Covid: UK festivals faces 'grave' future if 2021 season cancelled, organisers warn

Crowds gather by the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival, 2019. Credit: PA

The UK's festival industry faces a "grave" future if the 2021 season is cancelled owing to coronavirus, organisers have warned.

Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife, said smaller festivals would be wiped out and workers would permanently move into other industries if restrictions remained by the summer.

Anna Wade, communications and strategy director of Boomtown Fair, said both large and grassroots music events would be in “absolutely dire straits” financially if restrictions remained by summer.

They were speaking to MPs examining the plight of music festivals in the UK after Covid-19 restrictions led to widespread cancellations in 2020, including Glastonbury and TRNSMT.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee was looking at how Government policy could support festivals due to take place this coming summer.

The UK's festival industry faces an uncertain future. Credit: PA

Lord, who is also a night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said coronavirus had “absolutely decimated” his festival, its suppliers and freelance staff.

Parklife has been delayed until September 2021 and more than 250 artists and suppliers have already been booked.

“If we have got another year like 2020, we have got serious problems,” he said.

Wade, whose festival had some 40 full-time employee before Covid-19, told MPs: “In terms of Boomtown, it is a very similar story as it is for all festivals and events up and down the country.

“We were absolutely decimated as well. We were first to really shut down and will probably be one of the last to reopen as well.”

Some 4.9 million people attended a festival in the UK in 2018, with festivals estimated to have generated £1.76 billion in gross value added last year.

And industry bodies including UK Music and the Help Musicians charity have touted festivals as an essential stepping stone for future stars in developing an audience.

Wade said there was “no silver bullet” that would guarantee a 2021 festival season but called on the Government to set a date for its return and provide financial support including extended VAT holidays.

UK risks 'falling behind' Europe

Lord said the UK risked falling behind Europe if action was not taken.

“Absolutely, and I think that was happening pre-Covid anyway,” he said.

“The likes of Portugal, Germany, Malta, Croatia – they were all coming on board.”

Lord also warned that mass testing and vaccination was the only way forward.

He told MPs “Social distancing does not work at any of these events. It’s a festival. You just cannot put social distancing in place, so we are anticipating that we will be operating at 100%.”

The inquiry will also consider the potential impact of festivals collapsing on local communities, ticket holders and suppliers, as well as the freelance workforce.