The Emergence of Events?

Iain Beaumont explains how to build a strong case in applying for the government’s £1.57bn support package and how to succeed in a new world for events.

Rainbow flags
Photo: Getty Images

If, like me, you’ve wondered whether or not the events season has been written off for 2020, you’re certainly not alone. Quite frankly, it has been a dramatic couple of months for the events and hospitality industry, with only a glimmer of light now beginning to appear at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.

Back in March, when the speculation of a worldwide pandemic was just beginning to take hold in the headlines, we simply could not have foreseen what was to come.

The consequences of lockdown and a hold on economic progression have had an impact on almost every industry worldwide, with some feeling the brunt more acutely than others. The events industry, together with those across hospitality, tourism, heritage and the arts, have been hardest hit and it has taken considerable effort in the form of industry groups lobbying the government for any support to materialise.

The announcement by Rishi Sunak on 6 July of a support package equating to £1.57bn across the UK was broadly welcomed. The package will be split between England and the devolved administrations and will consist of both grant support and loans on “very favourable terms”. The money marks one of the biggest one-off investments in the UK culture sector and is designed to support the existing government measures that have been introduced by the Treasury since March.

£1.57bn support package
In England, the pot of new support is made up of £880m in grant funding and £270m in loans. For the devolved administrations, support is allocated as follows:

• Scotland: £97m
• Wales: £59m
• Northern Ireland: £33m

Whilst a financial buttress to a multi-billion-pound industry can be seen as positive, there are concerns regarding the value of funds available through grant schemes, and money in the form of loans. The government has acknowledged that this stimulus will not save every job from disappearing and that we should expect further redundancies.

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, stated that there are two broad aims of the package:

• To preserve “crown jewel” venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and national galleries
• To help local institutions across the UK

Applying for funding is, in the main, through industry bodies, with institutions and companies being asked to prove how they contribute to the wider economy. What is less certain is which venues are going to be looked upon more favourably than others.

It is likely that the most prominent and accessible sites will be at the top of the government’s list, but with so much pressure being applied to support grassroots venues, both across arts, culture, music and heritage, I suspect that there will be opportunities for smaller or more niche venues to take advantage of the support package.

Getting funding
At this stage, I am recommending that venues looking to take advantage of such support should spend time building a strong case as to why they should be a considered as a recipient of grant funding. To that end, now is the time to focus on the vital statistics and be ready to formulate a strong case based on public engagement, employment protection, local economy support, cultural significance and any heritage risks associated with your business.

However, there are still those that have been left behind. Outside catering firms are just one of many sectors that have fallen through the cracks. With little in the way of support from rate relief, or from the recent announcements to the reduction in VAT across hospitality, the impact of the lockdown restrictions are not going away any time soon.

However, the real crux behind determining whether the industry will recover to pre-Covid-19 levels is really going to be down to one important factor. People.

Re-starting events
While confidence in attending large events is starting to rise, there is still a huge amount of uncertainty regarding whether the current guidelines (and response measures) can truly provide the necessary safety and protection against a second surge of Covid-19 cases.

There have been some operators who have been able to restart an events programme utilising the medium of open-air performances (Car Park Party and Luna Cinema are just two of several successful ventures), but there are those which have still been denied a licence due to concerns over the spread of the virus. Just earlier this month, Maidstone Borough Council erred on the side of caution by denying permission to a similar event due to be held in Mote Park. This being due to the concerns of the virus spreading through airborne means when people raise their voices or laugh loudly.

It is clear that there is a degree of public appetite to attend events but the inherent risk that comes with large gatherings means that there are significant barriers that need to be overcome.

For those looking to run events later in the year, it is paramount that organisers engage early with their local authorities and provide a robust plan covering detailed measures that seek to mitigate the risk of infections. However, even then that just may not be enough to persuade those authorities that have a strong aversion to risk.

People under a blanket
Photo: Getty Images

Where do we go from here?
With most businesses in the events, hospitality and tourism industry, 2020 is going to be difficult. If venues are to entice back visitors, and the supply chain see business reignite, confidence and the experience are going to play a key role. What do I mean by that?

  • Confidence: When I talk about confidence, I’m referring to the measures that venues and organisers can take to instil a level of confidence that unequivocally satisfies even the most cautious of visitors. With no end in sight for a complete return to normal, businesses must prepare for the long haul. In most instances, this can be done utilising existing digital platforms to showcase the steps that you have taken to ensure that you are able to deliver a safe experience. Whether you are a licensed premises or a greenfield site, you should be looking at the steps that you can take now to demonstrate your commitment to controlling the spread of the virus. I know that this has already been started by a large number of businesses, but now is the time to really up the game.
  • Experience: This is all about the experience that your customers will get in an environment restricted by Covid-19 control measures. A huge part of why people attend outdoor events is down to the experience, and although it is always going to be different during a pandemic, the emotional and sensory aspects still need to resonate with guests.

Getting it right
Inevitably, in order to strike the right balance between confidence and experience, there are going to have to be some changes by both the business and the consumer. There is a real opportunity for businesses to start identifying how they can mesh the two together neatly without compromising on their values or exposing people to unnecessary risk. The real positive is that the work you undertake now will no doubt provide a strong platform in the months and years to come. By engaging with new communication forms and implementing technology to augment a mid-pandemic experience, you will find that you have a greater appeal over those businesses and operators who choose to take the ‘not bothering’ route.

It can be as simple as a video walk-through of a venue highlighting the key measures that you are taking, through to more innovative approaches where you try new concepts and ways of operating to overcome some of the barriers that are currently holding people back. For example, if you rely on catering as a big part of your offering, why not create an experience that utilises the full scope of your site, or experiment with new ways of service delivery that really add a unique and engaging element to the customer experience.

It can be all too easy to feel glum, but innovation and creativity is needed to really survive, and hopefully thrive. Failing to adapt and overcome is likely to result in being left behind, as consumers will quickly change their habits to fit their present-day needs.

After all, no-one wanted to be a horse and cart when the Model T left the garage…


Iain Beaumont is founder of consultancy Venues and Ventures, advising landowners and estates on their diversification into events. Iain previously ran the events business for the 16,500 acre Cowdray Estate in West Sussex. Prior to that he was castle director at Powderham Castle, running a large number of outdoor music events and festivals as well as a thriving visitor business.
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