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Returning to the Barn
#1

Spurred on by plenty of people asking "when will we be racing again at the Barn?", I've jotted down some fairly detailed and rather daunting thoughts that might start to prepare us. Please don't read on if you need cheering up - go straight to the socially-distant drag racing thread instead!

It goes without saying that we need to be socially-responsible - both to prevent infection rates rising and to protect each other and the future of the club. The older people are - or if they have underlying medical conditions - the bigger the risk of a more serious illness if they catch Covid-19. That includes quite a few of us at WHO. I want us to help each other get through this, not put each other at risk. The pandemic is nowhere near over - we're in for some challenging years ahead and must remain flexible to ensure we can enjoy some racing.

       

Firstly, these pictures remind us of what a WHO event is about - twenty or so mostly unrelated people in close proximity indoors, handling numerous shared surfaces for up to six hours for an evening event - and ten hours for a Saturday event. Such a social gathering is absolutely impossible to hold at the moment in the UK.

The first things we will need to happen are...
  • The Barn to re-open
  • The government to allow indoor social gatherings of up to 50 people lasting 6-12 hours
  • Social distancing regulations to be reduced to 1 metre or less
The third change might happen soon. I haven't heard any news about the first - and the possibility of the second seems a long way off at the moment.

When all three changes happen, there will still be numerous conditions we are likely to need to meet. Such as...
  • Compulsory wearing of face masks by all participants
  • Regular hand-washing by all participants
  • Regular sanitising of all shared equipment / surfaces - ideally after every use
  • Floor markings to ensure strict social-distancing
  • Temperature checks before entering the building
  • Anyone showing any symptoms (even of a cold or hayfever) to be asked to leave
  • Collection of mobile phone contact details on registration
  • A flow of fresh air through building
  • No food or drink served on the premises
  • Deep-cleaning of venue before and after event
  • Cleaning of toilet, washbasin and handles after every use
  • Protection of volunteers
There will also be slot car and WHO-specific issues to consider and plan for...
  • Marshals handling cars
  • Marshals being at least 3 feet away from each other and from drivers - at least 6 feet if face-to-face
  • Sharing controllers
  • Team races - shared controllers and social-distancing
  • Spacing each driver station by 4 to 6 feet (to allow for people being two feet across the shoulders - and any jiggling when they drive!)
  • Set-up and tear-down team members working at least 1 metre apart at all times
  • Handling money
  • Club shop
  • Club paperwork, flyers etc
  • The difficulty of taking photographs and video while social-distancing
  • Welcoming new racers
Some of these issues can be dealt with by sensible track design (variations on Indianapolis or Le Mans); use of gloves and sanitizing products; paying for race fees in advance on PayPal; closing the club shop (or operating it as mail order); removing all WHO paperwork from the Barn; limiting photographs to certain times and areas of the room. We can also make sure racers have their own personal club loaner controller and club car for the evening. We will definitely need to modify the HO driver station - perhaps with extension cords like the one we already have for racers who use wheelchairs. Our digital equipment is more flexible, but we will need to stop in-race driver changes for team and pairs races - the formats can be easily adjusted.

There will be the need to purchase a good supply of sanitiser and PPE (gloves, surgical masks, visors) for our volunteers, who will be exposed more to potential infection. We will need to be more specific about volunteer roles and not expect individuals to do tasks from the moment we unlock the door to when we leave. Our volunteers will require - at a minimum - this protection...
  • Set-up and tear-down crews wearing disposable gloves and masks
  • Welcome desk person to have a full-face visor
  • One person to run race control and to solely handle keyboard, mouse, USB etc
  • Exclusion zone around race control - full-face visor available
  • Exclusion zone around digital scrutineer/car ID-er, who wears disposable gloves and mask/visor
  • Cleaning crew to wear disposable gloves, apron and surgical masks
  • Volunteers to have regular rest breaks to sit outside
  • Volunteers should not be expected to both set up and tear down
As it is difficult to extend the time of the events (and unwise in terms of infection-control), it may be necessary to shorten the racing to ensure the pre-event cleaning, track set-up, track tear-down and post-race clean can all take place without any hurry. A mid-race pause and clean-down might also be sensible.

My initial thoughts are than this will take a lot of planning, organising and utmost care and supervision during the event. The elephant in the room is that several of us are in the highest-risk groups - including people in the shielding group - and some of us are most unlikely to safely return to indoor social gatherings until the virus is more-or-less eradicated from the population (ie when UK Covid deaths are in single figures per week and new cases across Sussex are zero). That includes me, which - whether we like it or not - will have an impact on when and how the club returns to racing. It may be that digital events are easier to organise in these conditions? And that may impact on planning for the 2021 season.

