AN HISTORIC festival is in jeopardy because of last-minute rule changes banning amateur choirs of more than six people from practising indoors.

As people around the city return to pubs, gyms and sporting venues following the easing of lockdown, members of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus say they have been "hung out to dry" by government rule changes stopping them singing indoors.

The city group gathered at Worcester Cathedral on Monday (May 17) to sing together only to be told less than a day later that the rules had changed and they could no longer meet up indoors.

As a result, the choir was forced to practice outside on Thursday.

Chorus member Claire Horacek said she was devastated and reduced to tears by the news.

"We had the most fantastically happy first rehearsal on Monday night with the choir safely spread out, much more than two metres apart, in the huge nave of Worcester Cathedral," she said.

"The news on Tuesday afternoon of the late guidance was absolutely heartbreaking, more so due to having had such a great first rehearsal together after 15 months.

"I only stopped crying when the al fresco rehearsal in the cloisters had been organised."

Writing to city MP Robin Walker, she said the historic festival has been jeopardised because of "illogical and ignorant" decision making.

"For choral singing, in ventilated, controlled spaces with two metre distancing, to be deemed more risky that going to the pub, the sauna, a spin class at a gym, a noisy restaurant – is patently ludicrous.

"And to add insult to injury the DCMS didn’t even release this guidance until lunchtime [on May 18] - more than a day after it was supposed to come into force – despite the likely date for stage three having been known for months."

In late April, ministers advised the intention was for non-professional music activity to resume with bigger numbers indoors.

But after consulting with public health ministers, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) guidance was updated on May 18 to clarify that only six amateur singers can meet indoors, and up to 30 singers can meet for a rehearsal outside.

The Three Choirs Festival, which will be held in Worcester this year following last year's postponement due to the Covid pandemic, is a week-long celebration with choral and orchestral concerts, recitals, talks and services. The festival is more than 300 years old and is hosted in rotation by Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford.

A petition calling for the rule to be changed has so far attracted 20,500 signatures.