Festival and venue operators have warmly welcomed the prime minister’s announcement yesterday, 10 May, that Step 3 of the reopening roadmap will go ahead as planned on May 17, and that the country is “on track” to move to Step 4 on June 21.

Agent and promoter John Giddings, whose 50,000-capacity Isle of Wight Festival has been moved to 6-19 September, said that compared to a month ago his team at the Live Nation-owned festival are now incredibly optimistic: “The vaccination programme is exceeding expectations and the Liverpool trials were successful. The show will go on.”

Nick Morgan, CEO of event production agency We Are The Fair is set to work on at least 138 shows this year, including El Dorado Festival (cap. 9,000) in Herefordshire and London’s GALA Festival (9,000).

In response to the PM’s announcement he said, “All the data I have seen is more favourable than the initial modelling, so I am very confident Phase 4 is on track. Albeit there are some challenges around operating protocols, but we are fully engaged with both Public Health England and the Department of Culture Media and Sport in finessing these presently. Everyone is seeking some escapism this summer and festivals deliver that as evidenced by the buoyant ticketing market.”

Black Deer Festival co-founder Gill Tee moved the event from the weekend of 18 June to 25 June when the roadmap was first announced on 22 February.

She said, “It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride but the news last night is great, we kept the faith, the roadmap is on track and confidence is growing. We took a big gamble but we believe, as we always have, that we will be welcoming our amazing Black Deer community through our gates, as one of the first festivals post the lockdown restrictions being lifted.

“As I am also a director of entertee hire, and entertee events, I have inside knowledge of the pain that our businesses have been through.  To say I am over the moon that we can get the chain of wonderful people who work within this industry back doing what they do best is fantastic.”

The announcement was also welcomed by WOMAD festival director Chris Smith, whose 40,000-capacity event is due to take place on 22-25 July at Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

“We are excited to keep pressing on to our end of July date and remain very grateful for all of the support that we have had, particularly from crew, contractors and artists who have shown understanding and flexibility in supporting us towards a festival that will benefit us all if we are successful in finally opening those gates.”

Ahead of the company’s The O2 arena hosting an audience of 4,500, without social distancing at tonight’s BRIT Awards, AEG Europe chief operating officer John Langford – who oversees the company’s many arenas across the region – also aired increased optimism about the return of live events.

He told Access, “We were pleased to see the announcement by the PM yesterday. It is another step in the right direction. Following successful pilot events in Liverpool, and with BRITs to follow we are optimistic about the return of live events with fans and believe the live industry will come back stronger than ever.

“Fans are eager to return to shows, and venues can deliver the fan experience safely. There is one final hurdle for the industry and that relates to insurance. The UK live sector needs support from Government. A contingency or cancellation scheme is critical to support the entire live music ecosystem.”

Underbelly founder Ed Bartlam, whose company sold 1.4m tickets for 10 events in 2019, said the recent positive words from Government, coupled with a clear roadmap, are very encouraging: “It is just what is needed for the live events and entertainment sector.

“We are currently planning two festivals in London from July and whilst we are having to look at all scenarios, it is abundantly clear that these events really only thrive if social distancing is not required and event operators can use their own common sense and experience to put in place other manageable measures.

“The situation in Scotland sadly remains very different and I think all of us who put on events, festivals and live performances in Scotland urgently need greater clarity on when restrictions around social distancing are due to be removed and whether this will be in line with UK Government milestones.”

In his speech yesterday, Boris Johnson indicated that Covid-status certification may not be required after 21 June:  “This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality and I am confident that we will be able to go further. Subject to the impact of Step 3 on the data we remain on track to move to Step 4 on the 21 June. To give business more time to prepare we will be saying more later this month about exactly what the world will look like and what role there could be, if any, for certification and social distancing.

Capacity restrictions from 17 May

From the 17 May, indoor events for up 1,000 people or 50% venue capacity, can take place. Among the arenas to open and stage socially-distanced shows for audiences of 1,000 prior to Step 4 is the Royal Albert Hall (cap, 5272).

Outdoor events for up to 4,000 (or 50% capacity) may also resume, and special dispensation will be given to seated stadiums.

The Government has also made a special provision for large, outdoor seated venues where crowds can be distributed around the venue, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity, whichever is lower. This provision can be used by venues with a seated capacity of 16,000 or above. For events with mixed seating and standing areas including music, elite sporting events and non-elite/professional spectator events, the capacity cap will be calculated as 25% of seated capacity, irrespective of any standing capacity.

Capacities refer to the event attendees only. Staff, workers and volunteers are covered by the work exemption so should not be counted as part of the capacity cap.

Available guidance 

The full Government guidance is available here.

Last month, a working group including the Events Industry Forum (EIF), Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) and Attitude Is Everything published updated guidance for festival organisers. It can be found here.