The O2 has released details of some of the measures being put in place for The BRIT Awards, which is taking place at the venue this week (May 11).

The O2 is to host the UK’s largest indoor pilot event as part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP) with a live audience of 4,000 attending the event.

The pilot event is a significant step for the venue, as well as the wider industry and associated supply chains, who have all found the last 12 months incredibly challenging.

The importance of smoothly delivering this event and helping shape and pave the way back to hosting capacity events again is not lost on Steve Sayer, VP and general manager of The O2.

He said: “For the past 14 years The O2 has set the bar as the world’s number one music and entertainment venue, and we are proud to have been specially selected to host the largest indoor pilot event as part of the scientific study that will enable our industry to be able to operate large capacity events again, without social distancing, following the impact of COVID-19. We’ve spent the past 12 months adapting our operation across the wider campus at The O2 enabling us to reopen parts of the venue to the public for outlet shopping and dining, but the arena is the beating heart at the centre of this incredible destination and we’ve missed our fans and the bands as much as they’ve missed us”.

During the first lockdown, owners and operators of The O2, AEG, quickly moved to make The O2 arena available to the NHS as a training facility to on-board staff ready for the NHS Nightingale Hospital at Excel London, becoming the venue’s longest ever residency. Since June 2020 when Icon Outlet and roof walk Up at The O2 first reopened to the public, the venue has become adept at managing large volumes of visitors while adhering to new social distancing measures and enhanced hygiene requirements and it is this experience that has put The O2 in a unique position to be hosting the pilot event.

Sayer continued: “We aim to wow every fan coming to The O2. During the pandemic the focus for us has been ensuring our customer experience remains paramount; listening and responding to their needs in the wake of COVID, considering hygiene and sanitisation, our operating systems and technology, improving their journey with us and communicating with confidence at every step of the way. So, The O2 becomes the place they want to keep coming back to because they feel safe, comfortable and can relax when they are in our care.”

An example of this is the new partnership struck by AEG Global Partnerships with Unilever’s Lifebuoy, to become the Official Hand Sanitiser Partner of The O2. The three-year deal sees 256 branded units prominently displayed across The O2 as a very visual reassurance measure following insight obtained by The O2 that indicated 75 per cent of visitors wanted to see this when they returned to live events. Within the arena the use of new electrostatic fogging systems before, during and after events ensure that the venue is thoroughly cleaned with a market-leading charged anti-bacterial product that protect surfaces for up to 30 days.

The O2 arena has enhanced the level of filtration for all fresh air coming into the arena in line with the latest recommendations. There is a smart temperature-controlled ventilation system in place which brings fresh air in through vents in the ceiling, evacuating spent air through the roof of the venue ensuring fresh controlled air throughout. Carbon dioxide levels are constantly monitored and the ERP group has installed around 75 additional sensors to monitor CO2 level changes throughout the event.

Protection for visitors and staff against virus transmission is key, and a new partnership announced with Rentokil Initial as Official Specialist Hygiene Services Partner at The O2 will see the installation of VIRUSKILLER air purification technology. This follows updated guidance from the World Health Organisation, which has said coronavirus is most likely to be transmitted when in close proximity to other people.

Testing is a major part of the pilot event, with all guests taking an NHS Lateral Flow Test in the 36 hours prior to the event, and a PCR test on the day and five days after the event which are both sent for laboratory testing to assess any transmission from the event. It is clear that continued levels of regular testing are going to be around for some time and may be the enabler for life to return to some levels of former normality whether for events or overseas travel. The O2 has begun a collaboration with Collinson to convert a section of its ample car parking facilities into a walk up/drive in asymptomatic testing site. The privately owned company offers both PCR and lateral flow tests that enable customers to meet Government regulations for foreign travel, and a recent extension of the facility will see this in place through until the end of June.

Danielle Kennedy-Clark, The O2’s deputy general manager and operations director, has been leading the organisation of the pilot event working with The BRITs and the ERP as well as local authority and DCMS representatives to ensure plans are in place to safely welcome guests into the arena again:

She said: “Operationally we are used to safely welcoming around 20,000 guests into the arena, while the wider campus is open to visitors shopping, dining and enjoying the other activities on site. Our 4,000 guests for the event will be split between two groups outside The O2’s main entrance where we will check their negative COVID-19 Lateral Flow Test result before allowing them into The O2. Once inside for the pilot event there won’t be any social distancing measures in place, however customers are expected to wear a face covering at all times except when in their seat or suite. We’re well staffed and our guest relations teams are looking forward to getting back to carrying out their frontline roles welcoming guests and helping them to their seats. Our digital ticketing and COVID-19 security measures mean we are able to do this in a smooth and contactless manner.”

The O2 and Official Ticketing Partner AXS have introduced AXS Mobile ID, a digital ticketing solution, through The O2 Venue App where customers are allocated a digital ID in the form of a dynamic barcode which then regenerates every 60 seconds, preventing fraud and illegal resale of tickets. The app also becomes the quickest and easiest way of ordering food, drink and merchandise from your seat, and being able to track your order through to collection from fast pick up lanes once notified. This measure will hugely reduce the amount of time spent queuing on concourses and ensure that fans get to enjoy more of the show. Guests in The O2’s premium areas are also able to order food delivered direct to their suite via the app or tablets located within.

The artist experience is also a key part of returning to live events, and a hyper-secure sterile environment is being created for this event which will mean that staff will not be able to migrate from front of house locations to the backstage quarters to protect any potential transmission. Crews working on the production build have been operating in staggered shifts, while wearing face coverings throughout, and the heightened cleaning regimes have been extended across all parts of the venue and will be intensified in the 24 hours prior to the show.

Sayer concluded: “This event is such a big moment for us, and I’m enormously proud of the team at The O2 who have been working round the clock to ensure we have a best-in-class event as always, and that our customer experience is everything our fans have been waiting over 14 months to experience again. Our new measures and partnerships will ensure our guests feel confident at our venue as we make history as the largest indoor pilot event. This and all of the events that make up the Events Research Programme create a really important step for the industry’s recovery. Ultimately we hope that it will contribute to all venues across the country being able to reopen with full capacity crowds from next month.”