Why public events are crucial to economy and safe as Ministers debate lockdown – Jayne Dowle

IT might be chaos with foreign travel, but there is some good news on the coronavirus front. The Government’s Events Research Programme has resulted in just 15 cases of Covid-19 among 58,000 attendees at recent gatherings.

Revellers at a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool as part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP).
Revellers at a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool as part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP).

They’ve been keeping that quiet, haven’t they? The 15 cases have been broken down into four during the 17-day World Snooker Championships held indoors in Sheffield, two cases among 5,900 music lovers at an outdoor festival at Sefton Park in Liverpool and nine among the 6,000 revellers enjoying themselves over two nights at a mask-free nightclub, also in Liverpool.

In more good news, there were no cases reported from the indoor Brit Awards or the reduced capacity football matches at Wembley. Surely this is a great positive leap forward? Yet, unless I’m missing something, I haven’t heard it shouted from the rooftops on the 10 o’clock news.

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It is understandable that the Government is cautious. The failure to ban mass events quickly enough was held responsible for the rapid spread of the virus in the early days.

Oliver Dowden is the Culture Secretary.

And the road towards June 21, when current restrictions on events, including the cap of 30 people on outdoor gatherings, are set to be reviewed, is by no means straightforward.

Several planeloads of Chelsea and Manchester City fans should now be stuck at home sitting out their 10-day quarantine period. The NHS Test and Trace app warned hundreds of football supporters who travelled to Portugal for the Champions League final that they had been in contact with the Indian variant of Covid-19.

I can’t imagine anything worse right now than being in an airtight tube travelling at speed through the air with a load of football fans. And I think, to be honest, that would be a choice that few of us would take.

However, after a year and a half of normality on hold how life-affirming would it be to enjoy some of the time-honoured rituals of summer? I’m not necessarily talking about the Glastonbury Festival, postponed this summer for the second time, but more modest affairs, the events that bind our communities together.

Tickets are on sale for next month's Great Yorkshire Show.

I miss the annual summer fair at our church, for example. Since my children were small, it has punctuated the start of summer. Jack and Lizzie loved the lucky dip stall and a bun from the impressive home-baked display for sale, all funds to the church roof fund, of course.

Churches, along with charities and voluntary organisations, have suffered a huge drop in fundraising income since the pandemic struck. Summer, with its galas, fetes and fairs, should be a time to recoup some of this loss.

Charities have suffered a £10.1bn funding “gap” since last March, according to research by Pro Bono Economics, and the near-term outlook remains extremely difficult– 84 per cent of charities said they forecast a drop in income over the next 12 months.

In more recent years, I’ve made a beeline for the church fete plant stall to buy my sweet peas. In this way, the event has always marked the start of summer for me. Not this year, sadly. I’ve decided to grow my own, but they’re nowhere near as good.

I know that this appears trivial in the massive scheme of the pandemic. However, they are the things which anchor us as the seasons turn. And this year, even when events are scheduled to go ahead, there is trepidation and anxiety.

Charities face difficult times, unsure about the safety of organising outdoor events and professional events management companies and associated businesses, such as sound and light hire, hospitality, catering and security, face a future suspended in the balance.

Earlier this year, Peter Heath, managing director of the Performance Lighting and Sound Association, said at least 400,000 highly-skilled jobs had been lost in his sector because of the “perfect storm” of coronavirus and Brexit.

Insurance for events is one of the biggest challenges, says the Local Government Association, but the Government is refusing to share its findings from these trial events.

It’s not good enough for Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to say “wait and see”. He should be sharing the findings, talking to event organisers and allowing smaller organisations and charities to take their lead from the top. Still, I’m travelling hopefully. I’ve booked my tickets for the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. I only hope I’m not going to be watching it from my living room again.

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