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  • Stuart Barr

Read our open letter to the government to Save Carol Singing

Updated: 5 days ago


We sent the following open letter to the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden on 24th November 2020, co-signed by artistes and leaders representing the spirit of the UK and its performing arts.


Oliver Dowden,

Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ

24th November 2020

Dear Secretary of State,


Thank you for fighting for the arts during this unprecedented global pandemic. However, we are writing today because it looks like there will be almost no carol singing this year due to Covid-19 and the government response.


We are grateful for the Prime Minister’s assurance that the national lockdown will end on 2nd December. As attention turns to what comes next, and given that we are about to enter the Christmas season, we are making a plea on behalf of the nation’s carol singers, the tens of millions of people who enjoy listening to them and for the charities who usually receive around £10m at Christmas from donations.


Carol Singing is a fundamental part of the UK’s culture, and an essential outdoor element of the spiritual uplift that Christmas brings across the whole of society. It is vital that it is allowed to take place so that people have hope and joy at the end of what has been a tumultuous, unhappy and lonely year.


Carol singing outdoors is nearly exclusively the preserve of non-professional choirs and ad hoc ensembles. Yet while professional choirs of any size can sing inside, at a distance of “1m+” – even during lockdown – the previous tiered rules banned non-professional choirs outdoors unless they were spaced at 2 metres and subject to additional restrictions under the Rule of 6. This makes joyful carol singing outdoors almost impossible.

Covid-19 is a terrible disease, and the government is right to do everything it can to slow the rate of transmission, and so we welcome DCMS having developed its guidance by “following the science”, including the work of our advisory committee member Dr Declan Costello’s landmark Perform study. But, with your guidance stating that outdoor music making is much safer than indoors due to the quick dispersal of aerosols, surely following the science would mean at the very least allowing non-professional singers outside to follow the same rules as professionals inside?

In addition, the tiered restrictions effectively prohibited audiences or by-standers from joining in outdoors, even with masks and social distancing, again not reflecting the safer nature of being outside. Safety is paramount, but must reflect the scientific advice that you are receiving that says that outdoors is safer.


Out To Perform was founded to change the national performing arts narrative from despair to opportunity, by unleashing the potential for more performances outdoors where the air is Covid-safer. We believe that carols could be sung safely on our streets post-lockdown and that, as we approach the new set of regulations, we would be grateful if you could fight at the highest levels of government to ensure that we can bring joy to the nation this Christmas.


This would provide a zero-cost ray of light to the nation’s mental health at this dark time; a boost for grass-roots music making; and maintain one of the UK’s few cultural traditions that unites rich, poor, young and old: a win-win for government.


So, we would be grateful if you could confirm that:


  1. carol singing can take place this Christmas, by ensuring that non-professional music making can happen outdoors in all tiers after Dec 2nd;

  2. in the new regulations, carol singing is explicitly highlighted in the list of “planned” performing arts activities alongside choirs and orchestras, in order to signal a positive message from government;

  3. in the new regulations, being “outdoors” is listed as an official mitigation against Covid transmission whilst performing, due to the rapid dispersal of aerosols;

  4. passers-by can join in the singing, with masks and following the social distancing guidelines; and

  5. the regulations for non-professionals are no harsher than those imposed on professionals. There doesn’t seem to be any scientific reason for distinguishing between professional and non-professional singers. Denying people of the right to partake in an activity unless money changes hands seems unfair and arbitrary - the Covid-19 virus doesn’t spread any slower amongst those who happen to be making a living from their singing.


Continuing to exclude non-professional outdoor music making from being permissible after lockdown ends would be a blow to the national morale, and even the previous tiered regulations would heavily hinder carol singing from taking place.


If instead we save carol singing, we will send a signal to musicians that outside is currently a safer space to make music in, which will bring public health benefits. Thousands of charities would benefit from charitable donations; tens of thousands of carol singers would benefit from their first performance since March; and tens of millions of the passers-by who hear them would be given a mental health uplift by the power of live performance.


We would like to encourage you to make it happen.


Stuart Barr, Founder/CEO, Out To Perform

Julian Lloyd Webber, Cellist and former Principal, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

The Rt Rev Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Aled Jones MBE, Broadcaster and Singer

Sir Andrew Parmley, Lord Mayor of London 2016-17

Imelda Staunton CBE, Actress

Sir Willard White, Bass Baritone

Declan Costello, Consultant ENT Surgeon and Singing/Covid Researcher

Lord Vaizey PC, Culture Minister 2010-16

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO UK Music

Suzi Digby OBE, Conductor and Founder of the Voices Foundation

Gyles Brandreth, Writer & Broadcaster

John Rutter CBE, Composer & Conductor

Petroc Trelawny, Broadcaster

Lesley Garrett CBE, Soprano

Roderick Williams OBE, Baritone & Composer

Tasmin Little OBE, Violinist

Debbie Isitt, Film Director & Writer

Grace Meadows, Director, Music for Dementia