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General Secretary Writes - Life during lockdown

Hello Members and others, I hope this finds you safe and well.

Since I last wrote my diary it has been a very busy period, even though locked up in the house and garden.  As I write I believe we could be entering week fifteen here.

18 May - I spoke via Zoom link to students of Event Management at Derby University.

19 May - Chaired our first EIF online meeting (go to meetings) where we discussed the current crisis and its effect on our various associations and the festival scene in general.  Obviously, I spoke on behalf of AFO.

20 May - It was time to catch up with our AFO Advisory Group to check in on how we should best support our festival members through this difficult process.  A good deal of which has been coming your way ever since in the form of surveys and advice reference COVID (see COVID-19 section on AFO website).

It was about now that I started to feel a little trapped as I would normally have set out on a whole season of festival visits.  Of course, this year, none!

28 May - Sarah Bird (AFO Advisory Group member and Wild Rumpus), attended a PRS Foundation Zoom workshop to learn more about how to apply for grants towards our Conference Showcase.

Throughout the first twelve weeks of this lockdown, AFO member Simon Care (Moulton Festival) has been appearing on his Facebook page chatting to visitors and playing melodeon tunes.  He has managed to raise over £4000 which he has very kindly donated to a variety of musicians and activists in need of financial support during the crisis.  I believe Simon is now having a few days off and intending to return to the airwaves in August.

In early June, the AFO teamed up with AIF and BAFA the other two festivals associations in the UK and we agreed to work together on campaigns linked to COVID.  We held our meeting by Zoom of course and it was a pleasure to discuss the issues with Paul Reed and Fiona Goh.  More on this and our successes later.

6 June - We held the first of our AFO members Zoom meetings.  Fifteen members attended and we chatted over a variety of issues linked to COVID and our thoughts and plans on how we might move forward positively in 2021.

You would think that spending 15 weeks locked up you would be fairly safe from any bugs and diseases.  Unfortunately, I had to nip into Chesterfield hospital (the safe bit) for a quick check-up and would you believe caught a small bug which laid me low for two or three days.  Message to self – stay at home in future!

Throughout this period I have been conducting some Zoom interviews for Towersey Festival with some of the older artists that have appeared on the festival scene over the last 20 to 30 years and this time it was a chat with Taffy Thomas, Mike Bettison and Keith Rusby, ex The Salami Brothers.  Some of you may remember them.  The results of this will appear on the Towersey Festival Blog sometime this summer (

By 17 June we were starting to hit the busy time when the media were waking up to the fact that there were no festivals.  I was interviewed on BBC Radio4 You and Yours for four or five minutes and was able to put across, alongside the sadness of having no festivals, a positive view on the resilient and energetic festival organisers that will bring back the scene in 2021.

Later the same day UK Music members inc AFO held a Zoom meeting to discuss a campaign to government for how we can find special sector funding to help festivals through this very difficult time.  More of this in AFO News on our website soon.

19-21 June - I was hoping to visit Black Deer Festival (AFO member) for the first time.  A relatively new event that has broken several barriers in its first couple of years.  I am sure it will return in 2021.

25 June - UK Music again at 10am where we zoomed further discussions on our campaign.

Now launched on Thursday 2 July.  That same evening we held the second of the AFO members Zoom meetings, 40 minutes of General Secretary reporting on work and actions and members chipping with questions and concerns.

26 June - Recorded 10 minutes for BBC2 TV Newsnight programme where they wanted to talk about how COVID had affected festivals.  It went on air at 7.20 that same evening and my 10 minutes turned into 10 seconds.  Not really a surprise.  Festivals were somewhat side-lined in favour of talking about how the virus had affected the careers of artists, but we got some airtime.

6 July - Events Industry Forum (EIF) meeting.  First the Board to discuss grant applications for The Purple Guide Grant Scheme (see EIF website for more details) and then at 2pm a full EIF members’ Zoom meeting with a packed agenda.  Mostly discussing the new Guidance for Outdoor Events to be published by EIF and DCMS combined. In the main this doesn’t have much to say about festivals as it is quite clear that if social distancing is still in place, festivals cannot sensibly operate.  And in addition, the government have made it quite clear that live comedy, drama, and music performances to vast audiences will not be allowed in the current climate.  That has put the final straw on the camel’s back of Wickham Festival.  AFO member Peter Chegwin hung on for as long as he possibly could in the hope of staging the event but has finally had to join the rest of us and retire to fight again in 2021.

A full list of festivals that we know of that have been postponed to 2021 is available on the AFO website here.  If yours is missing, then do let us know your dates for next year and we will make sure that they are publicised.

7 July - UK Music again to look at what effect the mass campaign on 2 July has had.

16 July - the next AFO members zoom meeting will be held at 6pm

As you can see the AFO office has been busy, some would say busier that usual throughout these weeks of COVID lockdown.  We hope we have been able to service our membership and look forward to continuing to support you through this fallow year and on into what we hope will be a bumper 2021.

Please note new dates for Conference in Birmingham 19-21 February 2021 and at the moment the agenda is wide open for your ideas and subject matter to discuss.  I hope to hear from you.

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 4th Jul 2020 14:41:00

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