The UK government has announced more details about its grand plan to “get big crowds back this summer”, with a series of mainly sporting events due to take place over the next six weeks that will test the best ways to get full capacity shows up and running again in a way that doesn’t result in any new COVID surges.
Ministers had already confirmed some of the sporting events set to take place as part of the government’s “science-led” Events Research Programme. Nine pilot events have now been confirmed in total, with the aim being to test different set-ups and capacities across the programme.
The government said this weekend that: “Researchers at the events will gather evidence associated with different settings and approaches to managing and mitigating transmission risk. The pilots will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-entry protocols could ease opening and maximise participation”.
“The evidence will then be shared widely so that venues can prepare to accommodate fuller audiences”, it added. “This review will be crucial to how venues – from major sport stadiums to comedy clubs, theatres to live music spaces, wedding venues, conference centres and nightclubs – could operate this summer”.
Events in the pilot include a semi-final and the final of the FA Cup at Wembley, with a 4000 and 21,000 capacity respectively. The Snooker World Championships at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre will test indoor theatre-style shows with audiences of up to 1000. Outside of sport, there will be comedy, film, corporate and clubbing events as part of the pilot programme, all in Liverpool, the latter at the Circus night club with a capacity of around 3000.
Announcing all this on Sunday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our sports stars and great performers need us to find ways to get bums back on seats safely. This science-led pilot programme will be the springboard in getting the buzz back of live performance. We’ve supported the sports and arts with unprecedented sums, but it’s now time to make that Great British Summer of live events a reality”.
The music and night-time sectors will obviously welcome any initiatives which – alongside the COVID vaccine roll out – can speed up the return of full capacity shows. Although music gigs are notably absent from the current list of pilot events, and some have expressed concern that there is not a sufficient variety of events being tested to generate truly useful data and information for the wider sector.
Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill said on Sunday: “Really pleased to finally hear the announcement of the Events Research Programme pilots, starting mid-April, in particular the Circus nightclub pilot in Liverpool with Yousef and his team, who have been advocates of this sector for many years and will work hard to ensure we are represented”.
However, he added, “With limited pilots taking place in night-time economy businesses through April, we are concerned that this will only give an acute view of the challenges faced within such unique environments where one size does not fit all. We would welcome further engagement by government to consider further pilots across a wider scope of [night-time] businesses”.
The new information on the government’s Events Research Programme followed an announcement about the latest round of Culture Recovery Fund grants being distributed by Arts Council England to creative businesses. It’s hoped that those grants will help the venues and businesses that receive them weather the ongoing COVID storm until shows and events can properly resume later this year.
Though, industry reps continue to argue, for major music events and festivals to return this summer as COVID restrictions lift, government-backed insurance is still required, so that the promoters of those events can continue to invest in 2021 editions that could be cancelled if the current schedule for lifting those restrictions gets pushed back.