The economic impact of the live events industry has never been more clearly communicated than since the pandemic began, with industry bodies having lobbied the Government hard for support, but perhaps less obvious is the sector’s remarkably positive social impact. Access investigates.
During the pandemic it was the huge economic benefit delivered by the live events industry that was at the sharp end of lobbying efforts by industry organisations. Among the figures highlighted was that live events boost the UK economy by more than £70 billion per year.
Clearly, the live events industry does far more than make a commercial impact, if it didn’t enrich our culture, and exhilarate and entertain audiences en masse it wouldn’t exist, but it also plays a hugely important role improving lives in wider society.
The UK’s biggest events are, in some cases, synonymous with their charitable impact and chief among them is the London Marathon, which has raised more than £1 billion for charity in the 40 years since it was founded by Chris Brasher and John Disley.
Michael Eavis and the team behind the 147,500-capacity Glastonbury Festival have long been recognised for the impact the event has on its charitable partners, including Greenpeace, Oxfam and WaterAid.
Glastonbury has been funding charities since 1980, and in 2017 alone distributed £3 million. Since 2000 it has paid more than £1m per year to local charities and good cause including building the new Pilton Working Men’s Club and the completion of a housing project providing housing with affordable rent for the offspring of villagers who cannot afford Pilton prices.
Away from the headline-grabbing events and seven-figure donations, there is no shortage of smaller scale benevolent activity happening throughout the live events industry.
Among them is The Community Fund, run by the team behind Manchester’s 80,000-capacity Parklife festival. Operated in cooperation with Manchester, Bury and Rochdale councils, the fund is designed to benefit community groups, with priority given to groups and projects that benefit parks, open spaces and young people.
Funds are generated from contributions made at the festival by guest-list attendees and through festival tickets being donated to various charities for raffles and auctions. This year’s event generated £81,750 for the Fund.
Among those heavily involved in the project is Jon Drape, director of Manchester-based production company Engine No. 4, which services Parklife. He says the idea for the project came eight years ago when the festival was moved to Heaton Park.
“When it was moved, Parklife grew considerably in size,” he says. “Heaton Park is surrounded on three sides by residential buildings. A lot of other festivals offset some of the impact they have by giving tickets out to the local community, but we recognised that Parklife isn’t for everybody and we wanted to do something a little bit more meaningful.”
Drape says that since the scheme was launched five years ago it has generated more than £400,000 for local community groups. Around 50 groups were supported in the most recent distribution.
As well as donations from people on Parklife’s guest list, Drape says the event’s suppliers play a key role in raising funds.
“We are very mindful that people have had it tough throughout the pandemic and a lot of these community groups haven’t been able to get the kind of money they normally would and so, moving forward, we are going to employ a fundraising officer who will look at new ways to raise money,” says Drape.
In order to make it as easy as possible to access the funds, a dedicated team member not only administers the fund but goes out into the local community to talk to people to help them write applications for it.
“It’s a meaningful endeavour, we want to get funds out there to more of the harder-to-reach groups.”
“It’s a meaningful endeavour, we want to get funds out there to more of the harder-to-reach groups,” says Drape.
Across the UK, festival operators are looking at ways to bring benefits to the local community and, in some cases, that involves helping to fund other events.
Green Man Festival owner Fiona Stewart says: “Wales has some very rural and remote areas where small community events do a huge amount to combat loneliness, they bring communities together. It is a different side of our industry, they are the proper interpretation of gatherings, which all festivals stemmed from. They should absolutely be supported and celebrated.”
With that in mind, The Green Man Trust was set up to fund community events and more. The Arts Council Wales-backed initiative funds projects across four core strands; arts development, training, science engagement and positive change in Welsh communities.
Charities supported by the Trust include Oasis Cardiff, which helps refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into their new communities. Meanwhile, among the training initiatives is a partnership with Merthyr Tydfil College that enables students doing their BTEC in Creative Media Production (Television & Film) to take work placements at the Green Man Festival.
While there is no available overall figure for the amount of money the live events industry pumps back into the local community each year, all areas of the industry are making an impact, not least venue operators.
The ACC Liverpool Group, which operates the Liverpool event campus – home to the 11,000-capacity M&S Bank Arena, ACC Liverpool and Exhibition Centre Liverpool – recently launched a Social Value Plan with the aim of creating a positive social, economic and environmental impact.
Managing director Faye Dyer says the company plans to assist its clients to build social value elements into their events: “The plan is about looking at success in different ways, such as what it can mean for society on a global and local level, not just about profit and loss.”
The organisation is establishing a Community Advisory Group with the aim of ensuring it has a formalised process in which to engage with a diverse and inclusive range of stakeholders and groups across its local community.
Its community goals for the year ahead include delivering more than 200 hours of local volunteer work and donations to local foodbanks, charities and community groups. The company also plans to deliver educational and career support sessions with higher education institutions, and provide a number of apprenticeships.
Dyer says, “We appreciate that our organisation and the events industry are still in pandemic recovery mode but we have set ourselves measurable targets which we are committed to implementing and delivering. We want to be a company that strives to do the right thing and contributes to society.”
Another new initiative is Yes We Can, which was set up by the team behind Independent Venue Week (IVW). The idea of the scheme is to open up the doors of grassroots venues during the daytime to local communities, with activities targeted at groups including young people, LGBTQ+, the deaf, disabled, neurodiverse and the aged.
The scheme is being run by community interest company Can You CIC It?, with support from Arts Council England. It was launched on 2 December with a live-streamed event at The Smokehouse venue in Ipswich, which involved IVW and Yes We Can founder Sybil Bell, Arts Council England music relations manager Adrian Cooke, Joe Hastings of music industry mental health charity Help Musicians and Jane Dyball from accessibility charity Attitude is Everything.
Bell says the idea for the initiative dawned on her after she travelled up and down the UK for IVW to visit grassroot venue operators: “That really brought my attention to the fact that there are venue operators around the country who have a really close relationship with people in their community and, whilst it seems glaringly obvious now, it really struck a chord with me how important they are in their local area. Combining socially beneficial activities with music venues struck me as such a natural fit.
“Through initiatives like Independent Venue Week, the importance of small independent venues to the UK’s music scene has become widely recognised. They’re not only a focal point for music and the arts, they’re outlets for entire communities up and down the country.
“Our goal is to encourage even more venues to open their doors and embrace a range of inclusive, community-based activities, giving people the chance to come together, in person, and develop relationships and skills to enrich their lives, all with music at its heart.”