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Royal Albert Hall artistic/commercial director and chair of the National Arenas Association, Lucy Noble tells Access how arena operators are impacted by the Government’s reopening timeline.

As chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association (NAA), which represents 23 arenas, Lucy Noble is expecting to see the arena sector play an important role in the Government’s Events Research Programme and is hopeful her venue, the 5,200-capacity Royal Albert Hall, will be able to begin hosting physical events again this summer.

 What is your reaction, from a Royal Albert Hall and National Arenas Association perspective, to the conditional reopening timeline presented by Boris Johnson?

We’re pleased that finally we have a ‘not before’ date which is something we’ve been asking for since the start of the pandemic. Theoretically we’d be allowed to open with museums and galleries on 17 May, but with capacity capped at 1,000 for indoor events that makes it financially impossible for us, so we are working towards the 21 June date to open at full capacity. What is crucial to us reopening is having enough notice to remobilise and what makes this new timeline challenging for venues is that we will only hear one week before if we are able to proceed to the next stage. Sadly, many venues will have to take decisions on seasons and performances a long time before that which means that many performances across the Summer could be lost. The Royal Albert Hall is very hopeful that we will host a Proms season again this year from the end of July – and perhaps some performances before then.

Is the Royal Albert Hall or any of the NAA’s members planning to get involved in pilot events?

The Royal Albert Hall is very keen to take part in the trials and we are talking to DCMS about that. Having run a handful of Christmas shows in the pandemic with a 1,000 capacity, we are well suited and prepared to move up to a full capacity trial. We are confident that the industry can prove that we can operate events safely and we are ideally placed to track and trace contacts because we know the details of every booking and where they are sitting in the auditorium.

With 21 June being the start of the summer, traditionally a quiet time for indoor venues, and with festivals making a return, do you feel the indoor venue sector needs further support to help it through to September when business is likely to really bounce back?

 Those venues that host mainly rock and pop acts are hugely impacted, and the extension to the furlough scheme until September will be life saving for many. However, there is a whole host of venues who will be fully booked out with other genres during that time. Classical music venues for example will have plentiful programming. Venues in that position would just like to get back to presenting live performances and it’s important to stress that some venues will be able to operate with shorter lead in times during the summer months. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ in the live events industry – that’s part of the joy of it.

Is the Royal Albert Hall or any NAA members involved in the Events Research Programme?

 The Events research programme is closely linked in with the trial events and several of the NAA venues are talking to Government about being part of this. We want to do all we can to support the return to live events, and can’t wait to welcome people back to the Hall for unforgettable shared experiences.