Sheena Wrigley, Venue Director for The Factory, tells H&E North why event organisers need to take risks to meet the needs of more demanding audiences.
People never realised how important live events were in their lives … until they couldn’t have them. That’s the view of one of the North’s leading venue directors, who says that now events are making a comeback there is a real hunger for live events – both corporate and cultural – but audience expectations have changed for good.
Sheena Wrigley’s vast experience includes being Chief Executive of Harrogate Theatre, the Palace Theatre and Opera House in Manchester, and Executive Director of Manchester arts venue HOME. Sheena has also been a Board Director of UK Theatre and worked for Arts Council England. Sheena is currently the Venue Director for a brand new event space being built in Manchester, The Factory.
Sheena said: “There is a collective sense that coming together for the experience of an event is incredibly important because we’ve not been able to do it for such a long time – and that’s the same for both cultural and commercial events.
“Perhaps in the past we’ve not realised or expressed how important live events have been in our lives until they were taken away and we’ve felt what it’s been like to not have them. Perhaps now we realise more than ever before, they are such an important way for us to not only access culture and arts but also do business together. Event venues need to be fleet of foot in how they operate to keep people safe with flexible ticketing arrangements, especially when it comes to cancellations and refunds. That’s what people expect now.”
“Everyone has to be more audience-centric. Customers need to have these reassurances in place before they have the confidence to spend money, but it makes events so much harder to plan. It means that anyone who organises events has to carry more risk.”
Sheena added that continual uncertainty over COVID-19 means many people are not booking to attend events often until the 11th hour, however, there has a been a surge in positivity for live events again and hopes the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 doesn’t throw things off track
“What is positive is that people are now spending money again and booking events – things have really picked up,” she said. “Yet what the Omicron strain of the virus has shown is that the events industry remains vulnerable. A few weeks ago, I would have been looking forward with more confidence than I do now that the new virus strain has been discovered and we are once again introducing stricter measures due to COVID-19.
“Again, this leads to uncertainty. Boris Johnson talked of people wearing masks in shops and on public transport but it’s less clear when it comes to major public events ranging from corporate conferences to music gigs. That also makes it difficult for events staff operating on the frontline.”
Sheena also took the opportunity to introduce Manchester’s newest event space. At 13,300 square metres, The Factory will be ultra-flexible. It will be able to host events such as conventions and product launches but will also produce a creative arts programme all year round which it describes as “bold new work from the world’s greatest artists, offering a space to create, invent, and play.”
The Factory is due to open in the early part of 2023 and more details will be released next spring about its programme. The scheme has been made possible with funding from the government, Manchester City Council and the National Lottery alongside private investment. The venue will be the base for Manchester International Festival, which will run every couple of years, bringing the best in arts and music into the city.
“Its remit is to bring exciting, of-the-moment international artists into the city alongside the best Manchester has to offer. It’s a city that has vision and never rests on its laurels, a city of ambition and the sheer audacity of some of those ambitions has paid off to date. The next stage of its innovation is now underway.