At the time of writing this, we currently have a roadmap out of lockdown that, all being well, promises life will be “back to normal” by the end of June. Let that sink in for a second.
“Back to normal” – meaning pubs, restaurants and clubs, indoor + outdoor, all open past 10 pm, and just in time for England to play their final group game of the Euros. For the entertainment industry too, it means the great British festival season will be back this summer (barring a couple of notable absences in Download and Glastonbury, sob).
There’s something perfectly British about the fact the first major festivals announced to be running post-lockdown (Reading + Leeds) will be headlined by Liam Gallagher too.
But what does this news mean for the public when it comes to the bigger picture of summer? Whilst exciting, it’s a mixed bag – as any potential reward comes laced with a hint of risk.
Let’s recap: Boris and the team have said that from 17th May at the earliest, indoor venues will be allowed to hold events of up to either 1,000 people or being half-full, whichever is lower.
When it comes to outdoor venues, that increases to 4,000 or being half-full (again, whichever is lower), and up to 10,000 (or up to quarter-full) in “the largest outdoor seated venues” – read: football stadia.
But after that month, the big one – 21st June, the date from which all social distancing rules are planned to be removed, paving the way for events, gatherings and festivals of all sizes to return.
And organisers that can take advantage of the timing have been quick to announce their plans, meaning that as well as a summer of packed pubs for the Euros and fan zones for the Olympics, we’ll see a wealth of British festivals in 2021.
As well as the aforementioned Reading + Leeds, we’ll see the likes of Wireless Festival, TRNSMT, Parklife, South West 4, Bestival, Boardmasters, Latitude, Creamfields, Isle of Wight Festival, Slam Dunk and BST Hyde Park all welcome back fans, to name just a few.
But as exciting as that may be for many, experts have warned that coming out of lockdown (and jumping back into a busy field full) is going to be no walk in the park for millions of us, with anxiety and mental health issues peaking for many during the past 12 months of isolation.
For organisers though, it’s no surprise they have been so keen – in 2020, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), reported 92% of its members faced costs that could ruin their businesses as a result of cancelled events, including potential refunds of up to £800m for cancelled festivals, and average losses of £375,000 per festival for costs such as marketing, staffing and advertising. As devastating as that has already been for many, a second summer of cancellations could be catastrophic.
But what world will these returning festivals and their sponsors be coming back to? Despite the government’s announcement sounding very ‘business as usual’, industry commentators are warning people to look out for potential negative COVID tests required for event attendees, or even COVID passports (proving you’ve been vaccinated) being mandatory for larger events.
And despite Rishi Sunak announcing a further £300m for the government’s Culture Recovery Fund in this month’s budget, industry figures including LIVE, the UK’s official industry body for live music, are asking the Chancellor to go further – including looking again at a “government-backed insurance scheme” to offer more protection for festival organisers if further cancellations are forced.
Meaning that, while the route to summer 2021 may look exciting and full of promise, for now, there could be bumps in the road map ahead which could lead to this either being a summer to remember, – or another to forget.
Fingers crossed for the former.