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Over the early May bank holiday weekend (02/05/2021) crowds gathered to enjoy a music festival in Liverpool’s Sefton Park with no masks or social distancing. Part of the government’s Event Research Programme, the pilot hoped to provide a basis for the return of large-scale events with performances from Zuzu and Blossoms. We were lucky enough to talk to one of the attendees of the pilot event, in the form of Oliver Jones; Director of Deer Shed Festival.

Speaking to the testing system in place, Jones emphasised that ticket holders had to take a supervised lateral flow test at one of four testing centres in the city the day before and were only allowed into the venue if the test was negative. The festival director stated he “thought it was all very efficient – [he] was in and out within about 5 minutes.”

“It was nice because everyone had been tested – all of a sudden you’re having to shout just like you were at a gig.”

Oliver jones, deer shed festival director

The festival director spoke highly of the testing system implemented at Sefton Park, outlining that he didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t work similarly at Deer Shed; he called it “quite a lot, but it’s manageable.” However, Deer Shed 2021 is not to go ahead as usually advertised, with the organisers offering a socially distanced alternative; Base Camp Plus. The event will be a safe camping weekend in Baldersby Park, plus live music & comedy performances, food, drink, partying, campfires, workshops, theatre, well-being, swingball and anything else they dream up (of course, the plus does rely upon continued progress in the roadmap out of lockdown. You can register your interest in this event, here).

Jones also stated how “refreshing” it was to see how comfortable attendees were, describing the venue as a “safe bubble” and “as it used to be [pre-pandemic], including the terrible food and the long queues for the bar” before leaving and returning “straight back to masks to get Uber’s and everything.” The pilot seemed to be a success, with Jones stating it was “just like you were at a gig,” despite it being relatively basic in terms of amenities. Summarised by Jones: “It wasn’t lavish, it was just the basics, really. We only had a choice of Fosters at the bar.”

Tom Ogden of Blossoms performing at the Sefton Park Pilot gig in Liverpool on May 2, 2021. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.
Tom Ogden of Blossoms performing at the Sefton Park Pilot gig in Liverpool on May 2, 2021. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

The pilot will be a huge factor in the eventual return of festivals and the possibility of using lateral flow testing in order to do so safely, but the full results of the event are still to be confirmed. It does, however, provide a vital source of hope for fellow festival and event professionals, giving us a much-needed dose of reassurance that we will be back soon – even if it may look slightly different than what we’re accustomed to. While data is yet to be fully analysed, Matt Ashton said he did not believe the weekend’s events would lead to a spike in Covid cases.

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