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“A real success”: 0.03% of fans infected at UK pilots

The British culture secretary has hailed as “a real success” recent UK pilot events after just 15 positive cases of Covid-19 – equivalent to 0.026% of attendees – were recorded among 58,000 people.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Oliver Dowden says he is “very hopeful” the UK will meet its 21 June target for a full reopening of venues, theatres and clubs without social distancing, following encouraging results from recent Event Research Programme (ERP) test events, which included the Brit Awards, the Sefton Park Pilot music festival, The First Dance club shows and sports fixtures including the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

According to Dowden, there were no positive cases from the Brits, which took place with an audience of 4,000 at London’s O2 earlier this month, and two from Sefton Park Pilot, a one-day music festival in Liverpool.

Nine cases, meanwhile, were detected among the 6,000 clubbers who attended the two The First Dance events, held in Liverpool ahead of Sefton Park pilot, and no cases were reported from Wembley. The final four infections were detected at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which hosted 17 days of the World Snooker Championship.

Oliver Dowden says he is “very hopeful” the UK will meet its 21 June target for a full reopening

No social distancing was in place at any of the ERP events, which used lateral-flow tests (LFTs) to check attendees for the coronavirus prior to entry.

A spokesperson for Dowden’s ministry, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tells the Standard the figures are based on what has been seen “so far”, and that further data needs to be collected on other events. A full report will be presented to the prime minister at a later date.

The provisional findings from the ERP events come as Festival Republic, the organiser of Sefton Park Pilot, announces a second music festival, this time with camping, which will form part of the second phase of the programme.

As IQ reported earlier this month, the three-day event will be held in June and aims to build on the previous pilot by simulating the full, multi-day festival experience familiar to attendees of FR events including Reading Festival and Download.

“Following the huge success of our Sefton Park event, we are delighted to contribute to phase two of the government’s Events Research Programme with the creation of the first three-day camping festival, which will be the Download Pilot at Donington Park,” explains FR managing director Melvin Benn.

“This massive next step will help us understand and study the safe return of large-scale festivals with no social distancing or face masks over a full weekend. [It is] the return of the full festival experience we have all been waiting for, and a much needed return to work for musicians, backstage crew, caterers and many more that form part of the UK’s exemplary live music industry.”

“This massive next step will help us understand and study the safe return of large-scale festivals”

Download Pilot will have a capacity of 10,000 and take place from 18 to 20 June at the long-time home of Download, Donington Park in Leicestershire. Tickets are priced at £120 and go on sale on 1 June for Download 2022 ticket holders (the festival was cancelled for a second year in a row earlier this month), with general sale starting on 3 June. No day tickets will be available, with all attendees expected to camp on site.

As with Sefton Park Pilot, all festivalgoers will be required to produce proof of a negative LFT for entry, and also encouraged to take a more accurate PCR test before or after the event. Once in, no social distancing or mask wearing will be required: Download’s “loyal community of rock fans will be rewarded with the closest [thing] to a festival experience possible, with no social distancing, no masks, camping and the return of moshing”, according to Festival Republic.

The Download Pilot line-up will be announced this Friday (28 May).


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Festival Republic planning 10,000-cap. camping pilot

Festival Republic plans to follow up its recent Sefton Park Pilot event in Liverpool with a second test festival, this time with camping, next month.

Sefton Park Pilot, along with Tuesday’s Brit Awards one of two live music events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), took place on 2 May, welcoming 5,000 fans to Sefton Park in Liverpool for a one-day music festival headlined by Blossoms.

Speaking during IQ’s first Recovery Sessions event yesterday (13 May), Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn revealed that while previous test events in Liverpool, including Sefton Park Pilot and the two club shows held in the preceding days, aimed to show how live entertainment could restart with little or no Covid-19 transmission, the camping festival in June will focus on dealing with an outbreak at the event.

“While the Circus club shows and the Sefton Park Pilot were effectively events that were designed to ensure the enablement of reopening on 21 June,” Benn explained to chair Maria May (CAA), “the camping event, because its three or four days, will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid at the event. It’s about testing the protocols around using Covid certification on the NHS [National Health Service] app, and it’s also around testing the protocols of what the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] scientists here in the UK want, which is at-home testing for all attendees that don’t have the vaccination and that are not immune.”

According to Benn, the festival will take place in the “middle of June” and have a capacity of 10,000 people.

“The camping event will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid”

“It’s not like Reading or Lollapalooza Chicago or anything like that, but it’s a decent number, and certainly a number that they can adequately take data from and multiply,” he continued, adding that while “the politicians are a little more reticent”, he is confident “the scientists will persuade them, because [home testing] is the only practical way forward” as long as a large enough proportion of the population are vaccinated. “So, in essence, that’s where we seem to going,” he continued. “Remarkably, the UK government appears to have a coherent plan, and it seems like we’re going in a good direction.”

