As venues have begun reopening their doors, Alden Arnold, Project Manager at the Association of Event Venues, outlines what the future holds. The pandemic has been devastating for the events industry, the effects of which will be with us for some time. As soon as the pandemic hit and UK governments applied their restrictions, venues closed and staff were furloughed, with some facing redundancy. One key challenge the industry faced was the complete lack of any reliable forecast as to when events may  resume.

Some venues became Nightingale hospitals and vaccination centres during the crisis while still trying to remain ready for events to return. The Nightingale hospitals have been withdrawn and we are now open, however, this is not as simple as turning on a tap. A number of events have taken place with large numbers of compliant attendees but there is a process that precedes the opening of an event that can range from weeks to months, even years for large and complex events.

So, even with the arrival of ‘freedom day’ there will be a difficult few months as venues, organisers and suppliers across the UK work to reopen events while retaining the  confidence of those attending as visitors, exhibitors and participants. Behind the scenes, the Association of Event Venues (AEV), the Association of Event Organisers and the Event Supplier and Services Association have been hard at work. During 2020, acting through the Events Industry Alliance – they developed the All Secure Standard in a move to provide guidance that would allow events to reopen safely, followed by the first pilot event in September 2020, demonstrating how the industry could reopen  safely in a real-life setting. Unfortunately, the spread of the virus thwarted that effort despite the event being praised. The associations have adapted the standard and, at the time of writing, the All Secure Standard v2.0 that enables events to proceed under the English government’s Step 4 guidance, is awaiting approval by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Throughout lockdown, the AEV has maintained its working groups, some of which are specific to venues and some are cross-association. A running theme has been  restarting the industry after the pandemic within Step 4 guidance. The AEV’s working groups have taken steps to address many of the issues venues are facing, such as aiding talent retention by welcoming guest representation from Manchester Metropolitan University and MPI Future Connects, upskilling existing industry personnel by giving technology-enabled training and skills solutions, looking into cybersecurity, and tackling sustainability.

Shortages of skilled and qualified personnel will remain a challenge and the pandemic has brought mental wellbeing sharply into focus. We continue to face challenges, the dialogue with the DCMS is ongoing, and we will continue to seek confirmation that work on an insurance scheme continues. We may be coming out of lockdown, but we are not free of its effects and its consequences. However, as a collaborative industry, we know that the safety and wellbeing of our staff, organisers, exhibitors, contractors  and attendees are paramount, something that remains a constant throughout these challenging times.