We started 2021 with a quiet optimism that the vaccine rollout would pave the way for the return of summer festivals. But as the months passed and uncertainty swelled with a new wave of cases, the summer season looked increasingly precarious. Like much of the industry we faced months of limbo as the fate of our portfolio hinged on every development in the government’s roadmap to reopening.
One of the events that hung in the balance was Tramlines, our flagship 50,000 capacity metropolitan festival that takes place at the end of July in Sheffield’s Hillsborough Park. By mid-June we were on the verge of announcing a postponement until 2022 when the event was offered a lifeline by becoming part of the government’s Event Research Programme.
A rapid feasibility exercise was undertaken to establish if the event could operate within what we anticipated would be the parameters of the pilot scheme, although this was built around some drastic assumptions as the full scope would not be officially published until just days before the event. After initial scoping calls with an ever-growing collection of stakeholders, the decision was made to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
We would be producing the first full-capacity metropolitan festival to go ahead since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the only pilot event to be delivered by an independent production company. It provided both a unique operational challenge and the opportunity to prove that events on this scale could be held safely while taking Covid regulations into account.
Our team was tasked with turning the event around in less than five weeks from the first discussions with DCMS to the festival opening its doors. There were then just 12 days from the announcement of the pilot status to the start of the build. We were able to work to this tight schedule because of the robust systems we have developed for site management, budgeting, resourcing, and briefing.
Early on, we made the decision to split the project into two with dedicated teams for each set of deliverables.
Bigger and Better
The event team led by James Dutton was responsible for the business-as-usual delivery of the festival. This included the site design and infrastructure, advancing a full line-up of talent in a matter of days, and the operational challenge of managing attendees to and from an event which occupies almost the entire footprint of the park.
We were also able to introduce several improvements to the festival, such as a new dedicated arena for the event’s second stage (T’Other Stage), vastly improving the flow and customer experience with the event’s increasing capacity under our newly awarded licence. In addition, the event’s main stage, provided by Star Live, was also upgraded. It featured a bold, floral design commemorating the life of the festival’s founder Sarah Nulty.
The ERP team led by Will Holdoway focussed squarely on what we coined the Covid Overlay; everything required above and beyond the production of a festival in ‘normal’ conditions. This involved being the liaison for several government agencies, and the drafting and implementation of a whole suite of Covid policies and procedures.
The strategic objectives of the government’s Event Research Programme Phase III were to gather data about transmission risk and to assess the impact of mitigation measures, as well as conduct a feasibility study for the NHS Covid Pass and app. The ERP team were pivotal in helping to meet these goals in several ways:
Firstly, by integrating seamlessly with the event’s promoters to ensure all communication was clear on the entry requirements - this is where the real battle was won.
Secondly, by implementing two Covid-19 Resolution Centres on site which provided testing, information and troubleshooting for the NHS app - one of the first instances the app was used as a means of large-scale Covid certification.
Finally, by providing detailed data via a live dashboard to DCMS about all of these measures. This included the times of day at which the Resolution Centre was busiest, the number of attendees who had problems with the app and the number of positive/negative tests recorded at the off-site contingency testing centre - 56 negative tests, and 0 positive tests. These data were made openly available to other industry colleagues the day after the event.
A Pivotal Moment
In total, Tramlines 2021 safely welcomed more than 120,000 people over the course of three days. The people of Sheffield were finally able to come together with friends and loved ones to experience great live music after a challenging 18 months, while simultaneously pushing forward the government’s reopening agenda.
None of this would have been feasible without the concerted efforts of Tramline's promoters, Superstruct, our event and ERP teams, and all the suppliers who made the event possible in such difficult circumstances and at such short notice. The festival was a very proud moment for the Method team, and a pivotal moment for the industry.