Details of UK Events Research Programme revealed
The British government has revealed details of its initial line-up of spring ‘pilot’ events intended to pave the way for the return of large, non-socially distanced audiences to UK venues from June.
As reported last month, the flagship Events Research Programme (ERP) pilot will be 15 May’s FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London, attended by 21,000 people, with events at Liverpool nightclub Circus Club (3,000 people) and three 10km (6.2mi) runs around Hatfield Park in Hertfordshire (3 x 3,000 runners + 3,000 spectators) among the newly announced dates. Additionally, IQ understands another ERP event for music may yet be announced.
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the pilot programme will harvest “key scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted to safely reopen” in line with the fourth and final stage of prime minister Boris Johnson’s easing of lockdown restrictions, set to come into force from 21 June. Venues participating in the ERP will test specific settings to collect evidence and best practice, with the data informing how event venues “could operate this summer”.
The list of ERP events so far is:
- 16 April: Hot Water Comedy Club, Liverpool, 300 people (indoor seated)
- 18 April: FA Cup semi-final, Wembley Stadium, 4,000 people (outdoor seated)
- 17 April–3 May: World Snooker Championship, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, up to 1,000 people a day (indoor seated)
- 23–25 April: Luna Outdoor Cinema, Liverpool, 1,000 people (outdoor seated)
- 24–25 April: Three 10km runs, Hatfield Park, 3,000 people and up to 3,000 spectators at each event (outdoor, mass participation run)
- 25 April: EFL Cup final, Wembley Stadium, 8,000 people (outdoor, seated)
- 29 April: Business event, Liverpool, 1,000 people (indoor, seated and mixing)
- 30 April: Circus Club, Liverpool, around 3,000 people (indoor club night)
- 15 May: FA Cup final, Wembley Stadium, 21,000 people (outdoor, seated)
Researchers at the events will explore different approaches towards ventilation, social distancing and rapid testing, while “Covid-status certification” – effectively a health passport proving eventgoers are vaccinated or otherwise Covid-19-negative – will also be trialled during the programme.
The ERP will produce a report for government ministers on its findings by the end of May.
“These pilots are a real beacon of hope as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic”
UK culture minister Oliver Dowden says: “Our sports stars and great performers need us to find ways to get bums back on seats safely. This science-led pilot programme will be the springboard in getting the buzz back of live performance. We’ve supported the sports and arts with unprecedented sums, but it’s now time to make that great British summer of live events a reality.”
Adds health secretary Matt Hancock: “We are all longing to see stadiums full of sporting fans and gigs packed with music lovers, but as we continue the roll-out of our vaccination programme, we must find a way to do so safely. By piloting a range of measures to reduce transmission, we can gather vital scientific evidence to inform our plans for allowing events in the future.
“Thanks to the input of our clinicians and the best science available, we can prepare for the moment where we will be able to gather again in some of our best-loved cultural venues.”
Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association welcomes details of the pilots, “in particular the Circus nightclub pilot in Liverpool with Yousef [Zaher] and his team, who have been advocates of this sector for many years and will work hard to ensure we are represented”.
“It has been enormously tough for the events sector over the past year, but these pilots are a real beacon of hope as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic,” comments business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “This programme will not only provide valuable scientific evidence, but also offer confidence to the industry so we can make the most of the Great British summer and host large-scale events in a way that’s safe for everybody.
Similar pilot events of various sizes are also taking place in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and more.
UK targets “special summer” with new test events
Upcoming major events such as the Brit Awards and FA Cup final may be run as ‘pilot’ events designed to trial the return of large, non-socially distanced audiences to UK venues, culture minister Oliver Dowden has said.
In an interview published in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said the British government will use a dozen events held in late April and May to test allowing spectators to return to sports venues, theatres and nightclubs without social distancing. Currently, under prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ out of the UK’s latest lockdown, all restrictions on indoor gatherings are set to be lifted from 21 June.
Among the 12 events observed under the so-called Events Research Programme (ERP), said Dowden, could be the World Snooker Championship final, held at the 980-seat Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on 17 April; football’s FA Cup final, staged at Wembley Stadium (90,000-seat) on 15 May; and the UK music industry’s main annual awards ceremony, the Brits, which are scheduled to return to the O2 (20,000-cap.) in London on 11 May.
According to the BBC, the government hopes up to 20,000 fans could attend the FA Cup match – double the 10,000 people who will be permitted at outdoor events in England from 17 May.
Other ERP events will take place at a nightclub, a comedy club and a conference venue, according to Dowden’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
“These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing”
Brits organiser BPI said last autumn that it is planning for the awards – which traditionally take place in February – to return with a “spectacular event” in May. The 40th Brit Awards took place in February 2021, a month before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of the O2 and other venues. IQ has contacted the Brit Awards for comment on the 2021 event.
According to DCMS, the ERP will use a range of “non-pharmaceutical” methods to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the events, including pre- and post-event testing, enhanced ventilation, novel venue lay-outs and the monitoring fans’ movements and interactions.
‘These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing. We will be guided by the science and medical experts, but will work flat out to make that happen,” says Dowden. “We want to get the people back to enjoying what they love and ensure some of our most important growth industries get back on their feet.
“These are important steps towards the safe and special summer we all crave, and that I’m fully focused on delivering.”