AFO Conference ‘Back To Our Best’

Trade associations, defined as groups of individuals and companies with a common interest, really came to the fore over the past two years. While you get on with the things that directly affect your business, like renting sites and infrastructure, booking acts and selling tickets, your trade associations deal with the things that indirectly affect them; the taxes and fees that you pay, the legislation around safety, traffic, licensing, environmental impacts and the like. A trade association, like the Association of Festival Organisers will, from time to time, parade those that it speaks with in the course of its activities, in front of members, usually at an annual conference. The AFO did that last Saturday, we popped into some of the sessions.

‘Back to our best’ was the umbrella title for the day; with around 125 people joining for a look to the future rather than reflections on a recent past, with emphasis on sharing best (and slightly less than best) practice through informative sessions and frank and honest discussion.

A morning spent learning about crowd management, ticketing and the future of ticketing technology and looking after artists was capped by a keynote address from Kevin Brennan MP, giving his view on the shape of festivals in a post-covid world, touching on the DCMS select committee report into the festival sector, paying tribute to General Secretary, Steve Heap and the AFO’s work to highlight the needs of members and the wider outdoor events sector. Showing a great understanding of the key issues facing festivals, we certainly have an ally in Parliament.

The afternoon saw a presentation on British Sign Language, looking at how events have already employed the services of BSL interpreters and how better to serve deaf customers, highlighting barriers that organisers may not be aware of and how to get over them. More accessibility discussion was led by Attitude is Everything, explaining their gold standard Live Events Best Practice Charter that should mean that no festival should miss out on ticket sales to people that need help with access. One key point was that no matter how much you plan, not communicating accessibility arrangements effectively online can mean efforts are wasted; similarly, communicating arrangements to onsite staff is crucial.

The insurance session threw up some interesting points, one of which was the fairly well maligned Government backed Covid 19 scheme for which the festival sector had seen little appetite due to it’s very limited cover. We learned that, overall, cancellation cover rates had increased dramatically, with brokers suggesting increased excess to bring rates down. It seemed that the usual employer and public liability rates had remained stable. One insurable event that has come into recent discussion is and period of national mourning, given the age of our Monarch. It seems here that we’d be insuring an unknown as there are no indications of what would be expected of events in terms of cancellation. It seems to be a matter of individual policy and decision. Never let it be said that association conferences don’t tackle the difficult subjects.

With much more covered in breakouts and networking dicussion the day was a positive look forward, wrapped up by AFO GS Steve Heap: “That was a great day, but I so look forward to meeting in person in November. Full details of which will be out this summer and I hope festival and event organiser will join us for the best training, learning and sharing experience for all involved in the festival and event business.”

For more on the AFO in-person conference in November CLICK HERE