Benn added that he believes the government are now more concerned about the potential for Covid-19 transmission on public transport than at live events.

“The area that they are significantly most concerned about actually is not so much the venues – they know [the operators] will look after everybody at the venues – it’s public transport. It’s large amounts of people squashed with no circulation on buses coming into Glasgow City Centre, or coming on tubes into Wembley Stadium,” he explained. “I believe that’s the area they are more concerned about, compared to the actual venues themselves, particularly outdoor venues…”

In welcome news for UK festival organisers, the Festival Republic boss also predicted that there should be news on the cancellation insurance front by 14 June, with a government-backed solution potentially in place from mid-July onwards.

IQ subscribers can watch the ‘Industry Heads: Leading the way back’ panel, which also featured AGI’s Marsha Vlasic and ASM Global’s John Sharkey, on demand on the Recovery Sessions mini-site. To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.


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UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening

A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.

Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.

Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”

For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.

Alongside the lateral flow test, attendees were also encouraged to carry out a government PCR test, mailed by post, with a second test completed up to five days after the show. To motivate fans to complete the post-show test, Festival Republic offered a range of festival ticket prizes as an incentive.

Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)

“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”

In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”

For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”

Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.

Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”

“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”

The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.

“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”

“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”

As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”

While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.

Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.

“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”


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FR announces biggest UK pilot show to date

Sefton Park in Liverpool will host a new music festival, simply called the Sefton Park Pilot, as part of the British government-backed Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP, details of which were announced earlier this month, will also include several sporting fixtures, a business conference and a club night, also in Liverpool, among other events. IQ reported at the time that a live music pilot event was still to be announced.

Sefton Park Pilot will take over a small area of the 235-acre park on Sunday 2 May, with performers including Blossoms and the Lathums, as well as Liverpool singer-songwriter Zuzu. After doors open at 4.30pm, concertgoers will not have to socially distance or wear face coverings, given the show’s status as a research study on the transmission of Covid-19 in an outdoor festival setting.

Scientists monitoring the festival, which is being produced by Festival Republic (Reading and Leeds Festivals, Download, Wireless), will observe how crowds mixing outdoors increases the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Ticketholders will take a lateral-flow test at a community testing site 24 hours before the event, and will have to produce a negative test result to gain entry. Those attending will also be urged to take an at-home PCR test on the day of the event, as well as five days afterwards, to ensure any transmission of the virus is properly monitored.

“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance in any way”

So-called vaccine or health ‘passports’, of the kind being used in Israel, New York and elsewhere, and considered by the EU, are not part of the ERP in Liverpool, though they are being trialled at other ERP events.

“Festival Republic is delighted to be able to support the Government’s efforts to get the live music industry back up and running. The Sefton Park Pilot is a vital, science-led event which will help open up the live music industry in a safe and secure way,” says FR managing director Melvin Benn.

“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance to our events in any way. Working with the government we want to create a universal blueprint for reopening and demonstrate we can do it safely.

“Secretary of state Oliver Dowden and his team at DCMS are showing real commitment to making this a reality by launching the Event Research Programme and the Sefton Park pilot.”

Dowden, who leads the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), says: “We’re one step closer to a summer of live events now our science-led programme is underway. Testing different settings and looking at different mitigations is key to getting crowds back safely and the Sefton Park Pilot is an important addition to the programme.

“After many months without live audiences, Festival Republic are bringing live music back to fans with this very special event and I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good.”

“I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good”

Under the current ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, the British government hopes to lift all restrictions on gatherings and events after 21 June.

“It is good to see Liverpool bringing a live, outdoor music festival to the Events Research Programme. The festival in Sefton Park will make the most of an iconic, accessible fresh-air venue,” comments Prof. Iain Buchan, dean of the Institute of Population Health at the University of Liverpool. “Restarting this part of community life is important to society’s wellbeing and therefore is of public health importance, as well as minimising Covid-19 risks.”

“Live music is a vital part of so many people’s lives,” Benn continues. “This event is the first step in getting festivals back on track this year. It’s about demonstrating our absolute commitment that we can and will open on 21 June.

“We want to get festival fans back at events safely this year. We all need a summer of live music.”

Tickets for Sefton Park Pilot, which may only be purchased by residents of Liverpool, are on sale now, priced at £29.50.

The poster for the event, which shows the festival-style ‘big top’ venue in which the concerts will be held, is pictured below:

Sefton Park Pilot poster

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