Reopening the walls: a message from the Association of British Climbing Walls

Posted by Emma Travers on 30/04/2020
How and when will walls reopen? Photo: Sam Pratt

The Association of British Climbing Walls is leading an initiative to develop a set of guidelines to get walls open again safely. Working very closely through the Outdoor Industries Association and with UK Active, the ABC is conducting research in order to provide a solid foundation for the recommendations that will follow.

The ABC (the trade body representing 180 walls in the UK) has five working groups looking at different elements of a strategy for reopening, all consisting of a mix of climbing wall operators, individuals with expertise and partner organisations.

The teams are being coordinated by ABC Chairman, Rich Emerson who commented that, “We will ultimately provide guidelines for safe opening and operational procedures to our members and other climbing walls. Our guidelines will be based on those that are imposed on the fitness sector and have been agreed with Public Health and the Governments across the UK. 

Indoor climbing is about our communities, our customers, employees, suppliers and friends.  Many of us know each other personally and it is this sense that makes climbing walls so special to everyone. In the week beginning March 17th, when we all closed our doors, these communities had their focal points removed and the walls went into damage limitation mode.

With government support we’ve worked hard to stabilise the situation and, over the past few weeks have started to look at how we can reopen in a way that is safe for our customers and staff. We know that our customers want us back as much as we want to be back.

We’ve had some amazing support from our customers and suppliers: Kind words, people continuing to pay their membership others making gifts and buying products from us. These acts have made a huge difference to us all, way beyond their material value.”

The reopening strategy will be based on three elements:

  • Hygiene measures - for both staff and customers
  • Capacity Management - the guidelines we are working on with UK Active mean that it’s very likely that customer numbers will have to be limited
  • Social Distancing - everyone has become accustomed to the 2m rule - this will be no different in a climbing wall environment

Alongside the work with UK Active (the Trade Association for the fitness and health sector), there is also close cooperation with the Outdoor Industries Association, British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training and the ABC Training Trust.

Furthermore, an international group of climbing wall bodies has been set up to share procedures and learning from different countries. 

The group met on April 27th 2020 with representatives from the CWA, IFSC, ABC, DAV, CEC, FASI, and several leading national federations held a meeting to discuss creating an international working group to facilitate the sharing of hygiene, social distancing, and operational guidance. These organisations have their own internal task forces working towards developing best practices for their respective localities, however by coordinating information and advice the international indoor climbing industry can deliver stronger and more defensible arguments to local authorities. This work group will meet weekly for an indefinite period of time as each organisation works to deliver information in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They agreed to release the following statement:

"If there is one word that defines the indoor climbing industry above all others it is community. Many other sports and businesses use this word but very few see it manifest in their everyday interactions with peers, customers, and employees at the same level that we enjoy. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every climbing gym, every owner, every competition, and every climber. What everyone wants to know is: When and how can I get back into my gym? In order to help provide guidance that will make climbers, parents, and employees feel as comfortable as possible several of the world’s climbing organizations have joined together to share information internationally."


More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for July here and for the general return to climbing here

🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full July update here

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  In England it's July 25th Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

✈️ Can I now travel abroad again? Get the latest answers to going abroad with travel restrictions now easing

πŸ›’ Is the BMC shop open? Yes - we officially reopened at the start of July!

🏑 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? The latest club huts update and all you need to know

πŸ“œ Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

πŸš— What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.

If you liked what we did, then tell your friends about us: www.thebmc.co.uk/join


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Anonymous User
30/04/2020
Just some ideas wondering if they would work *armchair opinion
- hand sanitising hands before and after each boulder?
- for people to keep a log of which climbs they did/attempted and hand it over to the staff before they leave so the staff can make sure those ones are disinfected at some point throughout the day.
- filtering entry/capacity based on level?? so if you have a spread of v1-v8 climbers instead of all v1-v3 climbers in a day reduces the chance of people touching the same problem. if climbers can book going to walls before hand and categorise the level they'll be climbing e.g. working either v1-3 problems, 3-6, or 6+ surely this might help reduce the probability and numbers touching the same holds on the same day.
-allowing people to visit 1x per week initially - so if they develop symptoms between that period, everybody that was there on the same session as them could be contacted and told to isolate before revisiting

just my thoughts :)
Anonymous User
30/04/2020
oh and one more thought - for centres not to allow new members. to prioritise existing climbers/members to book sessions upon return for a while. I think existing members would respect hygene more as they wont want the centers to close again. so I think to prioritise those who already give them business will be the climbers who get a true benefit from the climbing centers being reopened instead of newbies just curious to try something new out and could easily live without it.
I feel like bouldering centers in recent months have been too packed full of newbies climbers who are just doing it for the gram but actually being really dangerous by getting in the way of others climbing. dont get me wrong, climbing should be accessible for everyone but the new climbers need way more instruction at bouldering centers instead of just being allowed to go on the wall straight away when they're not safety conscious - so yes i think not allowing new members to register FOR THE SHORT TERM to give the climbing walls back to those who really need them right now for a bit could be advantageous
30/04/2020
This is excellent news and much welcomed. Thank you to everybody involved in the process for dedicating the time. Will the BMC be reaching out to the government with advice on outdoor climbing restrictions?
Anonymous User
30/04/2020
Wow, any gym that is open only if you maintain distance and limit numbers is going to be awful. You might as well stay closed until things are truly normal.
01/05/2020
It's great to get an update on the activities of UK and international bodies working together. Looking forward to reading more as work progresses.
Anonymous User
01/05/2020
What about limiting the amount of time people can sit in front of a problem whilst doing bugger all, some centres were hotter than others at moving people to safe seating areas, whilst others are not so keen at policing people sitting around.

Another idea could be to set a limit on the time you can be in a place, as this allows a higher volume of people to attend, rather than first come first served. If you knew you had a time limit you'd be more focused.
Anonymous User
01/05/2020
The idea of limiting people to a smaller number of routes is not the way to go IMO. You're essentially restricting the places people can put their hands. 50 people using 5 routes is 10 sets of hands of a route. 50 people on 10 routes 5 sets of hands. The best way I think it should be done is just to severely restrict footfall within the buildings, just like they used to do with swimming pools and the wrist bands, calling out which colour band has to leave.
Anonymous User
02/05/2020
Does the 2 m rule really work in indoor environments? Surely, if you are asymptomatic and breath out, the virus lingers in the air? I would have thought ventilation was key for any indoor activities to go ahead. Might be beneficial for climbing walls in the long term too, to help manage indoor chalk dust levels which I'm sure can't be good for you.
Anonymous User
20/05/2020
The community must resist 'health and safety theatre'. Life is inherently dangerous and attempts to sanitise all potential dangers will a) not succeed, b) reduce the quality of any experience to a great degree. I fear much in the same way we're forced to pour out water bottles at airports and take off our shoes, we'll be forced to jump through other such silly hoops all in the name of 'safety' which in reality will do nothing for safety, just like airport 'security theatre' does nothing for safety.

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