If you are fortunate to sit on a significant piece of land then you could be of great interest to outdoor event organisers. You may even be tempted to organise something yourself. However, be it a partnership agreement, dry hire or in-house, creating events requires careful consideration.
As with any new business venture it pays to do your homework and make a plan. Planning a public event is definitely not for the faint-hearted but it is a lot of fun and the euphoria at the end of a successful show is hard to beat.
Do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into planning any size of event. Administration, sales, marketing, coordination, operations, security, health and safety, legal liability, infrastructure etc. The larger the event the bigger the workload but smaller events do still require plenty of planning, particularly if you have not hosted one before. How much involvement will you have? Do you have the capacity to take on an event yourself or should you consider hiring a professional? Should you consider simply renting your land out to an event organiser?
1. Choose your business model
Before you start you need decide on your business model. Renting your land to an organiser is certainly the most simple route and will be preferable if you are already very busy and just looking for a straightforward income supplement. The income you achieve from renting your land will be determined by a number of factors. The size and type of event, the attractiveness of your event site, the location, what existing facilities you can offer and the competition.
Before you enter into any discussion with an organiser, decide how much you need to derive from each event to make it worth your while. Speak to other local landowners about their experience and find out their hire rate. You will still carry some liability for public safety but essentially you are simply the host and the event organiser is responsible for everything else. Agree a hire fee for the use of your land and consider adding a refundable damage deposit.
If you are hosting and organising the event yourself then you may achieve a better income however with this comes increased investment in both time and money. It also brings increased risk. Outdoor public events are notoriously high risk; the British weather is increasingly unpredictable and it can often take several years for new events to turn a significant profit. You may want to consider profit share with the event organiser though this partnership also carries similar risks.
If you are entering into a contract with a third party, find out as much as you can about the event organiser beforehand. As the landowner you still carry liability and duty of care over members of the public visiting your land. It is also your name attached to the property and your reputation as a future events holder that you need to protect. Who are they? What experience do they have? Where have they worked previously? Do they have all the correct licences, insurances, policies etc? Don’t be afraid to ask for a reference from another landowner. If you are already in possession of a Premises Licence then it may also be wise to ask the event organiser to make their own licensing arrangements – you do not want your future license jeopardised by the activities of another event organiser.
Before entering into any formal arrangement, I strongly advise seeking legal advice and asking a lawyer to help you to draw up a Licence To Occupy. This is a contract for an event organiser to use your land for a set period and purpose under specific terms and conditions. Make sure your contract defines limits of liability and obligations of responsibility relating to health and safety. It should also specify required insurances, indemnities and recovery of costs in case anything goes wrong.
2. Business interruption
Outdoor events are seasonal; spring, summer, early autumn and Christmas. Will the event interrupt any other business activities such as weddings or holiday letting? Will your other business activities have an impact on the success of the event?
Are you farming the land? How long can you feasibly set-aside land? No-one wants to be dancing in cow-pats or sitting on stubble! A freshly mown, soft, grassy, dry meadow is ideal!
How can you partition your land or premises to ensure that one activity does not infringe upon the other? How can they operate in tandem? Can you temporarily cease one activity to allow for another? Do you have the acreage to isolate activities from one another? Consider health and safety as well as simply the enjoyment of visitors and guests.
3. Field fit for a festival
Assess the suitability of your land. Does it have a steep gradient? Though hilltops can supply amazing vistas, they are not always ideal for building temporary structures. What happens when it rains? Does the field turn into a lake or do you have good drainage? What is going on overhead? Trees and overhead power lines are not helpful for large temporary structures. Likewise, underground utilities need to be avoided. A plan of your land showing the location of the event site in relation to power lines, trees and any water pipes is vital.
What existing infrastructure do you have in place? Do you have access to mains water? If not, then you or any organiser will likely need to hire additional fresh water. It is also likely that you/they will require an additional temporary power supply from a generator. You/they will need to speak to everyone involved and calculate their power requirements in advance to gauge the power supply needed. You/they will also likely require a contractor to remove excess waste.
If you or an organiser are intending to promote a ‘green’ event then you/they will also need to look at ways to minimise waste, discouraging the use of plastic and looking at ways to separate materials for recycling or composting.
Conduct a site risk assessment. Are there any hazards that could impact the safety and wellbeing of visitors, event staff or suppliers?
