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General Secretary Writes - March 2021

Hello Members and Friends

I hope you are all keeping safe and well and no doubt excited about the light at the end of the tunnel.  Just how bright is it shining at the moment (1 March) is debatable, but it is there, and I really don’t think it is going to go out.  There is a determination not only throughout the country but certainly in our industry to get moving again.

We may well have lost the early season festivals, some have moved to September, some have started focusing on 2022 but somewhere in the middle of the season, perhaps end of June to early July and onwards, we will start to gather to enjoy our festival atmospheres, our music, our arts and crafts, possibly still with a few Covid-19 rules.

Since writing my last blog 28 January I must tell you that I spent an hour or two that weekend keeping an eye on birds in our garden for the RSPB.  Not loads of them but as I write this a month later the garden is starting to fill up.  Keep an eye on yours, it is really interesting.

  • 1 February  we were well into the latter planning stages of the AFO Conference, pumping out information to speakers and panellists and hoping that you, our delegates, would book to join us at our first, and hopefully only, streamed Conference on 20 February.  Talking of which highlights of that are currently being edited and will be available on AFO website quite soon.  Keep an eye out for details.

  • 2 February Rowan Canon, Director of Wild Rumpus (AFO Member), appeared before the DCMS Select Committee looking at the future of music festivals.

  • 3 February I had a very interesting conversation with Emma Smith, Director at Liverpool Festivals.  That is a group of festivals that come together in that city to swap ideas, it is like a regional version of who we are.  Not unlike the rest of the country, they have gone through some hard times.  Luckily, Liverpool is being used for some of the pilot schemes that DCMS are now putting in place to test the water and see whether large gatherings will be possible. Watch this space.

  • 4 February I was part of the weekly LIVE Group meeting which of course continues to discuss the pandemic and its effect on the live music industry.  This was quickly followed by the DCMS Festivals Working Group who focus on festivals and the pandemic and how we will get restarted.

Later same day I was interviewed by BBC Radio CWR in particular about the fact that Coventry has been selected as City of Culture in 2021 and certainly needs some help and support to get the event moving and bring some attention on the arts and culture available in the district. Not an easy task in the current climate.

  • Friday 5 February was a 10am meeting with Robert Kenward from The Hub which is a new employment branch working in festivals, events, and the arts.  More on that on the AFO website.

12noon same day was an EIF/NOEA meeting where we were discussing future strategy for the Events Industry Forum.

  • Saturday 6 February just for your information I had my first jab!

  • Sunday 7 February was spent in the Sounding Post / Dynomite Studio recording intros and fillers for AFO Conference.

  • 8 February I had an interesting conversation with Sarah Clover, Barrister at Kings Chamber, who has specific concerns with relation to the actions of police forces in various parts of the country regarding premises breaching the Coronavirus regulations.  There have been some concerns in various committees that when the pandemic is over local authorities might be looking for variations to the 4 key items in the 2003 Licencing Act.  And this was the beginning of that possibly long wedge.

Sarah says, “Obviously everyone is in lockdown at the moment so no one should be open.  This situation with the police was happening in the last period when premises were allowed to trade but had curfews and other restrictions.   The police were certainly trying to use ‘summary review’ in a more creative way to close down premises.”  This is where police forces and local licensing authorities are concerned about the activities of particular entertainment premises and are using their new powers within the pandemic to action something they have been trying to do for a while.  Unfortunately, this could so easily overlap into a different use of the power after the pandemic.

Sarah goes on to say, “I think this is less likely to affect festivals in the short term or even the long term.  My experience is that police tend not to use ‘summary review’ in relation to festivals because of the short duration of the event.”  However, she does go on to say that we should watch out for variations to the 2003 Licencing Act that could affect festivals when the pandemic is behind us.  And should any members or readers discover such actions these should be reported to AFO office for forwarding to Sarah.

For further contact if needed - Sarah Clover, Barrister, Kings Chambers, 36 Young Street, Manchester M3 3FT.

  • 10 February I chaired an Events Industry Forum (EIF) meeting with DCMS and in particular Tom Rodden, Chief Scientific Officer and Adviser to DCMS.  A very interesting meeting where questions pre-arranged were asked and Tom gave us some honest answers how festivals can operate, what the restrictions might be and even his own thoughts and opinion on conditions.  More detailed notes of these meetings are available from AFO office.

  • 11 February our regular weekly LIVE Group meeting took place in the morning where I reported on previous day’s meeting with DCMS.

