General Secretary Writes - September 2021
As I write the sun has come out again (perhaps to shine brightly on Bromyard). Could be early signs of an Indian Summer or maybe just a warm spell to welcome the autumn. Whatever, it is very welcome and for those late season festivals that are taking place over the next week to ten days, you could well be in for some gorgeous weather.
With Towersey sadly having to be postponed and go online again this year, it freed up a bit of my time to make my first ever visit to Shrewsbury which was lovely and thanks to Sandra for the hospitality. I had a lovely day on a fantastic site.
The LIVE Green Steering Group met and once again discussed the Charter which is now complete and available to adopt. If you need a copy which will help you with your own sustainability work, then please do get in touch and I will make sure you have one. LIVE Green Group also discussed having its own website and a working group are currently looking into that. It was generally felt that much as organisations and organisers are keen to save the planet, at the end of the day it is the customers support that we need and changing customers behaviour in several festivals settings is where our work needs to be. It’s just too easy to dump waste in the nearest bin rather than be selective. It’s easy to drive to the festival site rather than use public transport, what can we do to help?
See Vision 2025 website for ideas and thoughts on special festival transport. We talked about how LIVE Green would be financed with no real conclusion other than the main LIVE Group will help where it can.
COP26 is obviously on the agenda, keep an eye out for that in November when the nations of the world meet in Glasgow to make their minds up on what they are going to do to lead us into a safer, environmentally friendly world. (Don’t hold your breath for too long, but it is better than nothing).
30 August we held a day of ‘wish we were at Towersey’ celebrations around the office and welcomed several friends, made lanterns and paraded them around the gardens (thanks ‘Doris’ for the music).
2 September (oh no, it’s September already) the LIVE Group meeting was cancelled due to the majority being on holiday. As was the AFO members meeting, now rescheduled for 9 September.
3 September I met with representatives of Derby University to discuss ways in which AFO can assist Event Management students.
4 September I visited Gate to Southwell festival new site near Kirklington. What an amazing site it is, plenty of room for expansion if that is what they decide they want to do, and great cooperation from local authority and landowner to stage a completely re-vamped Gate to Southwell festival. Well done the team there.
The following week there were Attitude is Everything meetings with BAFA and AIF to look at working together on projects for accessibility in the festival season 2022. And the LIVE Group met again on 9 September as did AFO members at 6.30.
Same day there was also a DCMS Festivals Working Group meeting, and I visited Bromyard festival on Saturday 11. More on all of these next time.
I continue to make my complaints to Arts Council and DCMS about CRF3. For those not familiar CRF1 and 2 came and went during the summer and several million pounds were distributed. For those who were lucky enough to receive a grant, that gave you permission to apply again for CRF3. Those who decided to manage without the CRF money and now need CRF3, unfortunately are left out. I complained bitterly and repeat CRF3 is a little bit like the Titanic, if you are in a boat you can sail away safely, if you are not you will drown. And once again many of our festivals in the later part of the year and early next season will now be struggling financially to hold it together.
Alan Castle from Tenterden festival writes to remind us that he has programmed his events from 30 September to 3 October and is hoping for a continuation of the Indian Summer.
A unique event, held throughout the town of Tenterden in Kent and well worth a visit if you have never been.
Referring back to my Attitude is Everything meeting, this organisation, well recognised throughout the UK, has put out the results of some research which took place as what they call a snapshot online survey between 19 July and 1 August. It is entitled Audience Snapshot Revealing Strong Demand for Disabled Audiences to Return to Live Events. In other words, there are possibly up to 40,000 people with disabilities of all kinds who would like to visit festivals but at the moment a good number of them don’t feel safe and secure. What can you do to help? Would you like to sell more tickets to more people who are really keen to come? Have a look at Attitude is Everything website for more pointers. You will find that at www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk
Through AFO’s chairing of the Events Industry Forum we receive Tourism Alliance updates. This is a branch of BVEP and at the beginning of September there was good news and not so good news i.e. a whole list of councils who have been taken off the danger list and were encouraged to support their events. These were mostly in the Northeast of England ranging from Darlington and Durham through Gateshead, Newcastle and Redcar down to Sunderland.
Unfortunately, several others in the west of the country were added to the areas needing enhanced support. These ranged Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth City, Torbay right through mid-Devon and North Devon to Torridge and West Devon. You can find more on this if you need detail on www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirusrestrictions
Somebody has to pay
Government recently released a paper called Leisure Under Lockdown. How cultural and leisure services responded to Covid-19. It is full of some positive statements like ‘Engagement in Culture and Leisure Activity delivered or funded by local authorities provided with a lifeline in the early days of the pandemic’. You may have been one of those, CRF contributed to that for some. The paper goes on to talk about how this might be paid for and already in the news there are rumblings of tax rises. It is worth noting that not all Culture and Leisure Facilities are supported and funded by local authorities or indeed national government, but there is an overriding message that government do recognise culture including festivals as being important to local and national economies.
