Church of Scotland central office to close: a message from Chief Officer Dave Kendall

Church of Scotland's central office to close with the exception of essential services as the majority of staff move to working from home arrangements

Message from the Chief Officer Dave Kendall

The last few weeks have seen the whole world hugely impacted by the Coronavirus which is now taking a foothold in the UK. It is a time of anxiety for many. The spread of the virus is unprecedented in modern times.

Our primary concern is the safety and protection of our church members, staff and all those using our facilities whilst ensuring that the central office staff can still provide effective support to our Church over this challenging period.

Following the latest Government announcements on Monday 16 March 2020 it has been decided that we should move to having the majority of our central office staff working from home. This was our anticipated outcome during the contingency planning phase to deal with the virus and work has been progressing in the background to enable this to be an effective strategy. In making this decision we have embraced the following principles:

  • We have been monitoring the developing situation on a daily basis whilst establishing the necessary arrangements that would enable us to move quickly and decisively in response to events and advice
  • The welfare of our congregations, staff and visitors is our primary concern – we are determined to look after our people first and foremost
  • We need to equip our central staff with the necessary tools for effective homeworking to enable continued progress with our work and retain the ability for effective interaction with the wider Church infrastructure
  • Communication has been a priority, with the goals of being open and honest – this requirement will continue throughout the period of homeworking when continual communication with all staff will remain critical

We are closing 121 George Street from this evening (Wednesday 18 March 2020) to all staff other than those that need to attend the office to fulfil an essential role. However, those staff that are categorised as vulnerable to Coronavirus or are in a state of readiness for home working have already been moved to these alternative arrangements. The staff have been fully briefed on what is required of them during the period of homeworking during which there will be a range of restrictions imposed for safety reasons as well as tight controls on expenditure in mitigation of the financial situation that we are facing. In terms of staff welfare there will be regular interactions between the line management in the central office and the homeworking staff.

As part of our strategic approach to the situation we have identified some critical areas where there is a requirement for a skeleton staffing level within the central office and for this reason the office will remain open for this team only for the foreseeable future. The central office will therefore not be available as a venue for meetings during this period.

The following Departments will continue to be represented as a skeleton staff in the central office;

  • Chief Officer in his leadership role for the central church and a "single point of contact"
  • Information Technology – to maintain our infrastructure for effective homeworking, communications across the Church and troubleshooting
  • Facilities – to keep the office open, office security, maintain safe standards & working conditions, receive mail, co-ordinate incoming telephone communications
  • Finance – critical payments including stipend and salaries
  • Pensions – payments and dealing with emergent issues
  • Law – to ensure that we remain compliant and deal with ongoing legal cases
  • Human Resources – to deal with critical people and staff welfare matters
  • Safeguarding – to provide a single point of contact for ongoing and emergent safeguarding issues (noting that new requirements will arise due to volunteering requirements stemming from the situation)
  • Communications – we have a huge job to do during this period in terms of both internal and external communications

The leadership team in the central office have determined the ongoing requirements for staffing on site to achieve the above with the goal of keeping the numbers at the absolute minimum. At present this number is to be around 20-30 dependent on requirements but is subject to change and the potential remains for a complete office closure at a later date dependent on Government advice and how the virus escalates.

The work of the other central Departments including Faith Nurture and Faith Impact will be primarily conducted via the homeworking arrangements.

At the present time we have no way of accurately predicting how long home working will be necessary. However, a 12 week period has been assumed as the initial timeframe for strategic planning purposes which would take us to June 2020.

The intention is to continue to provide all our current high priority services to the Church and in support of this all the normal communication lines continue thanks to the fact that a system is in place to divert calls to a number of primary contacts. As a result we can be reached by the usual telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. The bottom line is that we remain open for business to help in any way that we can.

Finally, I want to thank both the central office staff and the broader Church for the sensible approach and understanding that you have shown over these last few weeks as we respond to this ever changing situation.I know you will understand the urgent need for action.

All of us will have some personal concerns regarding our health, family, friends, work, finances or simply the fact that this virus is going to massively disrupt our everyday lives. For this reason it is critical that we look after and support each other.

God bless and keep safe,

Dave Kendall, Chief Officer