Our panel of experts put forward a case for events, as Access releases its White Paper, produced with We Are The Fair and the NTIA…
Everyone has been to an event they love. In summer, there are village fetes and classical music recitals held in English Heritage grounds. Annually, too, there’s Lumiere, a festival dedicated to light that began in Durham in 2009 and this year returns there.
Then there’s For The Love Of It, where people who make live art outdoors hold 48 hours of shows and workshops – from Cobden Works, Salford, Manchester, to the 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Space on Greenham Business Park, Berkshire. And let’s not forget all the festivals about science, children, film, jazz and blues, art, books and the military that are held in Edinburgh; most prominently, the Edinburgh International Festival (classical music, theatre, opera, dance and visual art), and the more informal Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Informality is the stuff of many events. It is also a strength.
More than two decades ago, when England hosted the Euro 96 football championship, a bright mate of Mash Media’s CEO Julian Agostini’s, who in turn knew a Czech builder, took a business gamble that illustrates just this point. He leased a people carrier vehicle for the builder’s Czech friends and offered to take them to some of the different places around England where matches were being played.
His offer was accepted, the Czech national team made it all the way to the Euro 96 Final, and the fans he drove around England saw lots of the country over nearly a month. The result: not only were the fans happy, but Julian’s mate developed a car service business that thrives to this day. As Julian says: ‘When events happen, participants come looking for other services, and are prepared to pay for them. What’s not to like?’
NTIA’s Alan Miller also upholds the power of informal conversations to drive forward new kinds of events. Years back, he had to endure that rite of passage known as Sharing An Office Coffee Area With Another Company. And he did so at London’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Tin Pan Alley – Denmark Street, Soho.
In that tight corner, Alan brewed coffee with the people who set up the international art fairs known as Frieze London, Frieze New York and Frieze LA. Later, after co-founding The Old Truman Brewery as an arts and events centre in East London, he helped Frieze organise its first ever Fair on the premises.
We Are The Fair’s CEO Nick Morgan tells a similar tale. Inspired by DJs in Islington, London, he made the subject of his first promotion the late DJ Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, and trouble the gig proved to be: it was a financial disaster. However, Nick moved on from promotion to booking acts, only then to turn to putting on his first outdoor show – Coventry University’s Summer Ball.
From these fiery and chaotic baptisms, he built a business that now organises more than 90 outdoor festivals a season, all the way from health and safety, through licensing and on to full production.
Mutual and informal interactions like those reported above characterise many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the events business. Indeed, informal alliances help such SMEs preserve a creative and commercial edge – an edge in innovation – over the big firms that now dominate much of the world market for events.
The ideas-to-market innovations made by events SMEs are all the more remarkable, as Nick observes, because securing, say, a green space and an accompanying licence can now be very tough. Local authorities can be overly restrictive. At the same time, eventgoers’ expectations have never been higher. Finally, today’s social media allow audience reactions to events to be both very personal and completely instantaneous.
In the 21st century, too, creating branded locations through events is a challenge. It means mounting a variety of attractions over an extended period of time. Yet when events SMEs have been around to support all that, cities from Amsterdam to Austin in Texas have been transformed.
What author and lecturer James Woudhuysen aptly calls the Political Economy of Informal Events is, then, something that British cities, counties and regions need to consider. For when any kind of event happens, its benefits can spread into every nook and cranny, whether locally or beyond, whether noticed or not.
This White Paper brings together just some of the modest, rather disparate literature and statistics that exist on British and international events. The range of sources referred to is necessarily varied, but we would like to thank all the publishers, organisations and individuals quoted.
Drawing upon economics, politics, sociology and technology, the paper uses official government data, and data taken from business sources, to give a sense of the likely future growth of informal events. It estimates not just the considerable demand for informal events, but also the challenges – particularly around licensing – that they are likely to encounter over the decade to come.
We hope that the paper deepens what UK cities and other jurisdictions think and do around events. England has 353 local authorities. There are unitary authorities run by Scotland (32), Wales (22) and Northern Ireland (11). If all these bodies now get together with Business Improvement Districts and other local forces to bring events into their master plans for the future, they will be able make a lot more out of events than they do at present.
In June 2017, headline band The 1975 took to the stage at Parklife Festival, Manchester. They did so with the mayor of Greater Manchester, Alan, and many of those professionals – police, firefighters, nurses, ambulance workers and others – who had made the first response to the Manchester Arena bombing in May, when, at a concert given by Ariana Grande, 22 people lost their lives.
For a full minute, everyone on stage and in the audience – everyone – stood and cheered their united defiance of those who try to divide audiences at events.
It is in that spirit that we hope you engage with this White Paper.
All those involved in events have a common interest in ensuring that Britain puts on some truly great ones between now and 2030.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT
Good, balanced research about events is key to local authorities making the right, proportionate decisions around the risks that any particular event may pose.
That research must include all the benefits which events can bring.
Councils should couple such research with an active policy of events development. When they draw up their 10-year master plans, they should give events a central position within those plans.
Reconceived by organisers and taken more seriously by all levels of government, events could, by 2030, be even more dynamic than they are now.
They could form a new, cohesive and unique wealth-making sector for Britain – one that enjoys worldwide renown for its creative, technological and social innovation.
The Political Economy of Informal Events, 2030 was commissioned and published by Mash Media. Foreword by: Julian Agostini, (MD, Mash Media), Alan D Miller, (chairman, The Night Time Industries Association) Nick Morgan (CEO, We Are The Fair). It was written and edited by James Woudhuysen, visiting professor, forecasting & innovation, London South Bank University. (Advisory team: Tom Hall and Paul Colston).
The print version of report is available for £7.99, but it can be viewed for free online now.