Lee Sharp has been appointed as the new managing director of East of England Arena and Events Centre, commencing his role at a time of great uncertainty for venues and events. Sharp has 25 years’ experience in the hospitality sector, his most recent role being UK operations director for a major hotel facilities management company, and held positions with Virgin Active, De Vere Hotels, and Whitbread brands in the UK, Fairmont hotels in Switzerland and Langham Hotel and Resorts in Hong Kong.

Sharp said: “The East of England Arena has the size and opportunity to develop and grow as a fantastic business. The future leisure and residential development plans were also key to my interest and enthusiasm. I wanted to be part of something on this scale, as this is one of the UK’s most interesting venue development projects. I wanted to get involved to build a fantastic and unique international venue for the UK event industry.”

Sharp’s ambitions for the venue include plans for diversification and increasing international sales, but the reality of a resurgent pandemic has been his most immediate challenge. In 2020, the venue was lauded for its COVID-19 policies that enabled socially distanced events to go ahead, using open-air market guidelines and regulations to move events out of doors, and making use of the extensive open-air event space at the venue to prevent crowding, queues and transmission.

Sharp described how the venue had been keeping cancellations of its Christmas party events to a minimum, saying: “We began communicating with customers when Omicron first surfaced, and before any official announcements had been made, reassuring them them of our track record in safe events, explaining the measures we were putting in place to keep them and our staff safe, and the measures they will need to take to attend safely. Where some operators are experiencing high cancellation rates following the recent government announcements, I’m delighted to say we are keeping cancellations for our Christmas party events down to about 10 per cent.”

“I’m fortunate to have an excellent and capable team with considerable expertise in COVID-secure events, and whilst it’s not going to be the Winter season we were hoping for, we are all looking forward to a busy year in 2022,” Sharp concluded. “We are in the process of implementing new processes as part of a bounceback plan, and will be following COVID-19 developments closely and working with the local authorities and public health to continue keeping all our staff, visitors and customers safe.”