Covid-19 Course Delivery Update

12th May 2020

Castleton is a place where a trip to the post office can easily take an hour.  That’s not because of long queues at the shop or the length of the journey (it is actually only about a minutes walk from our house), it is because of the inevitable delays en-route.  

Especially when the weather is good, there will likely be chats along the way with at least half a dozen neighbours and then a natter at the shop and a few more catch ups on the way back.  It is a lovely feature of living in a small rural community.  In recent weeks quite a lot of those chats have inevitably been Covid-19 related.  Discussions about who needs help in the community, how local businesses are affected and chats about visitors coming to the village.  

There has been a lot to talk about and yet maybe we are getting to the stage where there is now much more to talk about.  Like many across the country, we sat down to watch Boris’s address to the nation on Sunday and tried to make sense of the guidance changes. We can’t deny it initially raised more questions than it gave answers.  So we also studied the additional document released yesterday and tried to gain some clarity from that. 

Like everyone we want to know all the essential details such as how our personal lives and our children’s education will be affected, but as an outdoor business we also need to know when we can get back to delivering courses and ditto for our sister first aid training company.  This is important so we can keep putting food on the table and yet also for the many clients we have booked on courses who are patiently waiting for us to be able to deliver the service they have paid for.  

Boris Johnson stated in his address that people in England can now enjoy unlimited exercise and drive any distance to a place to facilitate that. There was no restriction on the form that exercise might take.  Other changes were that people could socialise with one person outside their home unit as long as social distancing rules were maintained.  The Prime Ministers statement didn’t actually mention that in Wales and Scotland the guidance remains unchanged and the lockdown continues pretty much as before (although there has been some relaxation in the rules about personal exercise).

It seems, then, that we can now take out one person for activities like climbing or mountain biking as long as we maintained a safe distance from each other and from other people.  The person could also travel as far as they like to attend that session, but would have to travel there and back to home within the same day.  We wanted some clarity on whether that was actually the case and this has now been clarified by the statement issued today by the British Mountaineering Council and the confirmation from Sport England that ‘trainers/coaches can work with clients outdoors but instructors cannot take out families. You can meet with different clients in a single day as long as it’s only via 1-2-1 sessions and you are maintaining social distancing.’

For some of our courses this might work, but regardless of whether we are allowed too do it we also had to consider whether it would be responsible practice and how practical it actually is?  In making such a decision we have to assess whether it would be safe for our staff, our clients and the local community.  It would also only be practical if it could be financially viable and as a responsible company we also have to ask whether we are sending the correct message by restarting our activities when scientific evidence suggests there is still significant risk. 

The other consideration was, although we know everyone is keen to get back to normal activity (whatever that ‘new normal’ might look like), whether many people would actually want to attend at the moment anyway? A recent Ipsos Mori poll found that over 60% of the population would currently be uncomfortable going to bars or using public transport.  How would they feel in close proximity to an instructor at a Peak District crag where, although we are good at selecting quiet venues, there would likely be other people around.

So our deliberations focussed around risk, social responsibility and financial viability…..

How safe would it be?

We are certainly good at managing the risk level of the activities we offer, but outdoor activities can never be risk free. If a client had an injury how safe would it be to intervene and offer first aid assistance and if we needed outside help to manage an incident are we putting others at risk? We value the great work of our volunteer mountain rescue teams but know they are stretched at the moment and certainly don’t want to add to their workload or put them at risk - attending a call out is risky enough without adding the virus transmission risk into the equation.  We also, just like everyone else, want to protect the NHS by not adding to their workload.  

We also have to consider the risk of contamination.  Some of our activities such as navigation training, climbing or mountain biking could be possible on a socially distanced 1:1 basis but can we be sure it is safe?  Do we get clients and instructors to take a Covid-19 test before hand or complete a medical questionnaire? Shall we take temperatures when we meet up?  What happens if an instructor or participant becomes sick following a session?  Would we have to initiate contact tracing if we found a client or instructor was positive? We have started to seek professional advice on these issues, but we aren’t experts and don’t yet have the answers we need to be able to sufficiently assess these factors .

Our Social Responsibility

We know the changes to government guidance do not bode well for rural communities and, although we appreciate that people have every right to visit places like the Peak District National Park and many who do so will be responsible in their actions, we personally believe people coming into these areas at the moment carries considerable risk.  We don’t want to add to that risk at this time.

We are not alone.  Derbyshire's police and crime commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa said today that the ‘new rules allowing anyone to travel to the Peak District are potentially dangerous’ and brought ‘the threat of a localised outbreak’ to the national park. Similarly, the Peak District National Park Authority has urged people to continue using local parks.  Could we in good conscience welcome people to the park to attend our courses when we know the authorities are asking people to stay away and the locals are nervous?

We also know that anyone attending a course with us would likely be driving here and likely be a single occupant in a car.  If predictions on traffic numbers coming to the park over the coming few weeks are correct, we are keen not to add to the traffic burden.  

Finally, we live and work in a community that relies massively on tourism and, even if we are able to invite people along to attend an activity session, we feel we also need to consider the many hundreds of cafes, pubs, bed and breakfasts, campsites, restaurants and hostels that are currently unable to open.  We want to support them through our actions.

Financial Viability

Like many people, our business has not generated any income since mid March.  We are desperately keen to get back to work as soon as possible.  However, the likelihood is that a few clients who may choose to attend alone is hardly likely to make a big difference at this point and we would rather wait until we can safely welcome pairs, groups, families and the usual mix of great people who we share our skills with.

Our Current Position

So, it is probably already clear what we think!  We certainly aren’t in the business of judging activity providers taking a different stance, but for us the time isn’t yet right for us to restart activities.  We really hope it will be soon and we are constantly reviewing the situation, but we are staying on standby for a little while longer.  We hope you understand our reasoning and we hope to welcome you to our special corner of the world when the time is right.

Posted by Ben