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Climbing Wall Reopenings: An Update from the ABC

© Sam Scriven/The Climbing Academy

The Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC) have produced some guidelines for the future reopening of climbing walls in the UK amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A campaign named 'Climbing the Walls Together' has also been launched by the ABC to support the industry. As a follow-up to our recent UKC article exploring the topic from a global perspective, here's a brief overview of the progress made so far by a working group of UK climbing wall industry professionals.

Climbing walls will need to take special precautions upon reopening.  © Sam Scriven/The Climbing Academy
Climbing walls will need to take special precautions upon reopening.
© Sam Scriven/The Climbing Academy

Small groups have been working separately on key areas including research, financial support, safe operation, instructing, coaching and competitions and getting the message out. As a result of their work, a document outlining guidelines for reopening during social distancing has been written in partnership with UK Active and their reopening framework of the Gym and Fitness Industry. The ABC's guidelines have been reviewed by a virologist and approved by the BMC.

'Individual climbing gyms may make their own decisions to enhance or adapt this to their own venues, and even go above the standards within this document, but not lower, if they wish to be recognised as meeting the standards,' the document reads.

Currently, neither the guidelines nor the procedure documents are public. The guidelines are under government review and are effectively in draft and the procedure document is changing weekly with updated advice.

The ABC's strategy is based around 3 principles:
• Hygiene
• Capacity Management
• Social Distancing

In a live Q&A session on the BMC Facebook page on Wednesday, Chair of the ABC and Chief Executive of The Climbing Academy Group answered viewer questions on wall reopenings. This article outlines the measures included in the document and discussed by Rich.

When might walls reopen?

The reopening of leisure facilities is a devolved matter, and will likely differ between the four devolved nations within their own designated lockdown relaxation phases.

England: An announcement on the potential reopening of leisure facilities is expected by the government on 4 July, meaning that climbing wall openings may be possible from some point in the first half of July, depending on the COVID-19 situation at the time.

Scotland: An announcement is expected on 9 July, with similar constraints to England as mentioned above.

Wales: No timeframe as yet, talks are currently underway.

Northern Ireland: The Irish government has set an announcement date of 10th August, and Northern Ireland is expected to follow the same timeframes.


In line with general government advice, climbers displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or those who have been in contact with others displaying symptoms will be asked to avoid the facility and follow government regulations (i.e. staying at home). Socially-distanced queueing - as currently in place in supermarkets etc. - will be required. Card or contactless payment will be encouraged, and no changes to consent forms will be necessary, nor will health declarations be required.

Hand sanitiser will be made available at entrances and around the centre for use by both customers and staff, while posters and signage will remind climbers of handwashing and social distancing protocols. Although mask-wearing has been widely discussed online and by the working groups, they will not be mandatory unless the government requests their use at a later date. The current government advice is to consider wearing them in enclosed spaces.

The ongoing debate concerning the effectiveness of liquid chalk as a hand sanitiser remains inconclusive (studies are currently underway) and walls will not be required to introduce a liquid-chalk only rule. Some walls might choose to promote it as a 'second line of defence.'

Regarding general hygiene, extra care will be taken to clean surfaces at reception and throughout the facility, with the exception of climbing holds, for which cleaning between uses or more regularly than normal is impractical.


Next, some guidance on capacity. Walls will be encouraged to proceed with caution and start with less than 1 climber per 9 square metres, and work up from there, with the option of time-limited slot booking systems as a possible means of managing traffic flow - but some walls might choose to let customers stay for as long as desired. However, all walls will need to implement a customer count system to keep on top of capacity. Bouldering centres in Germany are currently experiencing reduced numbers.

Climbers from the same household will be able to climb/interact closer together as normal while keeping their distance from those outside of their household. Maintaining social distancing may prove to be easier on lead walls than in bouldering centres or areas, as lines tend to be naturally spaced apart and climber and belayers are generally apart, except for setting-off and lowering.

'It is down to the individual customer to take reasonable personal responsibility for social
distancing when taking part in climbing and belaying.'

Staying safe - Skills and Training

An important point brought up in the Q&A concerned the effects of 'skill fade' - losing ability in a task through lack of practice - following lockdown. Climbers will be reminded through an ABC campaign to be extra vigilant in socially-distanced partner-checking and refreshing forgotten skills, and staff will be brought up to speed on techniques and instruction prior to reopening.

Group beginner sessions will be on hold for the initial phases of reopening due to the amount of close contact required between instructors and clients, but coaching sessions that can be carried out by adhering to social distancing measures will be feasible upon completion of a risk assessment.

Competitions will be reviewed at the start of June by the BMC, while a multi-sport group named Return to Training is currently overseeing a potential restricted reopening of facilities to GB team members.

Food and Drink

Café and food facilities will be limited to takeaway only until the government allows café and restaurant businesses to reopen.

In case of COVID

If a COVID-19 case is linked to a facility, the centre staff will be asked to follow the PHE Guidance – 'COVID-19 – Cleaning in non-healthcare settings' while cleaning all areas.

Support the Climbing Wall Industry - Climbing the Walls Together Campaign

Given that climbing walls typically run on very small margins and rely on high footfall and side enterprises such as cafés and kids' play areas, the COVID-19 shutdown and phased re-opening with limited numbers pose a real threat to the industry. Rich and his team at the ABC have come up with a plan.

ABC campaign.  © UKC News
ABC campaign.

'We now want to raise some money to build a marketing campaign to get folk back into the walls and to do so safely,' he says. 'We have launched a T-shirt and fundraising campaign called Climbing the Walls Together. All proceeds will go towards helping walls reopen – making them safer for both customers and staff.'

The money raised will provide walls with a marketing campaign designed to encourage customers back into walls and help guide them safely around the centres, while maintaining good hygiene practices and social distancing. There will also be an emphasis on safety and injury prevention as climbers return to the sport while being out of practice.

Use the hashtag #climbingthewalls to help spread awareness of the campaign on social media.

Keep up to date via the ABC's coronavirus advice page.

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29 May, 2020

9m2 per user, I am trying to visualise that. What are the dimensions of a shredded rubber flooring tile?

29 May, 2020

Typically 0.5m x 0.5m, so 6x6 tiles

29 May, 2020

The 9sqm is to calculate the maximum allowed capacity. You then have to work out how many people you can fit in in a safe social distancing way.

So thinking about the Climbing Works (main bit), we are 1050 sqm, take off the office, the storeroom, the reception etc plus a bit for the footprint of the walls and we are down to 900+ sqm. Could 100 people practice social distancing. Probably not. As an indicator the comp wall is just under 20m long so we could fit 10 there.

29 May, 2020

I reckon 9 square metres per person would be busier than the busiest day ever at Ratho!

29 May, 2020

Mile End is a similar footprint and we're around 50.


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