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Last Word: Shaun Hinds

by EN

Manchester Central chief executive explains that now it is time for the exhibition industry to take the lead on how we will return post-Covid-19.

It goes without saying that there isn’t a business or industry unaffected by coronavirus and the unimaginable changes we’re experiencing to everyday life.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen certain sectors singled out – from the obvious ones such as bars and restaurants through to the businesses behind some of our adored football clubs – with, quite rightly, concerns around how they can and will get back to some kind of normality.

Yet in all the reports, press conferences, on-site correspondence and opinion pieces, one industry has been strangely absent from the official definitions being offered by the Minister of the day. Even in the more detailed government website updates – pages we’ve all flocked to like apprehensive dental patients browsing the collection of last year’s Hello magazines – still no mention. Unfortunately, that missing industry is one that can rightly claim to be the most greatly impacted by this relentless enemy; I am of course talking about our industry, the events industry – in all its guises.

It’s remarkable to think how we should be missing from the lists and announcements.In that context, it’s even more astonishing how our industry has ended up playing such a critical role in the fight against this virus. From PR obscurity to frontline response in the space of just a few weeks.

Around the UK, and globally, venues and stadia have been re-purposed into temporary field hospitals. Our suppliers, drawing on their unrivalled experience of building to impossible deadlines, stepped in and in many cases, built the facilities required. Also, I have no doubt that it’s our hospitality teams, floor crews, cleaners, chefs, kitchen porters, stewards and freelance support staff bolstering volunteer and temporary worker numbers who the Nightingale Hospitals require in order for the clinical professionals to do their jobs.

Now in week five of lockdown the conversation, punctuated by the daily ‘Live from Number 10’ update, is turning towards exit strategy. The headline writers are seemingly hellbent on ‘out-outraging’ us as a nation with suggestions such as “pubs closed ‘til Christmas.”

Whilst the events industry may have been absent from the news when this began, we need to take steps to ensure we emerge from this crisis with confidence, pride and with the clear message that events are both desirable and safe. Events are fundamental to our societal and economic recovery and we simply cannot afford to be an afterthought or addendum to another piece of published guidance.

In this publication, Rachel from the AEV eloquently describes some of the activities underway across the EIA industry body. My call is for us to develop this collaboration into a louder voice, to be the architects of our own recovery. Together, as organisers, venues and partners, we must devise the new framework for event operations. We must define the protocols to be implemented across all aspects of the event experience. That means how we build events, how we create space to allow social distancing, review our capacities, change queuing disciplines, revise our cleaning regimes and rethink how we deliver hospitality, to list just a few aspects.

There must be clear guidelines for our employees on the role they play, as well as what delegates and visitors should expect from the event and what’s expected of them in return.

Whilst these changes may be interpreted as restrictions, we need to use our creativity to realise the positive opportunities. As we transition out of lockdown into ‘PC’, post-Covid-19, the key to filling our space will be allowing our visitors to maintain theirs.

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