It is safe to run your festival (it says here)
DCMS and Public Health England put out a press release at the end of August entitled ‘Government Data Shows Mass Events Can Take Place Safely (but fans are urged to remain cautious in crowded spaces and get vaccinated)’. This press release is available from AFO office, just drop us a line to request and I will send you the details. But in the main talks about the fact that throughout all the test events a very, very small number of people actually contracted Covid-19 and even at such events as Wimbledon which hosted 300,000 people over a two-week period, they only recorded 881 cases. Over a third of those were likely to have been infected before they got to the event. A very small number were possibly infected during the event and a good number after the event. The Paper also makes reference to the Grande Prix and to European football. Government spokespeople remind us that data is our greatest weapon in the fight against the pandemic. Knowing where the spikes are rising and why and how and what is being done locally.
FACTS & confirmed info
On behalf of AFO may I reiterate how important it is that I have facts, figures and information and not so much tittle-tattle, hearsay and fabricated stories (not that you would of course). What is really needed is ‘How did your festival do? Are there any reported cases of C-19 popping up and how did it go with your local authority? Did you have cooperation or hurdles put in your way? Report, report, report is what will give our events the credibility they deserve and the evidence to show that festivals can happen in a world where a variety of diseases are in the background. Which of course is where Covid will eventually be.
To assist with this our good friend Dan Craig from Superstruct who are responsible for production at several major rock and pop festivals have very kindly provided us with a whole host of facts, figures and information, all of which can be made available to AFO members if required.
And finally - the future of UK Music Festivals (according to HMG)
I have written the words ‘not much information here’ on a recent paper from government in response to the DCMS Select Committee Report on the Future of UK Music Festivals. You might remember that way back in the summer, a variety of people including us made representation to the Committee who then came up with a wide variety of recommendations. The government have now finally responded to these recommendations and to be fair we haven’t moved very far forward.
They say “The government support for the industry has been unwavering throughout”. That “over £280bn of financial support in the current year has been provided” (clearly not all to culture, events and festivals). £2bn went in the direction of culture through CRF, see comments earlier, and £21m was awarded to music festivals specifically. Would you believe there is a long list of those who received if you really need it, though you know who you are and if you didn’t receive it, you also know.
The Committee recommended that government put in place some time-limited insurance related to Covid cancellations. The government’s response to that was to stand to one side for over a year and finally succumbing to some pressure at a very late stage, put the beginnings of an insurance policy in place. Far too late for the 2021 season but nevertheless there is now something there. The detail has now been published. See AFO website Insurance Deal. What we do know is that the insurance pay-out will only kick in if government insist that events are cancelled. We told government that it was too late over a year ago and it still is so quotes like, and I quote “the government moved swiftly” does seem a little out of place.
Government go on to say in this response “that a carefully designed scheme that offers cover for event organisers that they have been calling for”. Well actually that is not the case, this scheme does not cover what we have been calling for.
So we move on
The events industry is worth over £70bn to the UK economy annually and supports over 700,000 jobs nationwide. It has been and still is on its knees in real terms. 2022 will not be an easy year but hopefully will be better. The response goes on to talk about the events research programme and once again we are reminded that government moved rather too slowly on a great deal of this.
The Committee also recommended that some investigations into the environmental impact of festivals should be undertaken and that stakeholders should work with government representatives across the sector to have in place a standardised environmental objective which local authorities can adopt into licencing by the 2023 season. To help this along AFO has teamed up with EIF and many other organisations to hold meetings and discuss cooperation, consistency across the country’s local authorities and support for events. The meeting is likely to be towards the end of September and will be reported of course.
The Committee also made recommendations regarding drug checking and secondary ticketing. A good deal of which is not necessarily relevant to most of the AFO member festivals, however, details of this can all be found on the government website gov.uk
in policy papers entitled ‘Government Response to the Digital Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee Report on the Future of UK Music Festivals’.
After some discussions amongst the AFO Advisory Group members it was generally agreed that a Conference face-to-face should take place. Please note this in your diary right now. It will be Friday 5 and Saturday 6 November 2021 in Derby. More details will be out shortly but clearly a busy agenda will lead to a very valuable face-to-face Conference with speakers, panels, great music, food, a decent bar and good company. Keep the dates clear in your diary and I look forward to seeing you then.
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