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AFO General Secretary Writes – Friday 7 January 2022

Firstly, may I wish you a very Happy New Year and I hope that you had a good Christmas break.

You will remember that I wrote my last GSW on 14 December so in the run up to Christmas there were one or two things going on and then a long silence, so perhaps this edition will be a bit shorter than usual.

Monday 13 December I attended Festival and Outdoor Events DCMS Working Group where we looked at Plan B and a Covid update and had a really good presentation from Tom Rodden the DCMS Chief Scientific Advisor who put to one side all the speculation and unproven information and gave us a really good, complete picture of where we were at with the South African Omicron variation of the virus.  More detail of that on request.

Tom Rodden from DCMS spoke about the ERP findings and confirmed that in real terms festivals and events were not the major spreader of the virus that was first reported.
In terms of changes and mitigations for 2022 it was thought that it’s very unlikely there would be much change from 2021 and he simply asked festival organisers to consider fully investing in hygiene, cleaning of surfaces, plenty of opportunities for hand cleansing and recommended ‘at the gate’ checking of lateral flow tests negatives. With the ever-increasing number of people having had two vaccines and a booster the opportunity for the 2022 season was looking brighter than it had been for some months.  Time will tell with development.

At time of writing there was evidence that the virus spread was beginning to slow.  However, schools were just about to go back and that might make a difference.

Once again it was discussed between colleagues reference the shortage of staff and equipment for the season and the real truth of this is yet to come home, for that we do need evidence.  Speculation and hearsay don’t cut it in government circles so if you do have some real evidence of difficulties in purchasing, hiring equipment or staff then we certainly need to know [email protected]


Thursday 16 December I attended a LIVE Executive meeting which again had an Omicron Plan B update from the Political Advisor, Jonathan Lomax.  A short discussion took place, once again more detail of this on request. It was generally agreed that we should all push as hard as we can for VAT to be dropped back to 5% for purchases of tickets in 2022 and '23 though it will be a tough one to crack.  It is worth keeping on, talk to your local MP, tell them what you need to help you through getting back on your feet. 

Live Funding

We discussed a great deal of detail on the funding of LIVE, more on this elsewhere.

Friday 17 December I did a presentation online to the Institute of Licensing London branch in a similar to that previously reported for the Northeast of England.  This was very well received and there will no doubt be more.

Over the Christmas period, after much consultation, we finally agreed that the AFO Conference, which should have been in November 2021, will now take place as a virtual one-day event from 10am to 6pm on Saturday 5 February 2022.  Note this date now.  Speakers, panels, workshops, music showcases are all being assembled as I speak.  Book your Delegate pass (members and non-members) HERE.


Net Zero – having read some notes from Cop26 and considered various options for how best to advise festivals to move towards Net Zero I picked up the following:


What is Net Zero? 

Net Zero means releasing equal levels of carbon into the atmosphere through greenhouse gasses (GHG) to those removed from it.  The International Scientific Community generally agreed that global emissions of GHG need to reach Net Zero by around 2050 to prevent severe, and perhaps irreversible damage to the planet, through warning.  The festivals and events industry through the good work of Vision2025 suggests that we ought to be aiming to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% by 2025.

For a company to become Net Zero (a festival) means eliminating GHG emissions and ensuring that any unavoidable residual emissions are balanced by removal of carbon from the atmosphere through offsetting.  Offsetting means planting trees.  Trees can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


What’s the difference between Net Zero and Carbon Neutral?

Being Carbon Neutral usually means removing as much CO² from the atmosphere as a company or process releases.  This removal is achieved by offsetting which companies (festivals) often do to make their operations more sustainable.  The term Carbon Neutral tends to focus on CO² and not other greenhouse gasses such as methane and it assumes that significant emissions will continue to be emitted and therefore offsetting also needs to play a significant role in keeping a balance.  Carbon Neutrality can be an intermediate step towards Net Zero and it’s where festivals ought to be aiming.  Start by making the 2025 Pledge – see Vision 2025 website


ecolibrium is an organisation aimed at tackling travel impacts in the live events industry.  Over 50 festivals have signed up to ecolibrium and pledged to balance emissions from over 5 million car journeys in 2021, to play their part in balancing.  In the published list there not enough AFO festivals.  We could change that now; will you join in?
Contact [email protected] and learn more.  A representative of ecolibrium has been invited to speak at the AFO Conference (5 February 2022 online). 


Grass roots festivals facing a fresh Covid crisis.  Music Venues Trust Director, Mark Davyd, fights a mean battle when it comes to the hundreds of music venues around the UK and he is quite right when he says there must be an urgent call to government to support these grass roots venues to avoid a catastrophic drop in attendances, caused by Covid and the Plan B restrictions.

Mark goes on to say the MVT say losses over the last few weeks have been close to £2m.  With 86% of venues reporting negative impacts and 61% having to cancel at least one event, this in the run up to Christmas. The biggest causes of cancelation were a performer or member of the touring party tested positive for Covid.  Private hire bookings cancelled by organisers and poor sales followed.  As Chief Executive Officer of Music Venues Trust, Mark says, ‘It feels like we are back exactly where we were in March 2020 when confusing government messaging created a stealth lockdown.  Venues apparently able to open, but in reality, haemorrhaging money at a rate that will inevitably result in permanent closure, unless the government acts quickly to prevent it’.

A great deal of what Mark says can be applied in season to the festival industry, especially at grass roots level.  Here at AFO we wholeheartedly support the MVT and Mark’s work, as I know he supports us.  In your leisure time do what you can to support your local music club whenever you can and avoid that possible closure.  Just like festivals, the organisers are resilient and will try very hard to save their venues and will no doubt support you in your festivals when the time comes.


Christmas & New Year's Eve - I was in and out of the office throughout the Christmas period and had a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve in the company of Jools Holland and various artists.  It was interesting to spot the embarrassment on various people’s faces when Ed Sheeran dropped the clanger of mentioning a score at a football match, clearly defining when this recording was made.

Very sorry to see our colleagues in Scotland were further restricted from celebrating New Year and hope that we can all get back to it for 2022.

The next few weeks will be spent on putting together an agenda for our Conference and hopefully welcoming a very large number of delegates for the 10am to 6pm online, virtual AFO Conference on February 5 2022. Book your Delegate pass (members and non-members) HERE.


That is all for now, I shall be writing again in a couple of weeks.

 Happy New Year and Good Luck with your planning.

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 7th Jan 2022 14:03:00

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