The Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) provided a vital lifeline for many event organisers and suppliers. Here, recipients of the funding explain how they have used the money and what it means for them and their business…

In October, more than 1,900 arts and cultural organisations breathed a sigh of relief, as the Government revealed details of those successfully awarded grants in the first round of its Culture Recovery Fund (CRF).

Now events professionals across the UK have to wait until the end of March to hear if they have been successful in the second round of funding, which is designed to financially support cultural organisations in England that are struggling to operate as a result of national and local lockdown restrictions.

Vital funds

In the first round of funding, Liverpool’s BlackFest, a grassroots arts festival, received £50,000 to trial socially-distanced events and Shangri-La Glastonbury was awarded £61,059 to develop a new digital art and music event platform, and continue work with emerging artists.

Festival and event organisations – including WOMAD, Y Not Festivals, Cheltenham Festivals, Brighton Pride, Gallowglass, APL Event, Fourth Generation, DHP Family, Color Sound Experiment, Events Design Company, Slam Dunk, NoNonsense Group, Ethix Management, Truck Festival, Tribe Festivals, Walk the Plank and East of England Showground all received vital funds. In fact, 22 members of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which applied for round one of CRF, were successful, with total allocated funding totalling £4,461,976. Grants ranged from £50,000 to £783,939.

“The funding is most welcome but it’s just a drop in the ocean,” said Eddy Grant, Symphotech’s legal and safety consultant.

Symphotech received £120,000 from the CRF and channelled the funding, as well as securing the business through this difficult time. The health and safety specialist specifically wanted to support the sector by funding safety consultancy work to help events recover and reopen.

Symphotech contacted the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) and delivered a series of free-to-attend safety webinars to AFO members, aimed at arming event organisers with insight and information to manage and deliver COVID-19 safe festivals.

Grant continued: “We were clear on what we wanted the funding for. We wanted to share good practice with the industry because an industry that can reopen safely is within the industry’s whole interest.

“Working out how we do that is important because when festivals and events do happen again we will be scrutinised and the TV cameras will be there.”

According to Grant, the events industry is holding its breath until February 22 when it is hoped that some guidance will be issued as to how/if/when events can happen.

“Until February 22 everything is guess work and pure guess work gets you nowhere.

“For the industry to reopen we will have to show the Government how we can manage events safely.”

Organisers will have to demonstrate to local authority SAGs and Public Health England that a risk-assessed approach to safety has been undertaken. Clear objectives will need to be set and stakeholder comms will be essential.

“Residents will no longer be just asking an organiser about noise and litter. They will ask ‘are you bringing a disease to my community?’

‘Risk management strategies will need to support any decisions that an organiser has made. Also, what if in June, for example, the Government says that events with 50 per cent capacity can go ahead but in July, this is changed to 70 per cent? Can an organiser scale up? Can they get more toilets? Do they have the capacity to go bigger?”

Such questions were posed to AFO members and the information shared encouraged organisers to think ahead. The seminars were well-received.

Grant continued: “We knew what we wanted to do with the funding. We encouraged all of our colleagues to apply. Without it, we would have faced serious challenges as a business. We would have survived but on a smaller scale. We needed the CRF so that we could be ready to reopen, and as I said, it is within the event industry’s whole interest for everyone to reopen safely.”

Black hole

Symphotech has applied to the second round of the CRF, as it would like to continue its work, helping organisers to be ready for the coming months. Pearce Hire, awarded £450,000 in round one, has also reapplied.

Jim Brown, general manager at Pearce Hire, explained: “We spoke to the Production Services Association and they said that applying for the CRF was worth a shot. We thought that it was unlikely that we’d get anything because we had missed out on so many other schemes. But it was a dice worth rolling. It’s been a godsend, it has kept us going and given us some stability.”

Pearce Hire had to prove that it had done everything within its power to minimise costs. It applied for the CRF to cover operating costs and employ staff to carry out vital work, such as electrical testing within venues and to service kit and machinery.

“We had to demonstrate that there was a significant risk of us not surviving,” Brown continued. “The money filled a black hole.

“Now we have applied for the second round and we’re pleased to see that even more companies in the supply chain are aware of the funding. Now that we all have to start committing costs for the season ahead, based on the assumption that events will get back up and running, it will fill a gap.

“My guess is that we will see small and medium sized events sooner, run by agile companies, who can afford to take a risk. Or we’ll see a two-day event split into two one-day events.”

Keeping things ticking over

Ella Nosworthy, creative director of Nozstock, the Herefordshire-based festival, told Stand Out that the festival team is working on the basis that it plans to go ahead “as normal” but are “being realistic”.

“If we can’t run Nozstock then we’ll do five or six one-day events to run alongside a digital events. I think the ‘in and out’ model maybe the way forward. But unlike other festivals, we’re lucky that we have our own site and we can do what we want and when we want to do it.”

Nozstock received £70,000 from CRF. Nosworthy explained: “It was very much about survival. The funding covered basic costs and has kept us ticking over.

“We furloughed a lot of our team but we needed to bring our marketing team back on board so that we could start selling tickets and we needed to pay artist deposits. We haven’t used the funds for anything new or exciting because it’s just not in the budget but we have applied for an Arts Council England project grant, which will help us to do something on site that is neuro-diverse.”

According to Nosworthy, there is a huge appetite for festivals and she believes that when festivals get the green light there’ll be a big rush for tickets.

“It’s the first time we’ve applied for anything like this,” she said. “And if we hadn’t got it then we’d be having a very different conversation.

“We have applied for the second round and if successful it will cover costs. We probably didn’t apply for enough in the first round so we’ve learned from that. Now we’re not preparing for one campaign for one event, we have to prepare for several possibilities and so we want to make sure we can pivot, safely and securely.”

Wise move

Dock Street Events received £50,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund but unlike Symphotech, Pearce Hire and Nozstock has chosen not to apply for funding in the second round.

Chris Clay, managing director of Dock Street Events, commented: “We were very surprised and fortunate to get the money. The funding covered our business overheads and enabled us to continue but we haven’t applied again, as we have work on.

“We also used the funding to put together a pitch team. It felt good to be able to use the money to pay freelancers.”

The pitch was successful and now Dock Street Events is working with Wandsworth Council, assessing feasibility and developing event ideas, to mark the opening of the Northern Line extension.”

Dock Street Events also used some of the money for training and development, such as Level 6 Diploma in Health and Safety. Clay concluded: “Right now, we are looking at models for events and scenarios for Q3. Coming out of this, we will have to get health and safety right so to use the CRF for health and safety training was a wise thing to do.”

Image: Nozstock/Charlie Rimmer