4. Play to your event audience
In organising an event, you need to ask: Who is your audience? What’s their demographic? Where are they coming from? How long will they be on site at the event? What will they need whilst they are on site? Answers to these questions will impact the facilities you will need to provide.
If visitors are coming from far away then they will likely bring a car and will require parking. Do you have good road access? How close are you to public transport? Can you offer adequate car parking space? Can you offer on-site accommodation? Camping, holiday cottages, glamping, hotel, bed and breakfast? You will certainly need toilets and drinking water.
You should also consider the type and timing of the event. Daytime events are a different animal to night-time events. Daytime events are more family friendly and attract a broader demographic. They are less likely to attract the risk of alcohol related incidents. Night-time events are less sociable for your close neighbours, particularly if there is loud music involved. They also require additional infrastructure in terms of lighting after dark.
5. Event admin
Organising public events yourself requires plenty of administration in terms of licences, insurances, assessments, plans and preparation. Make a detailed plan early on. Include what the event is, what will be needed to organise it successfully, who will be attending, who will be involved in delivering it, when it will take place and any other deadlines, where it will take place including a detailed site plan, how you will deliver it including any actions that you will need to take to prepare the site or your business for interruption and impact.
It is a good idea to speak to your Local Authority at least six months before the event to check what permissions and licences you will need. Depending on the nature of your event, you may or may not need a Premises Licence. A Premises Licence is required for all licensable activities including the sale of alcohol, live and recorded music, the performance of a play, film screenings and indoor sport.
If the event is a one-off, you can apply for a Temporary Event Notice (TEN). This allows you to temporarily conduct licensed activities for up to 499 people including the sale of alcohol. Please note that you can only apply for a limited number of TENs each year. More information can be found on your local council’s website.
Other licences you may need, depending on the nature of the event, are an Entertainment Licence which allows you to play live or recorded music, Single Title Screening Licence which allows you to screen films, and an Alcohol Licence for the sale of alcohol.
Before granting licences, the local authority may want to know about your event. What activities you have planned, what emergency planning is in place, your Health & Safety plan, risk assessments and insurances.
All events and activities involving members of the public will require some form of Public Liability Insurance. If you are directly employing staff, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, you will also require Employers Liability Insurance.
It is good practice to notify the emergency services of your event in advance and also provide advance notice to the public. If you are intending to stage fireworks then you will also need to make an application to the fire service.
6. Event legacy
If you are planning on holding successive events then make sure your neighbours enjoyed the first one! How close is your nearest neighbour? What impact will the event have on them? Are there any covenants on your land which may preclude the local authority granting permission or give your neighbours cause to frustrate the event? It is wise to keep an open dialogue with your neighbours from the beginning. Listen to and acknowledge their concerns. What measures can you put in place to mitigate their disturbance or inconvenience? They have the right to object if the event is deemed a nuisance and this could cause the council to limit the scope of the event or even revoke your licence in the future.
Who else could the event impact? High traffic volume in an otherwise quiet part of the countryside can cause immense problems to all road users. Plan how visitors will access the event site. You certainly don’t want frustrated visitors arriving (or not arriving). If narrow roads surround your property, can you put in place a one-way system to avoid congestion? Is there good access to public transport? Can you encourage people to walk or cycle to your event?
How will the event impact your land? Is there risk of damage to good pasture or arable soil? What environmental impact could it have on waterways and other fragile ecosystems?
7. Tell them and they will come
Last but not least, sales and marketing. An event is nothing without a crowd of people, small or large. Amidst all the planning and preparation you will also need to be talking about the amazing event you are planning. How are people going to hear about it? How will they book tickets?
Having an event website is a good idea as it gives credibility and authenticity. It is also a great communication device for answering questions, providing information and helping people find you. Social media is also very powerful at helping to tell the world about your event. Choose a platform suitable for the audience you are trying to attract and focus your attention here. Make sure you set aside the resources to manage sales and marketing, whether this is your time or another’s, it is fundamental to your success.
Equally if you have decided to go down the route of hiring your land to other event organisers don’t expect the phone to start ringing as soon as you have made a decision to do it. You will need to go out to market and tell people. Build a website, add photos of your event site, highlighting all its attractions and virtues. Communicate what types of events are best suited for the site, give people an idea of the cost of hire and explain if there are any specific hire conditions eg. no fireworks. Also, use social media targeting the audience you are looking to attract eg. festival organisers. It is also worth reaching out directly to event organisers and inviting them to visit your site. The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) is a great resource for finding festival and event organisers and also seeking advice and support.
