BER20: Innovation - leading the industry in venue safety standards during pandemic

NEC Group

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 5 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020, Birmingham on the World Stage: The Attractiveness of the City Pre- and Post- Pandemic.

Click here to read the Review.

This has been an exceptionally challenging year for the live events industry and consequently the NEC Group. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the events industry to a halt in March and many organisations, including venues, event services and suppliers, have been operating on almost - zero revenue.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the NEC underwent the ultimate venue pivot, transitioning into an NHS Nightingale facility to assist with the national effort to combat COVID-19, however we always retained a focus on returning to business. With great uncertainty surrounding a return to business dateline, events were rescheduled as appropriately as possible and future operations were considered methodically in line with the latest guidance from the Government, Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.

The return to business efforts were further aided by discussions with representatives across regional and industry organisations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, NEC Group staff at many levels have been engaging with industry conversations, forums and working groups in order to progress the industry stance towards a return to event activity.

Combining this accumulated knowledge of the industry position, with the latest health and safety guidance from the UK Government and Health bodies and venue staff expertise, led to the development of our Returning to Business Blueprint, published on 6th May.

The Returning to Business Blueprint was the first of its kind to be published amongst UK exhibition venues. The blueprint mapped out a framework for running organised gatherings in a safe and controlled environment. The document was reviewed by the Government, as they examined the easing of lockdown measures and considered the future of the UK economy. The blueprint was designed to assist in showcasing how the events industry could play a major role in kickstarting the economy and it set a path for the development of future industry frameworks.

Further developing the measures outlined within the Returning to Business Blueprint, a comprehensive four step framework was then devised to incorporate all necessary measures that would ensure the safety and protection of people at NEC Group venues, titled NEC Group Venue Protect.

NEC Group Venue Protect includes; supporting testing and tracing, social distancing measures, enhanced venue sanitisation and communication. The implementation of a series of measures and actions across each step ensures a safe journey when people arrive, visit and depart our venues. The all-encompassing Venue Protect plan offers guidance documents, checklists and customer videos.

The publishing of Venue Protect and the production of the surrounding materials was not only intended to provide the necessary resource for customers and future visitors, but also instil confidence in people and the industry, that we have a comprehensive understanding of the situation and our venues are being prepared accordingly for the return to business. We also acquired the VisitBritain ‘We’re Good To Go’ Industry Standard accreditation across our three convention and exhibition venues; the NEC, ICC and Vox to further showcase our readiness to reopen our venues and stage events.

The Government’s retraction of the 1st October resumption date for business events and conferences in late September was a disappointment. Whilst we understood the reasoning behind the postponement, it essentially took us back to where we were in March. No events, no opening date and at the time of writing, we do not expect to return to pre-pandemic normality for a couple of years. It is therefore integral to our survival that even with health and safety measures in place, the Government need to commit to a tailored intervention for our industry.

Specifically, but not exclusively, we have asked for the continuation of the existing Business Rates relief programme; the establishment of a government endorsed, proven testing/track and trace programme that allows venues to offer enhanced safety; and a commitment to a full or participative review of the opening criteria.   

Strategic economic assets like the NEC Group, which contributes £3 billion annually to the regional economy, need to be given specific help to enable safe passage through to when guidance changes and trade can once again take place. It is hoped that the industry leading work the Group has undertaken in mapping out, developing and implementing health and safety standards, will set us in good stead when we are able to open once more. There is no doubt that in these uncertain times, they will be key to ensuring the future success of events and our business.  

Nicola Young
Group Marketing Director
NEC Group