Tom Vrements, President of the National Outdoor Events Association (NOEA), ponders the challenges of extending the festival season.
Over the last few weeks, the outdoor events industry has endured some of its darkest moments since the Foot & Mouth crisis of 2001. At the time of writing, many of our members’ businesses are hanging by a thread or reliant on bailouts, grants and relief from the government, which are not proving easy or quick to access.
Events of the future are at risk, alongside the loss of creativity and dynamism that smaller businesses and freelancers bring. Around the NOEA council we’re no different, and the last few months the council has been trying valiantly to both fight for the industry at such a desperate time, and also maintain the future of our own businesses. However, if I had to classify the attitude of our council, and our members as a whole, it would be positivity. Which is extraordinary.
This is an industry that has been through tough times before, and it still exists today. We’re trying to look beyond the present crisis to see how we can be there for members when we’re finally allowed to put on events again. The big questions remain: can we extend the events season, and how and what are the risks?
“The idea of extending the season is great in practice, but we have to admit that this is a summer industry first and foremost”
It’s true that, for some time, the industry has been patting itself on the back for lengthening the outdoor events season. It now runs from April to October, with a jump in November and December. But let’s not kid ourselves either – for many businesses, especially the smaller ones, up to 90% of their income will come between June and September. The idea of extending the season is great in practice, but we have to admit that this is a summer industry first and foremost.
On the NOEA Council we’ve had discussions on how this can be changed in the future, and the myriad of logistical obstacles that post-summer events present. These range from ground damage bonds to increased friction with local residents. Autumn and winter events do exist, and we see Christmas and Halloween celebrations gaining in size and confidence every year. However, many of these are local authority run, and circumstances are often different when it comes to major festivals; responsibilities and liabilities need to be taken on, inevitably leading to more risk for the organiser. This could be a place where NOEA can support its members as we look to the future.
As an industry we need to be careful that our desperation to set new dates for events does not compromise on the high standards the UK has set, and that our events continue to be professionally produced and executed. This is really important, and can’t be compromised, or it could leave us with even more long-term issues.
Over the years working with AAA we have talked about the positivity, endurance and spirit of our industry. It’s difficult right now not to feel the pain of many of our members, but if the way forward is reliant on creativity, talent and commitment, I do genuinely believe that the skills and temperaments are out there in NOEA members and beyond. As HRH The Queen said herself: we’ll meet again.