Debbie Howarth – Head of Commercial Enterprise
The Bath and West Showground, Somerset
Following a post to LinkedIn last week I say again ‘Who Would Have Thought It’…
The interest and interaction generated by my thoughts have really made me sit and take stock of exactly that…
We, the Bath and West Showground in Somerset were just about three months into another busy events year, already a tally of eleven one or two day public interest events, and numerous corporate meetings having taken place with plans in motion for a full diary right up and till Christmas comes a knocking. Plans for our annual Royal Bath and Show in May, one of the countries largest agricultural shows were full steam ahead. My colleague who heads up our marketing activities and I had just finished putting the final touches to an ambitious new strategy plan for the development of the showground. We were both excited about the proposals to strengthen our position as the leading events and exhibition venue in the South est of the country and ready to roll out our vision to the Board for approval. Everything was good.
Then it arrived….. the Coronavirus Pandemic…. Never in modern peace times has the UK faced such a challenge by a crisis that would affect each and every one of us, not just in our Events Industry but across all sectors and in every country and continent on a global level.
In the week commencing 16th March, normality as we knew it was transformed and the country thrown into turmoil. This week will be engrained on my mind for a very long time. It was brutal. Our staff took a barrage of calls and emails from worried traders and event organisers concerned whether they could run their events or postpone versus cancellation. “ What revised date could we give them?, Can they have a refund? Where do we stand with force majeure clauses on insurance policies? We are not covered for such situations, what can we do?… Many many questions and more. Over night we became the go-to hotline for our valued clients and extended Bath and West family who in normal circumstances we would welcome with open arms onto the site for their events, engage in our regular lighthearted banter, enquire how everyone was since the last time we met up, assist them with ensuring all ran smoothly, helped with any problems, and then shook hands, hugged in some cases and waved them off when their event was done and put to bed until the next one. Strong resilient individuals who know their game were suddenly reduced to tears, anger and disbelief. No one had experienced this before, we were all on unchartered territory.
Where then does this pandemic take our industry? Many will agree the events industry does not really get the acknowledgement of its contribution to the UK economy even in prosperous times. Tell someone you are in Events and you will probably be met with ‘that’s nice – so you organize weddings, parties and fetes. Rarely even the mention of exhibitions, conferences, trade shows and the like which assist greatly to a whole host of commercial sectors.
My background working with some of the most influencial communicators and PR gurus showed me time and time again to always make positive from the negative and as such, there is a light with identity of some of the major UK venues turning their facilities over to temporary hospitals and distribution hubs to assist society during our time of national crisis. Our valued event contractors, so able to be flexible, adapt and overcome are fitting out these sites to suit a new requirement. So when the crisis is over, let us hope the general public will remember these venues and support them accordingly.
Here we are no exception to this and with our own site being the largest of its kind in the region we are currently offering space for a distribution hub or anything else that can be useful to local authorities. Two of our contractors based on site have offered their equipment to assist – Trust Event Stages, with almost all bookings cancelled from a busy festival season have thrown in heavy duty forklift machinery and Spotless Event Hire a whole unit full of tables and chairs. So in reality and following quick adaptions by our own team we find ourselves in a world where meetings are conducted via Zoom and we are all doing what we can working from home with the challenges this brings of homeschooling the kids, running the household, ensuring we stay exercised and above all keeping sane. Whatever we started to plan, report on today or tomorrow will most definitely be out of date by the end of the week and again after the Easter break, which now seems will just slip into another few days in the quarantine process.
One thing that will be very certain at the end of the day, normality will not return overnight and with our own industry, this will look very different. Some of the smaller event companies, agencies, freelancers and suppliers will be gone and there will be a great deal of public confidence required to get us up and running.
Whilst we are remaining positive that we can host some events towards the later part of the year, 2021 could look very different. Whoever has the crystal ball, please can I book some time to borrow this from you very soon, I am sure there is a long list to join.
*As of Monday 6th April we will be furloughing our own staff of twenty three event professionals.