Safe events: Liverpool’s live music test event
At the beginning of May, the eyes of the UK events business, and the event-going public, focused on Liverpool’s Bramley Moore Dock, which hosted 6,000 people for two nights of live music. Here, SHP sits down with Eddy Grant, Director of Symphotech, the firm behind safety of the event, to look back on how it went and what it means for events moving forward.
On 30 April and 1 May 2021, music fans made a welcome return to live music, after more than a year without events, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Liverpool’s Circus Club, on Bramley Moore Dock, was the venue for the two-night dance event, which would play host to 6,000 fans.
Safety management firm Symphotech worked from the conception of the test events, supporting the organisers, Circus Music and The Events Company UK, to create a COVID-safe event, part of the government’s test event programme as it slowly lifts lockdown restrictions.
With the emphasis on research and the test event aspect of the shows, protocols had to meet the criteria required by the scientists and multiple stakeholders.
Symphotech Director Eddy Grant the project leader, producing a detailed, constantly evolving risk analysis for the staff and the audience. He explains: “When the roadmap out of lockdown was announced by the government, in February, I spoke with Sam Newson (The Events Company UK), Richard McGinnis (Circus Music) and Culture Liverpool, aware that Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was favouring Liverpool as a test event location.
“All were enthusiastic to ‘Make Events Happen’ and the ensuing months have been spent considering the additional challenges to working a normal gig. The almost daily shifting sands of the science meant we weren’t certain which elements the scientists were going to look at, with the additional protocols each brought into the frame adding to our planning.”
Sam Newson added: “It was the first COVID-safe dance event for 15 months – so there was a lot of pressure to get it right. It’s a massive risk – not knowing what is going to happen with the COVID results post-event, but it was also a special moment: it feels like we’re making history.”
The audience was drawn exclusively from the City of Liverpool and were aware they were taking part in a scientific test. Staff and media came from wider afield across the UK. All had to submit a negative COVID test 24 hours prior to coming on site. The audience attended a local test centre, to do a lateral flow test, and the result sent via their NHS App, linked to their digital ticket. Staff carried out PCR tests and everyone was asked to submit another test result, five days after the event to assess the impact of potential spread. No proof of vaccine was required to attend the event.
A month after it took place, SHP sat down with Symphotech Director Eddy Grant to look back on how the event went and what it means for the future of live events…
What restrictions were in place at the event and was there any criteria that you had to work to when planning the event?
Eddy Grant (EG): “We were working during pandemic restrictions as we moved from level two to three on the roadmap four steps to recovery. We were planning the event against a backdrop of rules restricting society and working with plan A being that the dates laid out in the government roadmap would be achieved.
“We had to consider our duty of care to all of the staff, with regular testing, and our key obligations were as the employer towards the staff working on the test events.
“During the shows, we were given a derogation of power by the Secretary of State, so that none of the STEPS regulations (being applied to the rest of the population) – were allowed to the public in the event – which allowed for no masks, or social distancing. For staff, we maintained social distancing and wearing of face coverings, we extended social distancing and put on extra staff to split shifts and create new bubbles.
“The event load-in was spread over a longer period than usual to allow social distancing and bubbling. The stage was built 10 days in advance, which meant that each of the tech crews went in on separate days. We also kept cleaners and site crew in separate bubbles. All staff carried out lateral flow tests the day before they came on site, were all tested regularly, so if we had experienced a positive result, we would only have to replace that person and the others could continue.
“When public left the event, they returned to following the rules of society – hands/face/space, facemasks, social distancing for level two.”
Did you feel any pressure, being one the first events of this kind in the UK, with many sectors having a vested interest in its success?
(EG): “It was a privilege rather than a pressure. Culture Liverpool and all stakeholders had confidence that the event team would deliver the event well, against the backdrop of COVID-19, based on previous Bramley-Moore dock events we had delivered as a team.
“Liverpool was picked to host test events because they understand events – from Culture Liverpool, the authorities, through to the city taxi licencing officers – who were great in helping the public with a safe egress at the end of the night.”
What measures were put in place to keep the public visitors safe and how closely did you work with PHE to ensure a smooth and safe event?
(EG): “All of the audience, 6,000 people over the two nights, had a PCR test the day before the event, which was linked to their digital ticket and checked on the way in. That meant we knew that everyone taking part in the test event coming into the event has tested negative 24 hours before the show.
“Five days after the show, they took a lateral flow test, submitted back us. We only got one positive result out of significant number of follow up tests, which identified that the events had not caused an outbreak.”
How did you handle the sensitive data around medical information, such as COVID tests and vaccine information, provided by attendees?
(EG): “The promoter, Live Events UK is used to handling data with a very secure digital platform.”
What was the purpose of having Public Health England and scientists on site and what was their role over the two days?
(EG): “It was a test event for the government, so PHE was gathering scientific data around airflow, temperature, crowd flow and behaviour – they have reported that they are very pleased with the data, to understand what practices and restrictions were practical.”
Overall, do you feel like the event was a success and how soon do you think events like this will be resembling something of a normality?
(EG): “The event was an outstanding success – the data was so good they don’t need to repeat it.
“Events only work under the ‘light touch’ of COVID protection for the audience – our focus needs to be to continue to protect the staff, give public opportunity to socially distance if they want to – but that can’t be regulated.
“The public have to play their part to see a return to live events – get vaccinated and get tested at home regularly.”
Are you working on any other events, in any other sectors at the moment?
(EG): “Yes – I have just given two seminars at The Event Production Show, the first B2B event back after the lockdown for conferences for the events sector, talking about the potential return for live events after level four.
“I am working all over the country with my colleagues at Symphotech and event professionals to bring back events. I am in constant touch with key trade associations (such as the AFO, NOEA, AIF) and have delivered seminars around the theme of Recover & Reopen.”
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