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Test event Q&A: The Clapham Grand targets full-capacity pilot show

The UK Government earlier this week announced plans to begin reopening venues from May through a roadmap towards full-capacity shows and sports fixtures in June.

The return to events will be backed by a scientific Events Research Programme to trial the use of testing and other techniques to cut the risk of infection.

Pilot events, which can begin in April, will play a key role in advance of May, with stadiums, festival sites, arenas and theatres keen to play a role in ensuring the safe return of patrons. Emirates Old Trafford chief executive Daniel Gidney said earlier this week that County Championship cricket fixtures would be an ideal testing opportunity, while it has even been suggested the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals at Wembley could be utilised.

The Clapham Grand, an iconic music hall in London that has hosted Chuck Berry, Oasis and The Kinks since it opened in 1900, is one of many venues that staged pilot events last year and is keen to again become involved.

We spoke to venue general manager Ally Wolf about the experience of hosting a test event and how the 1,200-capacity hall, which hosts club nights, music and comedy, is preparing for reopening…

A live at show at The Clapham Grand

Tell us about the test events at The Clapham Grand last year?

Ally Wolf: “We did one government pilot test event. This involved operating under the government’s Covid guidelines of 2 metre distancing, implementing one-way systems, administering temperature checks and track and trace. We hosted an audience of just under 300, greatly reduced from the usual 1,200-odd.

“Between August and December 2020, we put on 80 physically distanced shows at the Grand, including shows from the likes of Russell Howard, Jimmy Carr, Frank Turner and Louise Redknapp.”

What happens after the test?

AW: “We liaised directly with the DCMS to feedback how the pilot show went operationally and the customer feedback we had. It was deemed a success operationally, but financially it proved physically distanced shows needed financial support to succeed. These events weren’t a route to businesses reopening properly – they were a stopgap to bring people back to work.

“We are now working with the Music Venue Trust and the DCMS on potential pilot ‘full capacity’ live shows with lateral testing as a requirement to help explore the operational and practical implications of this.”

Moving on to 2021, what are the main questions that venues still have following this week’s Government roadmap announcement?

AW: “What kind of financial support there will for the sector between now and reopening and what would be expected in terms of testing and future Covid compliance outside of what we have done before. Also, how they would implement a reduction in social distancing, moving towards full capacities.”

What have been your priorities since the roadmap announcement?

AW: “The priorities now are rescheduling all shows and getting the diary ready to open, whilst we wait on further news of financial support and an extension of furlough dates, so we can start planning to bring staff back and get the business up and running with our suppliers. This will be all whilst negotiating with our landlord on nearly a year’s worth of rent arrears which we are being held to. 

“We have a full line up of world class events to reschedule – showcasing the best of London’s nightlife, from The Mystery Jets, Russell Howard, The Feeling, Bongo’s Bingo, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Bugged Out!, James Bay, Daniel Sloss, Miz Cracker and more stars of Ru Paul’s US and UK Drag Race.”

How do you feel about the future of live events?

AW: “The concert industry can move forward from yesterday’s announcement with re-enforced optimism for the future. This feels like the first time a realistic timeline has been issued which – combined with the successful vaccine roll out – our industry’s incredible approach to all required Covid compliance – gives us hope for the future.

“What we need along the way is clear and consistent communication from the Government regarding any date changes and requirements for additional Covid compliance, and more than ever a financial support package, including the extending of furlough, to carry us through this increased period of closure, and what could be a six-month and beyond period of trying to get ourselves back to pre Covid trading levels with a hesitant market coming out of a global pandemic.”