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Bloc organisers give their side of the story over shutdown

By | Published on Thursday 6 September 2012

Bloc Festival

Organisers of the Bloc festival yesterday issued a new statement providing, for the first time, some background to what caused the overcrowding issues that resulted in their July event being pulled mid-way through its first night.

As previously reported, the East London site where the festival took place had to be evacuated after over-crowding caused safety concerns. The second day of the event was subsequently cancelled, sending the Bloc company into administration.

In the online speculation that followed the Bloc shutdown two key theories circulated as to what caused the over-crowding problem, one that issues with the electronic ticketing meant many more people were onsite than there should have been, the other that the festival venue, the then brand new London Pleasure Gardens, although in theory able to accommodate significantly more than the Bloc festival’s capacity, wasn’t ready to host an event of that scale.

In their long statement, the Bloc organisers admit there were problems with both the checking of e-tickets (with scanners) at the gates, and with the set up of the Pleasure Gardens site, though they imply that the latter was the bigger issue. The company running the London Pleasure Gardens itself went into liquidation last month, of course.

The statement notes that “we did experience problems with the management of the admission control systems” and that this led to dangerous over-crowding at the gates. Quite what those “problems” were isn’t clear, though ticketing provider CrowdSurge previously told CMU “at no point throughout the scanning process did the scanners cease to operate”. Either way, the problems meant that e-tickets stopped begin scanned just before 9.30pm (as CrowdSurge previously confirmed), meaning anyone with fake tickets could at that point gain entry.

The Bloc statement notes that: “Knowledge of the suspension of scanning combined with ticket touting enabled people to gain entry to the event without having purchased a ticket from our website. We’ll never know exactly how many people [did this]”.

However, Bloc had capped ticket sales at just over 15,000, and in theory the London Pleasure Gardens site had a capacity of 25,000, so the admission of punters with fake tickets alone cannot account for the dangerous overcrowding that ensued. The bigger problem, therefore, according to Bloc’s statement, was that the LPG site just wasn’t ready to host an event of this scale.

The Bloc statement continues: “It is no secret that there were serious delays associated with the building of the London Pleasure Gardens site, leading to non-completion of groundwork, venues and general infrastructure. There is no doubt that these delays severely compromised our efforts to deliver a successful production. In the run up to Bloc, much of the site remained unfinished, inaccessible or just closed altogether. For instance, the bridge connecting the main gate to the northwest of the site was never built and the grass amphitheatre for our planned Silo D cinema was fenced-off”.

It continues: “Despite our frequent requests for an up-to-date build schedule, it was confirmed just two weeks before the festival that ‘The Hub’, a 2800 capacity high-spec venue that we had contracted to host one of our main stages, was not going to be ready for us to use. Furthermore, the large area in the south east of the site where it was to be built remained shut so that construction works could be completed in time for the Olympic period”.

The Bloc organisers admit that once the number of non-completion issues became apparent they did think about what action they should take, but that as a small company cancellation or legal action didn’t seem like realistic alternatives to just going ahead with the event as best they could. They add: “When the extent of the missing infrastructure was revealed, we considered our options. London Pleasure Gardens was clearly a long way from the ‘riverside arts and entertainment destination’ that we had hired but our relatively small company lacked the resources to cover the costs associated with a postponement or cancellation of the festival or a legal action against the venue”.

Elsewhere, the statement basically confirms that ticket-buyers will not be able to get any money back from the now defunct Bloc company, and that therefore festival-goers will have to apply for a refund from the bank or credit firm who provided the card with which they made payment, under the guarantee schemes such companies offer. Many ticket-buyers have already done this, though for those that haven’t the Bloc company’s administrators have set up a web page explaining the process.

Overall the Bloc statement is very apologetic, both regards the events surrounding the shutdown, and the fact that – due to legal constraints associated with the administration – its organisers have not been able to issue a fuller statement until now. They sign off: “Thanks to those of you who have shown love and support, particularly over the last two months, and we hope to be in touch with you again soon”.