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In what is proving to be an incredibly busy year for the Arena Group, the multi-service event supplier celebrated its 35th year of working with The Jockey Club on the Cheltenham Festival. Access went along for the ride.

Having been onsite for four months at the Cheltenham Racecourse, assembling the longest triple deck hospitality event rental structure in Europe, the onslaught of storm Eunice in February was hardly what the Arena Events Group team needed or deserved, but by drawing on decades of experience its structures and staff came through unscathed.

“We have 16,000 square metres of temporary infrastructure at Cheltenham, it’s a huge operation with between 40 and 60 members of staff onsite every day since November,” says Arena Events Group CEO UK & Europe Tom Evans. “The storm was one of the biggest to hit the UK for years. We had to batten down the hatches and get everyone off site for two days but when it was over we didn’t have any damage at all.”

Evans has worked for the Arena Events Group since 2013, across Asia and the Middle East before returning to the UK mid-pandemic in 2020. Along the way he has been involved in numerous large-scale events, including the Saudi International golf tournament and the Anthony Joshua fight in Riyadh in 2019 – for which Arena designed and installed the 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena and hospitality structure.

“We have 16,000 square metres of temporary infrastructure at Cheltenham, it’s a huge operation with between 40 and 60 members of staff onsite every day since November.”

In the UK alone this year Evans certainly has his hands full. Along with the Cheltenham Festival, Arena will work on three other Jockey Club Projects; the Grand National, Epsom Derby and Newmarket. Among the other landmark projects in the pipeline are the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the 150th Open at St Andrews – which he says will be the largest yet.

Back at Cheltenham, one of the world’s best-known and regarded racecourses, the strength and diversity of the Arena Events Group offering is on full display. The work of its seating, structures, scaffolding, interiors and furniture divisions have come together with stunning results.

Arena Events Group CEO UK & Europe Tom Evans (right) and Arena Structures project director Ross Robertson.

Along with the triple deck Jockey Club VIP area, which is 185 metres long, Arena has also created the two-story Guinness Pavilion and supplied grandstand seating for areas including the Steppings and Stable Hands Stand, Best Mate Grandstand and Head On Grandstand.

Evans is quick to emphasise that it has very much been a collaborative effort by Arena Structures project director Ross Robertson and project manager Ben Sly, alongside Arena Seating project director Terry Smith and project manager Simon Chun to name but a few.

“All our key stakeholders within the group are down here. I’ve got three managing directors reporting into me and it’s great that all of them are working in some way on this project,” he enthuses.

Evans only recently took on his current role, having previously been Arena Events Group chief operating officer EMEA.

“When I came back to the UK there had been quite a lot of change among senior management on the Arena Structures side, and we needed somebody with a lot of structures experience to really lead the team, so Ross Robertson was brought in as Arena Structures UK & Europe MD in December last year.

“During the pandemic we naturally diversified our business with long-term rentals outside of events; we worked with Balfour Beatty on HS2 and did more industrial work. Ross comes to Arena with that industrial knowledge and experience, and that was one of the reasons we brought him on board.

“We’ve been very well known for event structures, but we have also been very good at delivering these long-term rental solutions for industrial projects during the pandemic so that’s definitely something we’re going to be pushing through.”

Evans says another key focus for Arena is investing in its team across the business: “We have recruited a lot of people, whether it be site guys or warehouse guys – that area of training and development is key. We are focusing heavily on the retention of staff but also bringing young people into the organisation.”

With a strong team in place, and, if the Cheltenham Festival is anything to go by, a strong appetite for events among consumers, Evans says he is confident about the year ahead and the longer-term future.

“We are focusing a lot on innovation across structures and seating. With all the cost pressures we are under we are looking at solutions that take up less room on trucks. When it comes to design, we are focusing on how we can be more innovative and unique in our offering.

“Cheltenham was sold out weeks ago, and even this winter our managed ice rinks had record sales. Post-Covid, and with the Ukraine war, we are facing supply chain challenges including a lack of raw materials, and of course there are inflationary pressures, but we’ve got some brilliant long-term contracts, like the one with the Jockey Club, and we’ve got a brilliant delivery team.”

This article was published in the latest edition of Access All Areas magazine  – subscribe for free here