As the Government’s Events Research Programme draws to an end, Access goes behind the scenes to explore the remarkable amount of work and expense that has gone into getting the pilot events off the ground.

The Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), announced at the same time as the conditional re-opening roadmap on 22 February, has seen a run of events staged without social distancing including the Snooker World Championships, FA Cup matches, a business event and two consecutive club nights.

Among the largest ERP events was a 5,000-capacity gig by Blossoms at Liverpool’s Sefton Park, organised with the aim of mirroring the conditions at an outdoor music festival without social distancing.

To attend any of the events, ticket holders were required to take a rapid lateral flow test at a local testing centre 24 hours prior to entry. They were then required to take a test afterwards to ensure any transmission of the virus was properly monitored.

Organised by Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, the Sefton Park pilot was hailed by culture minister Caroline Dinenage as a milestone on the path to the return of full-capacity live events, and the joy it gave to the audience involved was evident from the many social media shares of grinning faces.

Sefton Park followed two 3,000-capacity ERP Circus nightclub events at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock warehouse, with acts including Fat Boy Slim and Sven Väth. On May 11 The BRIT Awards was held at The O2 arena, with a free flowing audience of 4,500 people – the first show of its kind for 14 months at what is usually the UK’s busiest arena. The FA Cup final on May 15 saw more a real-life audience of more than 20,000 and mid June will see a 10,000-capacity festival pilot with camping.

A field of its own

Benn says the events industry had to push hard to get a greenfield concert included in the ERP, the aim being to ensure that data from a festival pilot could be taken into account by the scientists involved. Among those responsible for helping Benn make it happen were Association of Independent Festivals CEO Paul Reed and Greg Parmley, CEO of umbrella industry body LIVE.

“We all kept repeating that we were worried that when it came to it, the ERP data would fall shorty of what we needed and we would be set back,” says Benn. “I repeatedly offered to put a whole series of events together but was told it was not needed. Eventually Sir Nicholas Hytner was appointed to head up the ERP from a strategic point of view. I had three calls with him within a week and told him, “We want to believe you but when it comes to it, we are worried we will be let down.”

Benn says that following their conversations, Hytner reported back to the prime minister, the DCMS and the ERP Science Board, which consists of a team of scientific advisors led by Tom Rodden.

“Tom Rodden is absolutely extraordinarily good, he is so committed to getting us open,” says Benn. “The whole DCMS team are fantastic but they work within the tight strictures of Government decision making. Sir Nicholas was able to cut through that with access to cabinet ministers and he came back and said an outdoor music pilot was a good idea.”

Investing in the future

Benn says the event was not cheap to stage and there was no Government financial support but leading operators including DF Concerts, SJM and Isle of Wight Festival director Caroline Giddings were among the many to assist in making it a success.

The Festival Republic boss says he is now pushing to stage a further greenfield event as part of the ERP.

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