What it’s like to plan a festival in a pandemic 


Recently we’ve seen pubs open up inside to punters and 30 people are now allowed to meet outside as step three of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown has come into effect.

That means the country can look forward to the end of all restrictions, which is set to happen on June 21st as it stands currently. From then social distancing is set to end as restrictions are scrapped meaning the long awaited return of nights-out, festivals and day events.

But putting on those events has been no easy feat with so much uncertainty over the future which has brought many problems for festival organisers. We spoke to promoters from three UK festivals to understand more about the challenges events have faced under the last 15 months of heavy restrictions and unsurety: Detonate, Balter Festival and Hospitality

© Photography by Jake Davis (fb.com/hungryvisuals)

Events director at Hospitality, Josh Robinson, has said ‘promoters have been dealing with an impossible set of circumstances’ with the likes of Boomtown and Shamabala even canceling this year’s events.

“The government announcing their roadmap out of lockdown is helpful in some ways, but it’s also a kind of double edged sword,” Josh explains to UKF. “What they didn’t do is address any way that culture in general, and I’m not just talking about music festivals, can actually proceed with any sense of security.”

The whole industry has faced numerous problems to even put on any events this year, when they’ll be in more demand than ever with a year’s partying to make up for. 

The co-founder of Detonate, James Busby, shed a light on some of the problems behind the scene, he told UKF: “It’s involved a lot of rescheduling, and trying to find dates which give it the best chance of going ahead.  We’ve had to move dates a lot.”

“It’s quite challenging locking in suppliers because a lot of people are on furlough,” he adds. “Also, things which have uses outside of festivals like tracking, portaloos, cabins etc are favouring industries that don’t rely on big numbers of people partying.”

While there has been plenty of uncertainty that has brought about the challenges, the lack of direction has been an issue as Frazer Robinson aka Cardinal Sound,  co-founder and head promoter of  Strawberries & Creem Festival explained.

“The main issue for us is the lack of directive or advice from the government on running large scale events,” he explains. “We need to start seeing some developments on what measures will be required if any from June 21st onward, but seeing how the vaccine rollout has been going, things are looking very positive and we’re confident we’ll be back partying as normal soon. International bookings have also been made difficult due to travel restrictions and what not, but this is easily rectifiable by supporting more homegrown talent.”

The main issue that led to the cancellation of the likes of Boomtown was the insurance companies refusing to back the events industry with an insurance scheme, and the Government not backing one either, which has been seen in Europe. This has led to events working down different avenues to ensure the festivals can happen this year.

The next line of inquiry is the next round three of the cultural recovery fund, there’s an amount within that figure that is ring fenced the festivals,” Josh adds.

“The second best option would be insurance against the festival being cancelled in the case of COVID, which insurers won’t do and the government isn’t backing. So option number three is just ring fencing, a portion of round three of the cultural recovery fund for festivals that have been announced.”

Of course all festivals varying in size have faced similar issues as Elias Cole, the man behind Chepstow-based Balter Festival, told UKF: “It’s been a nightmare, we have obviously changed the day. The biggest challenge is uncertainty and all our other challenges are to come because until we really know what’s going on it’s hard to get past the first bit.”

Photography © Christopher Werrrett www.cwphotographics.com

Like the other festivals Elias has called for further assurance and guidance on what festivals and events need to do to happen this year and overcome the issues presented, with the industry left in the dark.

“Some assurance, some interaction from the Government would help a lot,” he adds. “We don’t know if they want testing on the gate or a vaccine passport or anything. Some assurance, some interaction from the Government would help a lot.”

However, he was keen to state if the event had to be significantly different to how it would usually run then they would not go ahead as planned this year. Each festival is approaching the uncertainty in their own unique way, applying different ways to ensure the events go ahead. Hospitality, for example, are planning two festivals one with testing and outdoor arenas alongside other measures and one without any measures. 

Strawberries & Creem, meanwhile, explain that they have a professional production team that are ahead of the curve working on their set-up in preparation for whatever outcome. While Detonate are also intending to be adaptable to various scenarios, working alongside the local council and the relevant authorities in preparation.

The golden question of course is will events take place this summer and with the organisers that UKF spoke to they seemed pretty confident. Of course no-one knows for certain, but following successful trial events in Liverpool and the road map on course to see restrictions ease on June 21st; it looks like people will finally be able to have that party that everyone deserves.

Balter Festival – September 17 – 19 2021: Info

Detonate Festival – September 25 2021: Info

Hospitality In The Woods – September 18 – 19: Info