Stephen Meek, Chief Beadle & Fire Safety Officer at Westminster Abbey talks to The Crowd magazine about events during the Coronavirus Pandemic at Westminster Abbey.
Prior to England’s second lockdown, Westminster Abbey played host to two hugely important services. The church, which in its present form is 776 years old, was the scene of two annual ceremonies held every November – the Opening of Fields and Centenary of the Burial of the Unknown Warrior.
Both events would usually host circa 2000 attendees including royalty such as the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry. Plot sponsors, MP’s and war veterans also attend to pay their respects. However, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, attendance at the Opening of Fields was substantially impacted this year, with Covid-compliant regulations meaning less than 20 people were able to attend the event. This was the result of some quick-thinking by the team at Westminster Abbey, who had to adapt their plans to the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic, going from 225 to 150 people and then down to 20. This was because upon the announcement of various restrictions on event numbers, as well as of course the introduction of the second lockdown for England on the 5th November 2020 – the planned day of the event. The team moved quickly to cut the numbers down to 20 individuals and move arrangements forward by 24 hours in order for the remembrance to proceed.
The Centenary of the Burial of the Unknown Warrior was also unable to escape the impact of Covid-19. Like the Opening of Fields, the occasion would usually have a full Westminster Abbey with over 2000 people in attendance. As a result of the pandemic and restrictions placed on the service, this was reduced to 100 visitors. Whilst security and crowd management plans remained similar to normal, we still had to undertake comprehensive risk assessments and procedures to ensure the event was covid-compliant. This included social distancing measures and specified entry and exit points. The church was also thoroughly de-sanitised after the service. The event passed off successfully with the BBC producing a live broadcast and the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Leader of the Opposition all being in attendance.
Although it wasn’t an event like we’re traditionally used to, we were still pleased to hold some form of event to remember those lost during conflict. We remain hopeful that services will have resumed back to normal this time next year.