  • 13 February we pulled the team together to spend a day in the studio recording the last few bits for Conference and having a technical run-through.
    Thanks to the skills and dedication of Tim and ich the day went very smoothly, and we all felt confident that Conference would be ok.  Bookings had started to come in and we were heading towards over 100 delegates.

  • 15 February I had a meeting with Paul Reed AIF, Phil Bowdery Live Nation to discuss funding and possible ticket levies for funds to keep LIVE campaigning going.  More on this as it happens.

  • 17 February was an AFO Members meeting attended by over 25 members, lots of reports and discussion about the current situation.

  • 18 February was our weekly LIVE Group meeting followed again by the DCMS Festivals Working Group and a flurry of activity in the Press.

We Make Events launched their “Government Can’t See Us” campaign, a digital campaign calling for government action on how live events workers have been left out of financial support.  The campaign highlighted that the industry is at breaking point with a survey showing 93% of live events workers having lost income during Covid.  43% of live event companies saying they will collapse by June 1 without more help from the government.

On the same day LIVE officially launched, even though it has been a campaigning organisation and a meeting point for over a year.  LIVE stands for Live Music Industry Venues and Entertainment and is chaired by Greg Parmley ILMC and brings together 12 associations.  These include AFO, AIF, CPA, NAA, PSA and many others collectively representing over 3000 different companies in the industry that currently contributes £4.5bn to the UK economy.  I say currently, not in 2020 but will in the future.

Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro Live said “LIVE is focussed on securing the long-term support for our industry that we vitally need to protect the jobs and livelihoods from the double whammy of Covid-19 and BREXIT.  As a £4.5bn world leading industry and bringing together all of the unique voices within it, we are in a far better position to protect and support the ecosystem.  We just need the government support.”

The organisation is currently campaigning for a 3-year extension to the reduced Cultural VAT rate down to 5% on tickets, a government-backed insurance scheme allowing events to go ahead when it is safe to do so and targeting financial support for the sector to protect jobs and infrastructure.  LIVE came out of a previous sub-group of UK Music and will continue to work with that organisation and other bodies across the music sector.  There are 13 LIVE founder members and up to 50 other interested parties at LIVE meetings each week.

On the same day UK Music put out a Press statement demanding urgent clarity for Live Music Industry’s survival.  Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, Chief Executive (and also a speaker at AFO Conference), said that ahead of the Prime Minister’s expected announcement on 22 February lifting coronavirus restrictions, “live music industry needed urgent clarity to plan for a summer and save thousands of jobs.”  He went on to say, “If festivals and large events are forced to cancel yet another year many will go under and thousands of jobs are at risk of being lost forever.  We are not asking to reopen the moment it is safe to do so as we need planning time, but if our sector is to survive through this pandemic, we require urgent clarity in the months ahead and some indication of when live music will be able to return.”

  • 19 February I attended the funeral of Mick Peat, entrepreneur, band member, caller, all-round great supporter of folk groups, traditional music, and a festival in Derby.  A sad day but was celebrated under the restrictions and will be celebrated in a very big way once we are all allowed to do so.

I also spent some time mentoring a Derby University Event Management student from Lithuania.

  • 20 February AFO Conference (see full report elsewhere).  We are told by many delegates that it was a successful day and we very much appreciated the technical skills of the team that put it together.

Out of Conference came the idea for Health and Wellbeing Training.  We would be interested to hear from members who might want to take up such training perhaps on Saturday 17 April online where probably two specialists will coach delegates in individual health and wellbeing and help festival organisers understand how best to look after their own staff pre, during and after festivals.  If you would be interested in such a training workshop online, we need to hear from you now [email protected]

And then on 22 February… the Prime Minister got to his feet at 3.30pm in the House of Commons and announced the roadmap.  Most of you will be familiar with how it works but if you need the detail go to website and read over 100 pages, but in particular the summary pages drawn out in simple text, pictures, and explanatory notes.  These will be published on the AFO website for those that need them.

Although euphoria took off on 23 February with people rejoicing and announcing their festivals would be running as from June 21, the brakes need to be put on. The industry has been asking government for a ‘not before date’ for some time and here it is.  They will not allow mass gatherings and major events before 21 June.  But they are also not saying that they will happen after 21 June.  What they are saying is that, subject to the data, improvements in hospitalisations, deaths and the whole Covid crisis there may be opportunities for festivals and events to take place later in the year.  Some festival organisers have taken that as a green light. Fair enough, it is a bit of a gamble.  Others have decided to stick with Covid-safe, smaller events and some have moved dates to later in the year or gone to focusing on 2022.  It is your choice, but read the instructions, the guidance and the rules very carefully before making your decision.

