Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Church Seating and Equlity

There are few things that can get a church committee more ruffled more than issues around seating Especially pews.

So, I will begin with said pews. I have to admit that I was very much against having them in our churches, both as a user and disability advisor. But over the past couple of years I have been told by several users of pews who were either disabled, or elderly, that the pews are; “great to hold onto, and even pull oneself up to a standing position”. I have therefore been wrong to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’; thus, this post it is about making sure your seating is a provision for ‘everyone’ including disabled people.[i] However, as I have previously there had to be careful use of pews noting the needs of disabled people. Disability can come in many form, See my post ‘Provision Criteria and Practice’ (below).

Pews are on the whole items installed into many of older churches, along with many more changes, by the Victorians. As such older church committees wishing to remove pews with find that the Victorian Society will oppose such changes (in the Church of England the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015[ii] apply). This should not be seen as a nuisance, but rather a hurdle one needs to take, but rather a thoughtful, and often helpful, process behind the changes proposed.

What do we want and need from our seating?

1.     Well as mentioned stability for people who need something to hold onto to. But do please note, never fall into the trap of regarding a person’s ‘walking stick’ as something they should use to get up. The clue is in the name ‘walking’ stick, or sticks, which are for assisted walking. This applies also to walking frames.

2.     The seating should give ample leg space, especially when the attendees to a service or other function, may be sat for a long time.

3.     If moveable seating is used then the seats should stackable in a safe way, and those stacking them should never have to ‘drag’ them across the floor. This does not just create a safety risk for the stacker[iii] who may be a paid to do this role, or others persons not paid.[iv] As well as harm the floor surface with scratches; buy may cause the floor to become raised consequently creating a scenario where by a person with poor, or no eyesight, and those with mobility impairment to trip.[v] One should not miss the fact that under other legislation creating manual handling roles should be avoided if possible, where this is not possible a full risk assessment to decide on the safety way of undertaking the task.[vi]

4.     The seating should allow a provision to be added to raise the seat for people who do struggle to stand to have a higher seat. For example, attachable/detachable cushions, and attachments for raising the height of the legs. The Equality Act requires changes to be made to accommodate disabled people,[vii]

5.     Does your new, or planned, seating have somewhere for Bibles and other literature to be stored during the service? If not this can become a problem for many disabled people who have poor eyesight, or difficulties created by mobility and dexterity problems. Not to mention the trip risks created by such items laced on the floor.[viii]

6.     If you look down at a seat is it clearly demarcated from the floor below; or could the colours blend if you have dementia of poor vision? If so then seating should stand out, and your choice of replacement seating should account for this.

7.     Have you a system in place to maintain and clean all types of seating you have and use? If not, you should have one under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The Act covers churches.[ix]

8.     People with mobility issues may wish to sit near the back of church, certainly in the churches I know everyone wants to sit at the back. However, those with mobility needs may wish to sit were that can come and go, should they need to, for example using the toilet. As such we need to remember in God’s house no one has preferential (other than Bishops) seating needs unless the above applies – so no saying to a new comer, ‘excuse me that’s my seat’. Failures such as this, and other disability related issues in this post may well give rise to a claim of Indirect Discrimination under the Equality Act.[x]

9.     Ensure you have in places a system where by wheelchair users can place themselves next to relatives. That’s may mean shortening rows, even pews – but do get the legal permission first.

I hope you have found this short introduction in to Church seating helpful?

If you need other information, or comments to share please email on

Cite this article as: Fr. Jeffrey A.Leach.OSP, "Church Seating" in Disabling Barriers to Church Blog, 1st March 2017,

[i] Section 6 Equality Act 2010 (Ch.15)
[ii] No.2015 1568
[iii] Health and Safety at Work act 1974 (Ch.50) Section 2 for anyone paid by the church for such tasks.
[iv] Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 3, Any other persons.
[v] Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 4, Occupiers Liability.
[vi] Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, section 4. (SI.1992 2793)
[vii] Section 20-22 Equality Act 2010
[viii] Section 5 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulation 1992 (SI.1992 3004)
[ix] Section 3 The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 SI.1999 3242)
[x] Section 19 Equality Act 2010 (Ch.15)

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