A multi day event pulled together in record time thanks to the help of excellent suppliers.
Organised in just eight weeks by performing arts venue The Met, Burrs Live took place in Burrs Country Park, Bury, on 27 August – 5 September, with artists including the Bootleg Beatles and The Magic of Motown. We talk to The Met’s chief executive officer Victoria Robinson.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Our event, Burrs Live, was a completely new venture this year, combining six days of live events in a large country park in Bury, Greater Manchester. The event incorporated our annual festival, Head for the Hills, and a completely new festival, Happy, celebrating the life of Victoria Wood, which we co-produced.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
The Met is an innovative and rapidly growing performing arts venue and organisation situated in the 2021 Greater Manchester Town of Culture, Bury. We have two theatre spaces as well as the Edwin Street recording studio. There is also a café bar that provides refreshments. The centre is operated by Bury Metropolitan Arts Association, a registered charity. We are unique in the breadth of work we present and our ability to nurture artists and develop audiences. We present a mix of live music, theatre and comedy alongside running community workshops, the recording studio and a creative business hub within our venue. Our restaurant, Automatic, welcomes in excess of 100,000 visitors per year.
Our digital programme has grown significantly during Covid. We’ve had almost seven million viewers across 2020 and we’re proud to have been the partner of United We Stream to entertain Greater Manchester during the pandemic.
Our work outside the building, such as Burrs Live, helps us to challenge and develop audiences and artists. In non-pandemic times we present Head for the Hills Festival each September, a three day 5,000 capacity music festival, and a beer festival celebrating the best of Bury brewers each November.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
Burrs Live was a completely new event incorporating our annual festival, Head for the Hills. We ran it as a celebration of our status as GM Town of Culture in partnership with the Arts Council, Bury Council and GMCA. We ran it to show off really; Bury is amazing for culture and we wanted to invite everyone to the party!
How does the relationship work with the venue you hold the event at?
We ran the event at Burrs Country Park which is a Bury Council owned park. We hired the location but the staff team were exceptionally helpful and went above and beyond to help us make the event happen.
It was a new location for us and we had to pull the event together in eight weeks, which was really tough. We also worked closely with the Friends of Burrs, a voluntary group who look after the park. They do an amazing job and are extremely passionate about keeping the park as beautiful as possible for us all to enjoy.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
The location already had an entertainment license. We applied for a temporary events license to allow us to serve alcohol.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
There was a plan which was tweaked as the structures started to be built. There were two fields; the main field contained the entrance marquee, main stage, workshop tent, independent caterers and a marquee containing the bar. Backstage we had a large greenroom marquee and smaller gazebos for changing rooms. The second field had a large festival marquee for the second stage which was quite open so had plenty of standing room outside too.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We largely used the partners we had worked with in the past on Head for the Hills. Our bar was supplied by a local brewer, Brightside, who we’d only previously worked with at beer festivals. They were great as our festival bar.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
We programmed music for the majority of the week with Happy Festival focusing on comedy. There were also workshops throughout the Head for the Hills weekend for the family audiences.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
The main stage was a whole package from DBS that included its own power. Ayre Event Solutions provided the rest of the site and general lighting, sourcing generators, fencing panels and pedestrian barriers plus providing over 400 meters of festoon lighting and 400 meters of fairy lights. They also supplied four lighting towers and had a member of their team onsite each evening to support with any technical problems.
The project was on a very tight timeframe but Chris from Ayre was able to ascertain our needs and provide what we needed really quickly. His support was invaluable.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
All visitors booked in advance and had scannable tickets on entry. We emailed visitors before turning up to let them know what to expect on arrival so they knew how things would work. We conducted bag searches on entry in an entrance marquee and then people were let onto the site.
Please detail the measures you have taken specifically for Covid-19
We brought our learning from our venue with regard to Covid. As it was an outdoor event it made the event very comfortable, but staff were encouraged to wear masks and both staff and visitors were encouraged to complete a lateral flow test before entry. All visitors were encouraged to check in. We had sanitising stations throughout the event and marquees were all very open to allow air flow and lower the risk of transmission.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
It was very dry at the time of the event – we were extremely lucky. We used some woodchip at the entrance to deal with footfall but the ground was otherwise dry and manageable.
How do you publicise the event?
We had a very tight turnaround for marketing. Acts were announced four weeks ahead for the first three events and three weeks for the festivals. That made marketing very difficult. We used largely press and socials because of the timescale. There was some, but not much, local presence with banners and posters.
What challenges have you faced?
The largest challenge was the eight week turnaround time which was due to the funding confirmation. This led to other problems; everything was in short supply because there were a lot of outdoor events this year for obvious reasons. Staff also take leave in summer as it’s usually the time when we cease events, and of course we had the odd Covid case that took a couple of staff members out for a few weeks.
It’s tough for events at the moment as we all know. We were building towards quite a large event, not really knowing if we’d get the audiences or the weather would be good or if it would be at all successful… I personally wasn’t at the first weekend because I had booked annual leave and it was the same for other staff. So some of us were working towards something that we didn’t even see and that’s really tough!
How did you finance the event?
This project was financed by Arts Council England, Bury Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority as part of Greater Manchester’s Town of Culture. The event largely broke even, which is a great success for a first outdoor event working with these partners. We learned a lot during the summer that we can apply to other events and will do some things differently to cut costs.
What are your plans for next year?
We’re unsure at the moment but we are discussing running something similar in 2022.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
I think there’s a perception that this is a very glamourous career. It’s really very hard work and it’s very stressful, particularly the higher up you get! The majority of calls I got over the weekend were about supplies running low (toilet roll! Water!). But you know it’s so enormously satisfying to see something amazing created from nothing and for me it was really lovely to work closely with the Met team again after such a long time working from home and not really seeing each other.
Seeing audiences having the best time at something you’ve created makes the hard work and stress worth it – I can say that now after two months!
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