Of course, there are alternatives to racing at the Barn. The mail-in proxy HO drag racing is one. Smaller groups racing at people's homes (even outdoors) is another - although not yet. Neither is ideal - we want to be back at the Barn, all of us together. However, we may need to explore these - and other - alternatives. What is becoming clear is that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over. There are numerous models of how the pandemic may play out, but this is one of the most useful - looking at three alternatives...

   

This suggests that any return to the Barn may stop and start. We will need to be flexible - and prepared. There are things I have probably missed and ideas I haven't thought about - please to add them below.

I know what I've written above is a downbeat assessment -  and things may turn out better than expected. We can certainly hope for that, but let's prepare for what is most likely to happen.
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#2

This is a great post and something that needs to be thought about by every club.

I raised the problem about the Bordo meet in December but as yet have had no response. At the moment, I don't see how any meeting can go ahead safely unless everyone is in hazard suits!! Slot racing is an interactive hobby and just marshalling raises all sorts of problems. How are you going to sanitise the cars? What about a delicate concours finish? Having that spoilt will go down well. In the winter, masks and gloves won't be too bad but when it's really hot, it isn't going to be pleasant.

It will be interesting to see how clubs treat this.
[+] 1 member Likes Gordon Steadman's post
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#3

Of course it’s not just the racing, we all love swapmeets and toy fairs. Where we go and hunt for that elusive car or spare part. When may these restart? At the moment as well as the social distancing problem, all of the items on display would need to be sanitized after handing.
[+] 1 member Likes Mazda's post
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#4

Gordon - you're point about sanitising a grid of delicate and highly-detailed concours cars is a good one. A painstakingly-created finish could easily be ruined in a second.

Another thing not on my original list is the need for no-one to shout! We'll need to get a microphone at WHO for race control and only one person can use it. That and the other constraints make it difficult for the race controller to participate fully as a racer.

All in all, it's a recipe for events not being as much fun as usual - especially for the team running the event. And the raison d'être of WHO is fun.

As for the bigger picture, the motivation for easing lockdown is to protect jobs and businesses, to make sure children get the educational opportunities they deserve and for families to get a 'breather'. The risks of easing lockdown are that infection rates go up, more people die and we all end up back in lockdown. For the moment, that suggests caution and patience at WHO - the club is perfectly fine in hibernation and we can contribute to wider society by not contributing to infection rates.

Having said that, I will be talking to the WHO organising team about how we can implement all the things listed above for a possible return for the Digital Saturday at the end of September. A lot of things need to happen in the outside word for that to be a possibility, but we need to be sure we can put on an event safely before committing to anything. And we also need to decide if it would be worth it - or if we wait longer, until things are more 'normal'.
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#5

Over the past week, the twelve-strong WHO Management Team has been discussing all this offline. Some additional tweaks have been suggested...
  • Keep layouts simple with drivers and marshals spread out - avoid 'clusters' of people
  • Limit what racers bring to the club - a small box of cars and tools to race that night
  • Leave outdoor coats on the hooks in the porch and wash hands immediately on arrival
  • Contactless card reader and/or PayPal
  • Directional flow - with signs - around hall
  • Look at more hand-washing and sanitising of equipment than an over-use of gloves
Although we're all really missing the Barn and club racing, we are in agreement that...
  • It sounds a pretty oppressive racing atmosphere and is likely to be a miserable experience
  • No-one should be putting themselves at risk to put on an evening of slot car racing
  • If we were to jump the gun and something went wrong, it would be unimaginably awful
  • Meeting with some club members missing won't feel right. We can wait until it is safe for everyone to return - even if that is next year
  • Any further 2020 races should be non-championship events
  • Hold a small-scale 'practice' event to trial 'the new normal' before officially re-opening
  • Our digital racing may be easier to make Covid-safe. Perhaps plan more digital events in 2021 - at least in the early part of the year
  • Alternatives to meeting physically - such as the proxy drag racing - should be explored and encouraged
  • Regular social media posts and online places to chat are important to keep everyone connected - and informed about our plans
On that basis, the latest calendar update is...

   

In the meantime, we cross our fingers that the situation improves over the summer. There will be another calendar update in August.
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#6

Hi and thanks to all at WHO management for sitting and discussing at great length to see how we can all get racing again. I totally agree with your decision about waiting longer to see what happens a bit further on. The whole idea is for the hobby is to be on the side of fun (with a bit of competition too) I along with others of you have to be careful with my health and can't afford to take chances, so if racing was start at the moment I personally would have to bow out anyway for that reason. Having said that I don't think it is worth anyone taking chances especially now that other shops are now opening up and more people are starting to go out and about and social distancing is being reduced down to one meter. You just don't have a clue who you are going to come into contact with, who has Covid or could be a carrier of Covid, I think a lot is happening all to soon at the moment.
I think your decision is a wise one, disappointing as it is, I really miss the racing and the social side probably more. I also think the Barn is more likely to open sooner than our own club EWSC as that is a Community Centre, So I guess the restrictions there will be, well? I have no idea.
Anyway, a big thanks guy's for all work, I would also like to take this opportunity to Thank you all for your previous hard work and dedication to the club and the fun you have given us all and also for the continuing work you will put in as well.