As you can see, there is plenty to consider when deciding to open up your land for events but there are certainly rewards. The first event is always the hardest but like most businesses, once you have a good system and process in place it will become easier. You will also encounter unexpected problems which are usually solved with a supportive team around you, a sense of calm, patience and good humour.
About the Author
Charlotte Winship has over 20 years’ experience transforming good wedding and events venues into great ones. She is an expert in helping venues reach their ideal customers, maximise sales opportunities, increase profitability, establish effective teams and streamline venue operations. 07493 350303, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.charlottewinship.com
Ollie Williams, Scorrier House, Cornwall
We started with garden openings and small agricultural shows at the estate 30 years ago but it was really only in the last five years that we got into the festival business. It took a very long time to find the right fit with an organiser as we had a vision for a family friendly event on the parkland in front of the house. We talked to various agents and promoters and were very specific about what we wanted.
In Cornwall there is a relatively small group of people involved in events and it didn’t take long to get to know them. We ended up working with Ben Hall from Quick Panda Productions and launched The Great Estate as a joint venture. We knew we wouldn’t be making a huge amount of money and took the view that the event would be several years in the making.
The event does have a big effect on the running of the estate. We have a number of operations including farming, conservation and weddings to fit in and there are a lot of moving parts. This year it is running over the August bank holiday and takes up about a fifth of the total land usage when you include parking, camping etc.
Being a farm we had to put in quite a lot of development in order to produce large scale public events and have been careful how we planned the roads, electrics and water points.
We also run a number of drive in cinema events and garden openings in spring. At the moment around an eighth of our income is from public facing events, but there is also the knock on effect to our broader business including weddings. We obviously do lose income over the event dates when weddings can’t be booked and we do worry about any impact bad weather will have on the land, so we always have wet weather plans in place to try and avoid any muddy field impact.
We use a dry hire model for private parties and weddings but with public events, where our brand and image is at stake, we prefer a joint partnership. This year we are embarking on a new venture and are one of the locations for Paul Ainsworth’s Travelling Feast festival.
Edward Barham, Hole Park, Kent
My wife Clare and I arrived here 18 years ago and each generation makes its own choices of how the place is managed. To diversify our income streams away from farming and traditional property-based sources, it seemed natural to host events, particularly as we have the most beautiful place.
We looked around for a few organsiers to try and encourage here and very soon identified the Wealden Times fairs, which at that time were on a very small site nearby. I believe they would concur that it has been a wonderful arrangement for the last 10 years.
The amount of events we run depends on enquiries, and to a certain degree what you consider to be an event. We had a fantastic cross country fun run last weekend which has minimal set up and this weekend it is the Wealden Times Midsummer Fair, which is a huge expensive event. We also do many car rallies, often with motorsport sections (driving the cars as opposed to standing around chatting about them), and Napoleonic rallies. Last year we did a series of outdoor concerts but the organisers have gone elsewhere (I hope they get struck by a plague of frogs, thunderstorms and the events are disasters, as the penalty for not coming back to Hole Park!).
We are a dry hire venue only, agreeing licenses with the organiser. I do not have the staff nor significant number of events to warrant any organisational infrastructure of my own. This gives people great freedom. We do get involved in the site preparation and any practicalities of an agricultural nature. I think our tractors will be busy towing cars in and out this weekend, but fingers crossed.
Our events are part of the mix at Hole Park. They do impact how we use the field, which would otherwise be grazed or cut for silage in support of the dairy herd, but I will be honest and say that the income generated from these alternative uses is rather in excess of an agricultural rent. So, the fair wins and the grazing and crop of grass takes second place.
Richard Jordan-Baker, Broadlands Estates, Hampshire
Events have been held here at Broadlands for a very long time. The Romsey Show for example was first held here in 1881.
We normally hold between six to 10 events per year using a number of business models – dry hire, a profit share with an organiser and totally in house. Currently we do a mix of dry hire and a profit share mix but are willing to discuss all kinds of arrangements. We do not self-promote at present.
Managing how the events side of the business integrates with our other operations can be complex, especially with a hay crop and grazing cattle! Post Covid, our aim for events to bring in 10 per cent of our income.