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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 17/12/2020

Normally at this time of year, we take a moment to reflect on the successful delivery of our diverse portfolio of sporting, cultural and business events, however, 2020 has been a year like no other for our industry, the country and indeed the world.  

Scotland’s events industry has been unable to operate in its normal capacity due to the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, the events industry has come  together to find solutions to the challenges being faced, share learnings and adapt to operating in a new normal.  

Since lockdown commenced in March, VisitScotland’s  Events Directorate, in collaboration with a range of partners has delivered a programme of activity which has been designed to support the industry as they  navigate through the challenges Covid-19 presents.  

Gathering early intelligence

Lockdown quickly required the Directorate to respond to the needs of the industry with much of the initial first few weeks focusing on the provision of immediate  guidance to the sector through the creation of a dedicated Covid-19 section on and one to one advice.  

In April and May, we recognised it was vital to gather insight on the immediate issues facing the sector including event organisers, local authorities, venues and the supply chain.   More than 120 representatives from across the sector attended 21 virtual consultation forums.  Several re-occurring concerns including income streams, supply chain, insurance and workforce were reinforced across the workshops – all of which was shared with the Scottish Government to help form the basis of a sustainable Recovery Plan.

Rugby fans at BT Murrayfield © Scottish Rugby/SNS

Following the success of the forums, an additional round table forum was organised at the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture with representatives from the events sector, to provide an opportunity for the industry to present their current challenges at that time. 

An online survey targeting the event industry supply chain was also carried out in June, and again recently this month (Dec 20), to gather vital information on the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on businesses working in the sector.    

Internal workstreams across our own Directorate were also established as a result of the information gathered covering funding, advice and guidance, virtual events and supporting the events supply chain. 

A voice for the sector

The consultation forums also reinforced the urgent need for an industry-wide body to provide a co-ordinated voice during the national response and recovery planning. This led to the establishment of the Event Industry Advisory Group (EIAG) in May chaired by Peter Duthie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC).  The group now comprises 21 senior members from across the industry representing a range of events including professional sport, music, culture and business, as well as event organisers, venues, local authorities and the supply chain. 

The Atholl Highlanders © VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Meeting regularly, the Group has continuously engaged with Scottish Government at the highest level, robustly making clear the plight of the industry, and consulting  as to how the framework and local authority levels  directly impact the events sector.

Six key workstream areas of focus were also identified and set-up by the Group as being key to the Covid-19 national response and a sustainable recovery of the events sector in Scotland including progress areas of funding; health & wellbeing; Physical distancing & hygiene requirements; communication and public mood; innovation and good practice; and government engagement. 

Funding support

July saw the Scottish Government announce £10 million of funding to help the events sector recover from the coronavirus (COVID-19).  This support came in direct response to the challenges highlighted to us by the industry through our workshops and the supply chain survey, as well as the ongoing work of the Event Industry Advisory Group.

In August, the £6m Event Industry Support Fund was launched to directly support the events supply chain. EventScotland’s £2.75m Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund, was also established to help Scotland's events sector plan and deliver events through to the end of 2021 and to provide support as the industry responds and adapts to the effects of COVID-19. The fund has replaced our National and Beacon funding programmes on an interim basis, as well as integrating both Scotland’s Winter Festivals and the Scottish Clans and Historical Figures events funds. 

In December, the Scottish Government announced new funding of £13 million to provide further support for the events sector in Scotland, much of which has been unable to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of this, £6 million has been committed for the establishment of a new fund which will support those event businesses which are critical to Scotland’s events sector, and without which the capacity to deliver major events would be significantly reduced. The Pivotal Event Businesses Fund will provide grants from £25,000 up to a maximum of £150,000 to support approximately 50 to 100 event businesses whose primary role as organisers, suppliers, contractors and venues is critical to the survival of the events sector in Scotland, and upon whom the wider events industry and supply chain are most reliant for their own business and operations. The remaining funding will be used to set up a separate fund to provide broader support to businesses across the full range of the events sector, including the supply chain, and will be announced early in the new year.

Other funding that has been established and awarded this year includes the Festival UK* 2022 £3 million research and development programme. Thirty creative teams, include two Scottish teams, have been selected to take part in the R&D Project, each receiving up to £100,000 of investment to enable them to develop their ideas for the Festival. They were chosen following an open call and a rigorous selection process where 99 submissions, involving almost 3,000 organisations, freelancers and other creatives representing the five STEAM sectors were considered. 

The Enchanted Forest
The Enchanted Forest

Image credit VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Also, in response to the developing situation at the beginning of 2020, the decision was taken in March to pause the VisitScotland Growth Fund, which meant that no further awards have been made this year. Despite this, the team have continued to work closely with the ten existing groups already under contract to support their campaigns during a challenging year where activities were required to stop and start depending on government guidelines and travel restrictions.  

In addition to industry support and funding,  developing a clear pathway for the return of events has also been a critical part of the work this year with the successful delivery of the golf, football and rugby events held over the summer demonstrating that events could take place safely. 

This strong collaboration and work throughout the year stands us in good stead as we move towards recovery.