What can we learn from the first socially distanced events?

Covid-secure events have now become the norm, how can these experiences be delivered without compromising on quality?

What can we learn from the first socially distanced events?

When socially distanced events first emerged they instantly provided a way for consumers to continue to go out and be entertained safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The Virgin Money Unity arena has delivered some of the largest events, with 2,500 fans separated in groups to watch acts such as Sam Fender and Supergrass perform on stage.

Elsewhere, there have been drive-ins, walk-throughs, and picnic table set-ups all taking into account measures to keep guests separated in their social bubbles.

The illegal rave scene is also seeing a resurgence, athough new rules have now come into force meaning people holding illegal gatherings could be fined up to £10,000. There were reportedly more than 500 illegal raves across London in July, with police responding to 23 in a single day.

Regardless of the circumstances, there is definitely a burning appetite for people to gather.

From 1 October conferences and exhibitions will be permitted to open up in a Covid secure way but it's important for socially distanced events to not feel like a compromise. With limited capacities, entry fees may have to rise and the sense of atmosphere can be diminished.

So what can we learn from the first socially distanced events?

Louise Hodges

Head of consumer communications, Virgin Money

We're firm believers in music having the power to transform moods and, while many festivals remain cancelled and venues are unable to open due to restrictions, music continues to be very much alive for us. The Virgin Money Unity Arena is a monumental step forward for the live music industry, and we hope others follow suit in bringing innovative music experiences back to the UK.

A key take-out off the back of the concert series is around consumer enthusiasm and co-operation – people are desperate to return to normality and enjoy experiences in person and with friends, and so attendees have been respectful of the health-and-safety measures implemented on-site and have been following social-distancing rules and government guidelines.

In terms of making the event Covid-19 secure, we have a cleverly thought-out system, which sees people from the same household arrive at the venue via staggered arrival times, take a short walk down to the Virgin Money Unity Arena and watch the live show from the comfort of their own personal viewing platform. All viewing areas are placed at least two metres apart from one another, with food and drinks available for pre-order. One person from each platform is able to access the food and drink stalls and/or the toilet at any one time. Everything you could think of has been carefully considered to ensure everyone on site is protected and safe while enjoying the live shows.

Robyn Isherwood

Event director, Gisburne Park Pop Up

Being able to run safe and successful socially-distanced events is key to getting the events industry back on track. I think our event has been a success because we have clear social-distancing measures in place. With our hexagons, guests have clear boundaries that they have to keep within. When festival-goers are expected to maintain their own physical distancing, it is difficult for staff and security to manage. However, this, of course, has limitations in regards to capacity. We host up to 480 guests per event and it will be interesting to see how the larger festivals adapt for summer 2021 if there still isn't a vaccine.

Given the unexpectedness of Covid-19, most brands hadn't planned to activate under social distancing; so most of the brand activations at this year's festival has been fairly low-key. However, if this continues into next year, it will be interesting to see the creative concepts brands develop in line with the new rules that keep guests safe while fully immersing them in the brand experience.

Tosh Ohta

Head of client development, Amplify, and DJ

First and foremost, guest safety has to be the absolute priority. If promoters cut corners, they'll be called out. But many venues like Brixton Courtyard are already getting to grips with this.

Now that DJs have to play music at lower volumes to discourage shouting, they're revealing a different side of the music they play. This shift from outright club belters to more a listening/personal selection is heaven for music trainspotters – and it's an opportunity we might not have once social distancing finally disappears.

Now that we're chained to trestle tables listening to lower volumes, it's crucial that promoters ensure even distribution of sound throughout the venue, with no seating in blackspots.

Socially distanced events also need to put more emphasis on food collaborations. If you're going to sit down for a long session, you need good food to justify the expense and match the emotive sense-of-occasion of being reunited with friends.

It's slightly painful that we still have to pay high for a reduced experience. But for now, it's the price we must pay to support nightlife. Either that, or turn to illegal events, which most of the scene is against for obvious reasons.

Chloe Aldridge

Head of production, Iris Worldwide

Well-trodden in the US, but relatively unknown in the UK, the drive-in cinema concept felt like a no-brainer during the lockdown, with its naturally in-built social distancing. The expectation of balmy evenings and glamorous convertibles may have resulted in drizzly afternoons in airport car parks, but it hasn't dampened the spirits of guests. With the addition of pre-film activities and the novelty of ordering a hot meal to your car, it's been incredibly well received. Singing and reciting lines aloud may be frowned upon in the cinema, but from the comfort and privacy of your own car, it adds an extra layer of fun. I don't think it will ever rival the experience of watching a new release in full darkness and epic surround sound, but as a Covid-safe activity, it's hard to beat.

With a summer of festivals and gigs lost to lockdown, there's definitely an appetite to return to live music. For months our social media feeds have been saturated with artists performing from their front rooms, but the novelty has well and truly started to wear off and the desire for expertly produced shows has never been greater. Reduced venue capacity and increased safety measures feel like an acceptable compromise if we're to experience the thrill of sub and strobe lights once more.

George Wood

Founder, The Luna Cinema

What we've really noticed is how overwhelmingly the public are willing to adopt the measures we are forced to abide by in holding these events. We had a fear that the new layout, staggered entry times and spaced queueing might have a negative impact on the experience, but we needn't have worried – the finding on-site is that the public are totally comfortable with the measures, and are so appreciative that the events are taking place at all that they are in a positive and accepting frame of mind from the point of arrival.

Our brand sponsors have been able to adapt well because it's about understanding what the audience needs at the moment – escapism but also assurance. We are fortunate that the actual cinema experience is not adversely affected in any way by the Covid-19 measures – in fact, some might say it's better in that everyone has more space to spread out in versus a normal year.

The public's appetite for a return to open-air/public events is clearly strong and that is encouraging for us all. Brands need to ensure they have adapted to suit the changing attitudes towards what people want from an experience and offer as much meaning to them as possible in this new context.

Main picture: Getty Images/Thomas M Jackson/Redferns

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