Music Festivals Guidance for 2021

For many years, we have been pleased to advise the organisers of the Isle of Wight Festival on licensing and regulatory matters. During 2020, the widespread cancellation of UK music festivals – including the Isle of Wight Festival – due to the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by experts’ predictions that large gatherings for music events might not be allowed to return until autumn 2021.

However, in line with the Government’s four-step roadmap plan to ease lockdown restrictions across England, it is hoped that Step 4 will permit music festivals and other large-scale events to resume across England no earlier than 21 June 2021. This year’s Isle of Wight Festival is scheduled to take place on 16 – 19 September 2021 at Seaclose Park, Fairlee Road, Newport.

The Step 4 plan has been re-confirmed in updated ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Organised events guidance for local authorities‘ published today (23 April 2021), which states as follows:

Permitted events — no earlier than 21 June 2021

Step 4 will take place no earlier than 21 June, and at least five weeks after Step 3, following a further review of the data against the four tests. As before, the government will announce one week in advance whether restrictions will be eased as planned.

With appropriate mitigations in place, by Step 4, the government aims to remove all legal limits on social contact and enable all events above the Step 3 capacity restrictions to go ahead. This will be strictly subject to the government review of the latest available data on the impact of the previous step against four tests and the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme, potentially using testing to reduce the risk of infection, subject to further evaluation.

That guidance lists the following other existing items of guidance of potential relevance to organisers of music festivals:

DCMS guidance

    1. Working safely during coronavirus: heritage locations
    2. Working safely during coronavirus: performing arts

Guidance produced in collaboration with stakeholders

    1. Association of Event Organisers – COVID-19 guidance for event recovery
    2. Events Industry Forum – Keeping workers and audiences safe during COVID-19 in the outdoor event industry in England
    3. Events Industry Forum, Association of Independent Festivals, Association of Festival Organisers – Music Festivals – COVID-19 supplementary guidance (this is a working draft version 1, dated 12 October 2020, in relation to which see our comments below)
    4. UK Hospitality – COVID-19 secure guidelines for hospitality businesses

Other useful information

    1. Reopening businesses and venues
    2. Health and Safety Executive – Coronavirus: latest information and advice

Although it was not specifically mentioned in the above ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Organised events guidance for local authorities‘, music festival organisers should be aware that on 15 April 2021 a Music Festivals COVID-19 Supplementary Guidance Interim Guidance Briefing Note (that you can download below) was published, in relation tho which the ‘Purple Guide’ website states as follows:

A new interim briefing has been published to provide support and strategic direction for festival organisers in the planning of festivals until the results of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP) and reviews on social distancing and Covid-Status Certification later this summer. 

The document, launched today, builds upon planning considerations published last year on the Purple Guide website and is again produced by leading practitioners from the festival industry, who continue to work in collaboration with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Public Health England (PHE) to determine how music festivals could safely reopen with Covid-19 mitigation measures in place.

The document has been developed by a coalition of industry bodies including the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), the Events Industry Forum (EIF) and Attitude is Everything, working in partnership with leading professionals.

The interim guidance briefing note was collated and written by Emma Parkinson (Coventry University) and Jennifer Mackley (Mackley Projects and Events Ltd).

As well as providing direction until the conclusions of the ERP, the briefing note has been developed to:

  • Consider the primary scenarios and operational issues that may arise when planning and delivering an event during Covid restrictions and beyond;
  • Provide an understanding of the risks in operational areas to support a proportionate and measured approach in planning;
  • Outline practical, operational steps that may be considered to deliver safe events in accordance with relevant legislation of the day; and
  • Support event organisers and multi-agency partners to fully understand the risk of independent activities to wider public health. 

Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals said:

“This interim guidance briefing provides strategic direction to festival organisers and includes practical mitigation measures to help them continue to plan for this summer and beyond. I’d like to thank Emma Parkinson and Jennifer Mackley in particular for their work, and colleagues from across the festival sector and within DCMS and PHE for their contributions to this important step in ensuring that festivals can return safely”.

Steve Heap, General Secretary of The Association of Festival Organisers added:

“Having lost almost all of the industry’s 2020 events, festival organisers are very keen to stage whatever is safely possible over the remainder of this year’s season. To do that, clear guidance is needed. The publication of this document, free to all on the Purple Guide website, provides that guidance, written by experienced festival managers with the leadership of AIF.” 

Jim Winship, Secretary of the Events Industry Forum added:

“Festivals form an important part of the outdoor event economy and also contribute significantly to social wellbeing. They also take many forms and this guidance should help to enable at least some festivals to go ahead this summer.”

Additionally, the group are hosting a webinar with various contributors outlining the briefing note and taking questions. Details will be announced shortly on the AIF website here