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General Secretary Writes - 15 December 2020

Every time I write a piece of news, have a phone conversation, or drop a couple of emails to bring people up to date in this Covid world we are now in, the news changes within just a few hours. This is true since I last wrote a General Secretary blog back in the middle of November. So much is happening so quickly that it is hard to keep up to date, but I will try.

16 November We held a Key Advisors meeting to discuss Conference and one or two other issues. That led to me visiting a studio in Derby at Bob Rushton’s recommendation where some detail was discussed about how we might present our online, streamed Conference on 20 February. Further developments since that have led us in the direction of a similar but slightly different company and platform. More of this later.

17 November I appeared on behalf of AFO at the Major Events Summit rehearsal for later in the month. This was to test the technology and make sure everything was going to be sound. I was to appear as one on a panel to look at how Covid has affected the festival industry.

18 November I had meetings with Access All Areas (magazine) to once again look at how events were surviving this crisis. Later same day discussions with Emily Poole from Blakeney Group who are working on behalf of LIVE and are now gathering evidence about business rates on festival sites, both indoor and outdoor in preparation for an approach to government to once and for all get a zero-rate settled. There is a new business rating review due in 2023 and ahead of that we must try and establish that festivals and events should not be paying business rates to the local authority. If you would like to input into this evidence anything you have from your own experience, please send it through to me at [email protected]

19 November We held our weekly LIVE Group meeting. Discussions focused on insurance for festivals and events, a start date, VAT reduction extension and, would you believe, BREXIT was on the agenda.

20 November I had a catch up with Fiona Goh from BAFA. We have several things in common as associations representing festivals (of various genre), so we keep up to date with each other. I also had a meeting with Andrew Bingham who is the parliamentary lobbyist working on behalf of the Events Industry Forum. We have made a great deal of progress on getting MPs asking questions in the House, confirming APPG for Events and several other supportive issues. See News for full details. Week Commencing

23 November Had an air of looking like the whole Covid issue was calming down, so gave me time to spend on doing some preparation for AFO Conference. However, on Thursday 26 it all kicked off again with more discussions about the Major Events Summit online, our regular LIVE Group meeting and the early stages of re-establishing the LIVE Group Environmental Sector of which we are part. More of that to come. It was a slightly quieter week.

1 December I spent some time preparing to deliver an AFO Festivals and Events lecture to Derby University students. And on Tuesday the actual Major Events Summit took place, I was in attendance for a good deal of the day listening to how sport activities are managing their affairs in the current climate and contributed on the previously mentioned panel about how the links between festivals and contractors was working. We discussed how the future would look and formed a small partnership on our panel with Ascot Racecourse, the representative of which was quick to notice that most of the problem's festivals experienced were very similar to horse racing. Take away horses, replace with musicians and singers and we are on the same page. We may well connect again in the future. Later that same day Vision2025 Steering Group held the last meeting before Christmas to look at work already established and the way forward in this climate. Clearly festivals had much more on their mind than sustainability, but on the other hand it was generally agreed that this was not a bad time to start planning how festivals could raise proper policy and actions to assist climate change. We have discussed this on many occasions through AFO and there will be a new energetic session at AFO Conference on 20 February 2021.

3 December Weekly LIVE Group meeting where transport after BREXIT was discussed at length. Musicians, visitors etc. in and out of Europe to UK are going to be affected, lots more paperwork, lots more time required and certainly costs. After lunch I delivered a 2-hour lecture to 16 Derby University students on the effects of Covid on the festival industry and how the future looked. They seemed well engaged and came back with plenty of questions. I believe this is valuable work for AFO as it helps to train the next generation of festival organisers, be they in Europe or the UK. Thanks to Covid (or maybe not thanks) I am not able to visit them on campus in Buxton and many of them have returned to their homes in various parts of the EU and around the UK so Zoom comes into play again. At 6.30 we held our bi-weekly AFO members meeting, notes from which are on the AFO website.

4 December I made contact with a Lithuanian student called Erica Jakovlevaite. She is studying at Derby University Buxton and I have become her mentor as part of the mentoring scheme. The one-to-one experience probably helps her a great deal. She intends to finish her 3-year course and then take up residence in the UK and get into festival management.

7 December I made a start on writing the Conference agenda. Thanks to everyone who has sent in ideas and subject matter, there is still some spaces if you have any burning subjects you would like to refer to. Just before or perhaps just after Christmas we will launch the draft programme and the agenda onto the website for everyone to view.

10 December Attended our weekly LIVE Group meeting where issues to do with the Tier System in Covid were discussed and conditions of lockdown vis a vis live music performance. Although we align heavily with sport through DCMS there is a feeling that sport is getting more attention hence 1000 people watching a boxing match and yet still several restrictions on live music presentation.

Immediately after that meeting I joined Eddie Barcan and a few festival organisers meeting to discuss health and wellbeing amongst other issues and was able to tell the gathering a little more about AFO.

At 1.30 same day DCMS Events and Festivals Working Group met to review the new pages for the Festival Supplementary Guide to Running Events in a Covid Society. All this work is free to download from the Purple Guide website. With thanks to AIF Working Group who are doing most of the writing and editing.

12 December Saw the first of three Symphotech Workshop Sessions on How to Run Covid-safe Events which is certainly starting to look like how we will have to operate at least in the early part of 2021. All the slides, guidance and template forms are available on the AFO website in resources. The next Symphotech session which will be looking at individual festivals’ concerns is 9 January. More details will follow shortly. Our third workshop will be a session at AFO Conference on 20 February.

15 December I have several phone call meetings throughout the day to discuss more detail of the panels and speakers for AFO Conference and later that day will be meeting with Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music and Paul Reed, Chief Exec of AIF to agree how we will approach giving formal evidence to DCMS Select Committee on the future of music festivals. We have all submitted our individual papers and we are pleased to announce that AFO have been invited to give specific evidence in January.

16 December I am teaming up with Mo Jones from TicketSellers (AFO Conference Sponsor) for a Mash Media webinar on New Ticketing Ideas for a Covid-safe Festival Season.

In advance the AFO Members live meeting at 6.30 on 17 December will also have Jamie Njoku-Goodwin as a guest speaker, 6.30pm.

Should members wish to join in just drop a line to [email protected] This will be the last gathering before Christmas and indeed the last General Secretary Writes blog for 2020 so with the good news that the Culture Secretary and the government in general reversed the banning of alcohol sales in music venues and alongside the launching of the APPG for Events, the Nighttime Industries Association also launched an APPG. Pressure is building and we are, as an industry, making good progress towards the rebuilding of our festivals in 2021.

I wish you all a pleasant and peaceful Christmas and look forward to catching up in the New Year. SH December 2020

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 15th Dec 2020 18:03:00

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