A New Call To Arms
Eric Stuart, Chair of the UKCMA, discusses the challenges facing the industry and asks, “Is there really more that unites us than divides us?”
Although it seems like a lifetime ago, I once wrote an article for this magazine and issued a ‘call to arms’ for all of those interested in keeping events and the public safe. During that article I bemoaned the lack of consistency in the UK in the application of laws and guidance through licensing and SAGs.
That call did not go unanswered, but our responses to you were delayed! Yes, Covid-19 shut us down. ‘The show must go on’ became a cry in the wilderness for most mass participation and close proximity events. Suddenly, in a way that none of us could surely have foreseen, our work life came to an end as we knew it. Yet we also became busier than we could have possibly imagined, keeping abreast of legislation and guidance, offering free training packages and desperately searching for suitable PPE. All whilst trying to make some events continue against the odds. Oh yes and through it all, fighting inconsistency in the application of new guidance and legislation! So at least one thing had not changed – it had just become worse.
At times like these, I try to undertake a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and even for a pessimist like me, I try to focus on the strengths and opportunities. The bigger the threat, the bigger the opportunities and wow, some people and companies really took theirs. A recent UKCMA survey showed that 40% of our companies diversified into new areas of business and significantly increased staff and turnover into the bargain. Whether they will return to events work is a point we are all considering and an area of concern for the whole events industry supply chain. It is a matter we have raised at government-level and to anyone who will listen. Among those opportunities for many though was time to think, ponder and self-check what we had been trying to achieve through our businesses and in our own lives. We at the UKCMA did the same.
What I did not expect but will be ever grateful for, was that the feedback that came in as a response to the call was not solely from security and stewarding companies or just from the UK. No, the calls we received were from like-minded individuals and organisations from a range of backgrounds such as officials, agencies and authorities – all with similar issues and concerns. Better still, they came in from countries all over the world including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. We also suddenly discovered that we really could meet and discuss issues on a global basis via a myriad of platforms without the need to fly and waste days doing so. The facilities were already there of course, but perhaps we just preferred the glamour and prestige of zipping around the world to do business.
We talked often (and too long sometimes) about the challenges we faced and frankly, we started to suffer ‘death by zoom’. However we mostly got that back in balance and whilst we worked with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Public Health England (PHE) and the Events Industry Forum (EIF) to produce guidance, in the US, the Event Safety Alliance (ESA) produced its own ‘reopening guide’. We talked with friends around the world and discovered that whilst many of our challenges were different, there was far more that unites us than divides us. Yes, we grew jealous of Australia and New Zealand. Particularly as they continued to play when we could not, but their timing was so much different than ours and our countries are so dissimilar. Canada and the US may well have been jealous of the UK and might remain so as we rapidly roll out our vaccination programme. But this is not the time to envy; it is a time to learn from those doing better and help those less fortunate.
At the end of each meeting, one thing we all agreed was that the events industry could do so much to help beat this disease. Of course, we can’t develop vaccines or testing kits, but we can help distribute and administer them. Let’s face it, whilst we had time on our hands, many built temporary mortuaries, testing centres and most recently, vaccinations hubs. We threw our collective hands in the air and shook our heads in despair as we heard television pundits talk of the ‘logistical nightmares’ that were involved. We shrugged our shoulders as we tried to explain that it was ‘just logistics’. Yes, they might sometimes keep us awake at night, but that is no excuse for nightmares. If your world consists of building a site for tens of thousands of people with the weather against you, the supply chain stretched, the authorities questioning every move and a deadline that cannot change, why would logistics phase you? If your life revolves around temporary trackways and barriers, signage, messaging, fencing, power, lighting and toilets all to be delivered, installed, used, cleaned and removed in four or five days, why would building a Covid-19 testing or vaccination centre seem so daunting?
So, if there really is, “more that unites us than divides us” during Covid-19, why should that be different whenever some form of normality returns? Why can we not share events and crowd safety knowledge around the world; the way we have shared Covid-19 lessons and will soon share vaccinations? Is that not what this magazine seeks to do? The recently reused phrase ‘No one is safe until the whole world is safe’ may not apply in a crowd crush. Let’s face it, it would have to be a pretty astonishing progressive crowd collapse or quake that managed to cross continents and oceans! Yet why should those in poorer, less informed countries not have the ability to learn what we have learned at such pain about keeping people safe in crowded environments?
So, if there really is, “more that unites us than divides us” during Covid-19, why should that be different whenever some form of normality returns?
I mean no insult to those nations; none of us know what we do not know. Similar patterns that are associated with music festivals also apply to large religious events; just replace ‘religious euphoria’ with ‘Beatlemania’ or even ‘drugs and alcohol’ – the end product can be similar. We know from history that religious events have seen incidents that unfortunately killed plenty of people. But large crowds might need to suddenly evacuate anywhere, such as shopping malls and theatres in China, Africa, India and many other nations. Fires, weather and terrorists strike almost everywhere and can cause huge crowd evacuations. Why should those of us who have learnt through the deaths of many, not be able to share it with those still suffering?
As our friends in the US Event Safety Alliance are fond of saying ‘gravity works everywhere’ and sadly, when people are poorly managed in crowds, both gravity and high density has the same effect on bodies, no matter the race, colour or religion. Crowd crushing is brutal and has the same outcome everywhere, no matter what flag you live under.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that as you read this magazine, you will find articles on a wide range of topics penned by numerous authors from multiple countries; many from nations in which some of you have had the opportunity to work.
Now it feels as though we in the UK are about to undergo a sea change in our industry on the same scale as Hillsborough. Particularly as the learning from the Manchester Inquiry begins to emerge in its recommendations and the writing of The Protect Duty or ‘Martyn’s Law’. Will we keep the learning in-house or share it? The answer must be the latter! Will it bring new threats or new opportunities and will we focus on our weaknesses or our strengths? For now at least that must wait, though probably not for long.
In the meantime, here is the new ‘call to arms.’ We, you, the authors and readers of this magazine, are generally rather good at what we all do: keeping people safe. So how would you help to share the message wider? How far can we go and how great can our reach be? Where should we stop, if at all? Can we, collectively, as leaders in our field, reach out to those who need our help elsewhere and offer that hand to those yet able to afford it? Would you help if you could? Why not drop us a line either to Chair@UKCMA.com or Secretary@UKCMA.com to let Annie Chebib and I know what you think about the concept. We believe with your support, we can actually make a difference and be stronger together.