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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 30/07/2021

Scotland’s events industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the shutdown of live events in Scotland since March 2020 having a devastating impact across the sector.

Through Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund (SERF), delivered by EventScotland, events were initially able to pivot to online offerings and, in some cases, hybrid events with some in-person elements, as the whole world adapted to a new way of life.

With Covid-19 restrictions having gradually lifted recently and the vaccine rollout continuing to gather pace, there has been an opportunity for a slow but steady return of some events across the summer.  Whilst online and hybrid events are likely here to stay, there’s no better feeling than connecting to one another and enjoying the real, human experience that a live event brings.  

We caught up with a few event organisers supported through SERF and Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21, as well as the Championship Director of the abrdn Scottish Open which is part of Scotland’s annual golf events portfolio, to get their thoughts on returning to a more familiar events landscape, starting with the National Pony Society Spring Show which took place in June.

Our return to a live show had entries from all over Scotland and the Islands, all in line with guidance from HorseScotland and it worked a treat. Exhibitors were so pleased to be back out competing with their ponies again, but there was also a feeling of caution. With EventScotland support through SERF we were able to provide additional protection for our stewards, significant signage and guidance to all who attended, resulting in great feedback on how safe and well organised competitors felt, which was a great start for our return to competitions.

Alicia Hay, Secretary, NPS Scotland

Understanding public sentiment and confidence about returning to events has also been at the forefront of many organisers plans as they strive to make their venues as welcoming as possible. The Neighbourgood Market in Edinburgh’s vibrant Stockbridge area was a contactless, open air market with a focus on supporting independent suppliers – a new concept born out of necessity in response to the pandemic.

Our ambition will remain; to create a safe and vibrant atmosphere that collectively contributes to the iconic community culture that has become synonymous with Stockbridge and the city of Edinburgh. We are extremely grateful for the grant funding from EventScotland which allowed us to finalise the hiring of key infrastructure as well as agreeing contracts with our traders, musicians and staff.

Ambika Okhandiar, Event Director, The Neighbourgood Market

HebCelt Festival developed their 2021 offering into a hybrid event featuring both streamed performances and small, in-person performances. As well as the drive this gave the HebCelt team and the joy of the audience, organisers were keen to remind us just how valuable these experiences are for performers as well.

Being back to producing live music for our audience was fantastic. Many of the artists who performed during the Survival Sessions had not been in a rehearsal space with their bandmates, let alone on stage in front of an audience, for many months. The digital hybrid event format allowed us to reach a global audience and give a worldwide platform to the culture and traditions of the Outer Hebrides.

Graham McCallum, Depute Festival Director, Hebridean Celtic Festival
Live performance at HebCelt Survival Sessions 2021 captured for livestream
Live performance at HebCelt Survival Sessions 2021 captured for livestream
Image credit Fiona Rennie / Sradag Creative

This sense of place and the true value of shared exeperience was also felt though Cryptic's Signal-on-Sea, a large-scale environmental sound installation that took place on Irvine Beach in July as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21.

I am extremely aware of the impact the past year has had on the livelihoods and wellbeing of so many individuals. Thus the desperate need for culture to return and enhance our lives once again. We need art and performances to be widely accessible for as many people as possible to experience and enjoy. The 'feel good' factor matters now more than ever before. Thanks to EventScotland, our Dutch Funders and Creative Scotland’s support, I was thrilled that Cryptic was able to present Signal-on-Sea. This was the first large-scale, international arts project in Scotland in 2021, it was free for all and took place on Irvine Beach this July. From joggers and dog walkers to day trippers and those travelling from further afield, it was a chance for everyone to escape and dream with beautiful views of this Scottish landscape whilst immersed in a sublime soundscape.

Cathie Boyd, Artistic Director, Cryptic
Cryptic's Signal-on-Sea on Irvine Beach
Cryptic's Signal-on-Sea on Irvine Beach
Image credit Nichon Glerum

East Neuk Festival shared a similarly hopeful message following their July event which brought together live performances, digital and radio broadcasts.

It was a year when the festival had to imagine itself anew to reach its audiences, using online and unconventional formats like never before. No one would ever say that this crisis was a good thing, but good things will come out of it, I hope, as the festival undoubtedly reached new audiences due to the innovations in its programme – innovations it may not have tested in any more normal year.

Svend McEwan-Brown, Director and CEO, East Neuk Festival

In golf, the European Tour has had to adapt to delivering events across multiple countries with ever-changing COVID regulations but July’s Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club saw the welcome return of spectators for the first time in Scotland since the pandemic.

We were in a fortunate position in that we have been able to stage more than 40 events since the start of the pandemic and for the abrdn Scottish Open were able to draw on all that experience. It was the first event I’d been involved in where we had spectators on site and while that did present challenges in managing inner and outer bubbles it was fantastic to have fans back. The spectator experience feedback was really positive and the players were delighted to be able to compete in such a great atmosphere. It’s certainly whetted the appetite for when we can welcome fans back at full capacity again.

Rory Colville, Championship Director, Scottish Open

While no one can be sure yet when we will fully return to "normal" and what that might look like long term, it has been exciting to follow how organisers have pivoted and reimagined their events to provide both audiences and performers with memorable experiences over the last couple of months. While steps are cautious and tentative, there is hope that a brighter future lies ahead for the industry in Scotland and around the world, and this feeling is summed up perfectly by Amanda Tyndall at the Edinburgh Science Festival.

Despite all the challenges of the global pandemic we were able to present an inspiring programme of in-person exhibitions, installations, walks/tours/trails and a range of digital events, which brought some much-needed fun, inspiration and culture back to the streets of Edinburgh and to audiences around the globe. We feel incredibly lucky to be back to doing what we love and we are already planning for next year… watch this space!

Amanda Tyndall, Festival and Creative Director, Edinburgh Science Festival
Edinburgh Science Festival championed women in science at their 2021 event
Edinburgh Science Festival championed women in science at their 2021 event
Image credit Ian Georgeson

We will leave the final words to our Director of Events, Paul Bush.

It has been really encouraging to hear feedback from the organisers of some of the events we have recently supported. The importance of human interaction, connection and shared experiences has never been stronger and although it will take time to rebuild, we will continue working in collaboration with Scotland’s Event Advisory Group, the Scottish Government and the wider sector to support all efforts which help the sector both return and recover.

Paul Bush OBE, Director of Events

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