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UK ministers refusing to published Events Research Programme results for PR reasons is causing more cancellations, says Kendal Calling

By | Published on Tuesday 22 June 2021

Kendal Calling

Organisers of Kendal Calling yesterday hit out at the UK government’s decision to delay the publication of the findings of its Events Research Programme – a delay allegedly instigated for PR rather than logistical reasons – confirming that that decision has forced the cancellation of the 2021 edition of the music festival.

This year’s Kendal Calling was due to take place from 29 Jul to 1 Aug, which is after the new target date for lifting the remaining COVID restrictions in England. However, it’s the latest in a string of independent festivals due to take place in or after late July that has had to call off its 2021 edition.

That’s partly because there is a risk of further delays in the lifting of COVID rules, which could result in a last minute cancellation, and there is currently no cancellation insurance available on the commercial market. UK ministers have repeatedly knocked back proposals that they follow the lead of a number of other governments and introduce state-backed cancellation insurance for the summer 2021 festival season.

However, it was another more recent decision by the UK government that Kendal Calling organisers specifically criticised when cancelling their 2021 show yesterday.

The Events Research Programme has been investigating what measures can be employed at full-capacity shows to reduce the risk of COVID infections. Initial indications were that researchers had successfully identified that certain safety measures did indeed mean that such shows could go ahead without any increase in COVID risks. But the government is yet to publish the findings of that research, and the accompanying guidance on what measures promoters should look to implement.

The Kendal Calling team stated yesterday: “Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival. Capacity or density restrictions, track and trace protocol, testing regime, COVID certification – a host of unknown actions required yet potentially requested too late to be implemented”.

Ever since it became clear that remaining COVID restrictions in England would not be lifted on 21 Jun, as originally planned, the live sector has been calling on ministers to publish the full findings of the ERP. That’s partly because – while there are certainly legitimate concerns about the new delta variant of the coronavirus – it’s widely suspected that the government’s own research about the impact of full capacity shows on COVID infections likely contradicts its current position that such shows need to be postponed for another month.

Kendal Calling said in its statement yesterday: “Our understanding is that the Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around Number Ten’s communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost two months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer”.

The ERP continues, of course, with additional events now being added to the research programme. Being a participant in the ERP allows a promoter to run a fuller capacity show and also provides state-backed insurance. Kendal Calling revealed in its statement that last week it was invited to apply to take part in the programme, but that “on Saturday night we heard back that another camping festival was chosen – we have not been told the reasons why or exactly what the criteria was by the government”.

With no official guidance available on COVID safety measures at full-capacity shows, the risk of new regulations having to be met at the last minute, and having been declined a place on the ongoing ERP initiative, promoters were forced to cancel Kendal Calling 2021. “Over the last day”, they added, “we have had the grim undertaking of informing hundreds of talented and dedicated individuals that, yet again, we are unable to offer them the work they badly need”.

“This has been a frankly devastating sixteen months for our industry”, they went on. “If calls for a government-backed insurance scheme had been heeded – as recommended by the DCMS, emulating successful schemes now up and running in other countries – we could have potentially continued to plan and invest in the coming weeks. We take this opportunity to urge the government to re-appraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports, as the continued lack of leadership hampers the recovery of our live event industry”.

“Please believe me when I say that we tried our best”, they added. “Despite Kendal Calling having been denied any aid from the Cultural Recovery Fund, Restart Grant or the Hospitality And Leisure Grant Fund, we have worked harder than ever with a clear goal in mind – to experience the joy and love that the fields we know so well are famous for”.

“I think we speak for us all when I say – we needed this”, they concluded. “Going two summers without a festival is devastating to all of us; we need the support of our audience now more than ever and retaining your tickets would go the longest way in helping us during this period”.

Refunds are available to those unable to attend the new 28-31 Jul 2022 dates, although many people have opted to keep their tickets. In a subsequent post to Facebook, organisers stated: “It has been truly brilliant to see that despite the outcome for this year, our festival family remains stronger than ever. We cannot stress enough how grateful we are to each and every one of you retaining your tickets for next year. It goes an incredible way to helping us ensure the future of our beloved festival”.