All the best to everyone,
Keep well and stay safe,
Andy D.  Bigsmile Checkeredflag
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#7

I have now heard from the church and the news is that the bishop (who decides these things, apparently) has not given permission to re-open the Barn, even for official church use. Understandably, the focus is on the gradual re-opening of the church itself and keeping things safe for the (mostly elderly) volunteers responsible for the deep-cleaning and social-distancing for their services.

We will, however, soon be arranging provisional WHO dates for 2021. These may need to be re-assessed - depending on what happens with the pandemic over the winter - but it will certainly be good to have them in the diary!
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#8

I can’t quite believe that it’s five and a half months since we last raced... Lockdown restrictions continue to be lifted, albeit very gradually – and we’re very fortunate to have low infection rates here in Sussex. However, there is no good news about when we might return to the Barn.

There are two main hurdles...
  • The church are making plans to re-open the Barn during the autumn, but it is not an ideal situation for them and might not be sustainable.
  • With the precarious nature of the pandemic and extensive restrictions, we cannot ensure our race meetings would be safe and fun.
For those of us in the highest risk groups, safely attending a race night at the Barn could still be a long way off. And that is another important factor for the club. Many people have expressed the desire for us to return only when it is safe for all of us to do so. I also don’t want to ask WHO volunteers to take on unfamiliar and stressful tasks when I can’t be there. Setting up and running a WHO event is hard work at the best of times – with the dozens of extra Covid-safe things to think about and implement, it is too much.

   

I have now cancelled all our events in September and October – and the two Saturdays in November and December. A full day of racing is likely to be off the cards until next summer. With that in mind, I am working out a calendar for 2021 that will be flexible – almost entirely Wednesday evenings – with one HO night and one WHO/digital event each month. The dates will be in the diary and hopefully we will be able to use most of them. The HO events will stick to the normal three-class calendar, but we can be flexible with the digital classes we run each time.

Flexibility is key at the moment. A useful measure might be the official Coronavirus Alert Level. When that drops down to Level 2, we could look at getting the club out of mothballs, plan some cleaning and maintenance, hold a session to test out whatever restrictions we’ll still have to work with and – only then – decide whether we open up for our regular WHO events. The alert level is currently at Level 3 – with all the unpredictability of the autumn and winter still to come into play.

It is impossible to predict exactly when we might be back. The most important thing is that we don’t put anyone at the club - or in the wider community -  at any unnecessary risk. The club remains perfectly safe in hibernation.

Although not the same as meeting up at the Barn, the socially-distant and Covid-safe HO drag racing events have helped fill a void on Wednesday evenings - there will be a second 5-race Winter Series running from November to March. Plus there are the daily Facebook and Twitter posts keeping us connected - there's plenty of news and fabulous archive content to share. And we also have the WHO Racing subforum to use here at SlotRacer Online.
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#9

The latest update is that all our remaining events for 2020 have been cancelled. Sadly, it looks like it will be a worrisome winter and the club can do its bit to keep everyone safe, avoid contributing to local infection rates and minimise the crisis faced by our wonderful frontline NHS, social care and supply-chain staff - including all those who are WHO club members.

   

Our provisional 2021 calendar will be published in the next few days. We plan to race again from April, picking up where we left off six months ago in a rebooted 2020-1 championship season. All results and points from 2020 will be carried over. Racers who were juniors at the start of the 2020 season will be counted as juniors for the extended 2020-1 season, even if they are now 16.

In addition to the regular HO championship, that means the May and July WHO Digital Wednesdays will conclude the 2020-1 Trans-Am and Nascar Team Race championships. Mike, Simon and myself will work on the formats for the two Digital Saturdays (June and September), plus the remaining Digital Wednesdays in April, August, October, November and December. We will attempt to fit our Saturday classes into those extra evenings and we plan to run a full-day Goodwood Revival event - probably in September.

I strongly suspect there will still be Covid restrictions in place throughout next year - certainly the basic hand-washing, social distancing and test & trace. We will need to remain flexible and be prepared to tweak the way we race. We may also need to delay our return, but a planned resumption of racing in April should be a fairly realistic aim.

In the meantime, we continue to look at socially-distant ways of racing. A second Winter Series of proxy drag racing starts next month, plus Simon and I are planning a 1/32 scale proxy Rally-Sprint competition for January and February. More about that soon!
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#10

The Proxy Rally Sprint sounds interesting. I may have to get back into 1/32 racing.
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