

The BBC News website on the same day also referenced comments by Mr Davis. In this case he is quoted as saying “Unfortunately the laws now governing Health and Safety make a concert in a country church within the hours of darkness totally impracticable.” Also, “The blame culture that currently pervades our society means that Collegium Vocale simply cannot take the risk of promoting this very popular event that we hope has, in the past, brought pleasure to a great many people.” The site included a comment from the vicar of the church, the Reverend Dr Alistair Stewart-Sykes, who was quoted as saying “While we regret the cancellation we must abide by the law. We are discussing with our own insurers with a view to continuing our programme of concerts.”

Finally, The Sun on the 18 December quoted Mr Davis as saying “There is no way we can provide the funding to put things like emergency lighting in place so we have had to cancel the performance. It’s just not worth it.”

Is this Seriously Silly Safety?

It seems clear from the stories in the press that there were real risks here. But there is definitely not a law that says “a dark church is dangerous” or that lighting is required outside “in case there are potholes and rocks.” Actually it was insurance that was the problem, and it is not clear whether this was impossible to arrange or the organisers did not want to cover the cost.

Should this event have gone ahead?

It would definitely have been fool hardy to have gone ahead with this event without insurance. As we don’t know why this was not obtained it is a little difficult to comment on this aspect.

With regard to safety for people attending this event it seems that some simple and sensible precautions could have been made. It is a reported as being a ‘tiny’ church, and so the number of attendees would have been small. Having a number of people armed with decent torches to escort people up and down the path and to organise an evacuation in the event of a power cut would seem to have been very effective and easy to arrange.

There is definitely no reason why a choir recital should be cancelled on safety concerns related to the performance itself. In this case it was the venue that caused the concern and so the question must be, why was the venue not changed? This may have affected in principles of the overall festival, but given that the choir had prepared it would have seemed likely that they would be happy to perform it somewhere.
Perhaps the choir weren’t really ready to perform or feared tickets would not sell, and used safety as a convenient excuse. But this is pure speculation.’