When will large-scale concerts and festivals return in Scotland?

IT was heartening to hear Aggreko chief executive Chris Weston declare last week that it was “very much business as usual” for the company as it lays the groundwork to provide power to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2021. With the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out so many of our cherished sports tournaments and live music festivals – Wimbledon, Glastonbury, The Open and of course Tokyo 2020 are among the high-profile events which have been forced to lie fallow for a year – there is hope to be found in the fact organisations are planning for a degree of normality in 2021. As we all know, of course, there remains a good deal of uncertainty over what 2021 will hold in terms of coronavirus, and the degree to which people will be permitted to gather together to attend big events.

When it comes to sport, we have already seen this summer a welcome resumption of action, with top-level football, cricket, rugby league and golf all returning to the delight of fans, albeit events in Scottish football this week have illustrated how precarious that return is. Although spectators continue to be conspicuous by their absence, it has been shown that there is a way for professional sport to take place while extremely strict protocols are observed. READ MORE: UK falls into recession after lockdown sees record contraction

That point was illustrated by Mr Weston, who underlined the importance of major events going ahead – and presumably not least because his company derives around eight per cent of its revenue from supplying power to such occasions. Last year Aggreko provided power to golf’s Solheim Cup when it was held at Gleneagles. “The events are very keen to get under way again, but it all comes down to the virus, and the restrictions around the virus,” Mr Weston told The Herald. “Even if those events do not have spectators, or as many spectators, it is important to TV coverage and TV revenue that they go ahead… it will come back.”

However, while it may be possible for some events to survive without live audiences, the outlook continues to appear difficult for those who depend on people being in attendance. The scale of the challenges facing people whose livelihoods depend on the live entertainment industry has been highlighted this week by the nationwide #WeMakeEvents campaign. A host of illustrious names from the music industry, including New Order, Doves and Blossoms, have thrown their weight behind the campaign, which warns that as many as 114,000 jobs could be lost from the touring and events sector because of its continuing shutdown because of coronavirus.

Thousands of crew workers, from lighting engineers and producers to truck drivers, cleaners, and security staff, many of whom are freelancers, have been unable to work since the lockdown took hold, and a protest march took place in Manchester to underline the need for the Government to step in and provide financial support. Famous music venues in Scotland, including King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, were lit up in red, too, in support of the industry. READ MORE: Scots firm in new GBP400,000 taxpayer funded contract to help resolve Scots ferry fiasco

In Scotland, there has been some recognition of the predicament, with the Scottish Government recently announcing a GBP10 million funding package to help the events sector recover. It said the funding will be channelled to event organisers and to help small firms in the supply chain keep going while restrictions on events remain. While any cash boost is welcome, it is surely only a temporary salve: what the industry needs more than ever is for the coronavirus threat to subside so that events can take place once again.

Under Scotland’s route map out of lockdown, it is envisaged that outdoor events may be able to resume on August 24. However, whether that comes to fruition hinges on a review by the Scottish Government, the outcome of which is due to be announced on August 20. There is also the potential for indoor events to kick off again on September 14, but as Paul Bush, director of events at VisitScotland, told me this week, it is hard to predict anything when it comes to Covid-19. “We have all lived through this, it is all very fluid,” he said.

“You only need to look at what is happening in football at present. “Even if we get the green light to do something on August 24, it will be subject to the locality and what happens in terms of cases, spikes, or the R number.” The pandemic has been particularly hard for the events industry, which is worth GBP6 billion to the Scottish economy, because it will be the “first to go and the last to restart”.

Mr Bush was full of praise for organisers who have shown impressive levels of innovation throughout the crisis, highlighting the “spectacular” My Light Shines On, the Edinburgh International Festival celebration which lit up the city last weekend during what would normally have been the opening of the festival season. Other examples have been the transition of events from live to virtual audiences, which could still be an important feature of the industry even after the pandemic subsides. And “green shoots” are emerging in other ways, said Mr Bush, who pointed to golf’s Ladies Scottish Open taking place behind closed doors at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick this weekend.

That will be followed by the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon, the first “major” to take place in the UK since the pandemic erupted. Such events will provide useful dress rehearsals for when big crowds are eventually allowed at major gatherings again. However, there can be no doubt of the enormity of the challenge that still lies ahead.

In many ways, the sector’s recovery will be down to when that all-elusive confidence returns. Until people feel sufficiently safe to gather in numbers again, be that at a crowded rock concert at the SSE Hydro, or a bustling convention at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the industry will remain in recovery mode. “You have got to remain optimistic,” said Mr Bush. “We just don’t know what is around the corner, do we?

“But it is a bit like an athlete. [When] an athlete has a poor performance [it] does not mean they are a poor athlete. Scotland has a great record in events and it will bounce back. It is just going to take some time.”

Mr Bush added: “We have to look to 2021.

This year is very much about building the case, building the confidence, and starting to do some test and pilot events… and then slowly next year start to build back into some sort of size and scale that we had pre-Covid.

But it is not going to be quick.”

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