AFO Conference featured in the industry Press in several areas pre-Conference and post-Conference.

  • 24 February we reconvened the DCMS meeting with Chief Scientific Officer, Tom Rodden, and completed all of our prearranged questions, some new ones were added, especially in view of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 22 February.  Full details of which are available from AFO office if required.

  • 25 February our weekly meeting with the LIVE Group of course discussed the Prime Minister’s announcements and we tried to cut speculation and discussed home truths.

  • 26 February was the Live Music Industry’s Environmental Group meeting which is a new campaign.  Having seen what Vision2025 can do for the festivals and events industry, it was generally felt that some of that work should carry forward to live music in other formats. i.e. pubs and clubs.  Much more work to do but with good guidance and lead from the V2025 group.

11am same day was Powerful Thinking Board Meeting.  Here we discussed power saving, alternative power, generators usage at festivals and events and much more guidance and information will be coming out soon to help, not only festival organisers, but their customers, their suppliers, their local authorities, their transport and many others recognising the serious nature of climate change in a festival context.

Also on this day I met with Paul Reed (AIF) to discuss how associations like ours work and what the challenges are for the time involved and funding.  There are some regional organisations who feed into the national associations.  There are other bodies meeting and chatting with each other, which in the main can encourage the unity our industry needs.  We should be sharing our knowledge, but somewhere down the line we have to recognise that government a year ago were very confused by the plethora or messages from our industry and are now under better control with well-organised associations meeting with government officers; there are 3 national associations and AFO is one of them.  In addition, DCMS and Arts Council recognise the work of the festival associations and understand the time and financial costs of providing this support group for our wider industry.  If you are reading this and you are not a member of a festival association may I encourage you now to join AFO, support the work and benefit from the knowledge, the information and ultimately the government recognition that you will receive.  There are hundreds of festivals throughout the UK and bringing them together under association banners is a demonstration of unity and the collective power that they can hold.

At the end of Friday 26 I had an EIF meeting with Andrew Bingham ex MP, PR Consultant to the Events Industry Forum who is working on helping the APPG to recognise the outdoor events industry more fully.  Under the chairmanship of Theresa Villiers MP, the APPG for Events is available to all but at the moment correspondence, should you need it, should be sent to Robert Wright PR, Davies Tanner, [email protected] and copied to AFO office.

  • 1 March I met with Vicky Chapman from Festival Republic to discuss collaborative work in sustainability across V2025, LIVE, EIF and others also.  Paul Reed AIF, Mark Laurie NCASS and I met to discuss traders and caterers deposits at festivals in view of the need for cash flow, but from the traders point of view safety in placing deposits.

  • 3, 4 and 5 March is the International Live Music Conference organised by Greg Parmley (LIVE) and colleagues and of course this year is an online event, see website for details, there is still time to book.

Other Bits
In other news we assisted ITN News with finding senior female directors and staff within our industry for a special programme on festivals and events.  We gave information to the Events Research Programme being run from April onwards.  Previously known as pilot schemes, effectively government have confirmed that a launch of new events research programmes will include a series of pilot events using testing measures in preparation for a full roll back of restrictions after 21 June.  The Department of Culture Media and Sport have been working with representatives from the industry to explore when, how and where these events will take place.  More details will follow.  If you believe one of your events between April and early June could become a pilot, please send details to AFO office for submission.

I can also announce that, hopefully the first face-to-face trade exhibition for many months will be taking place on 26 and 27 May.  This is The Event Production Show, and this year will be at the Farnborough International which is not only an airport but a conference and exhibition centre.  Entry is FREE.  AFO will be chairing a panel at that conference.  Full details from

More AFO Training
We are looking into the possibility of running a Basic Social Media Training Day for AFO members.  If this will be of some use to you (as it was at Conference) please get in touch [email protected], then at the November Conference there will be a training for the more experienced people in social and marketing.

And finally, we are considering producing a summary version of these blogs as a video.  Not always presented by the General Secretary, so we are looking for volunteers who might want to present some parts of our work on a video for presenting on social media.

I look forward to hearing from you and wish you every success with your planning for this new, exciting year.

But for now, stay safe.

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 2nd Mar 2021 17:25:00

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