Covid lockdown: Real hope for return of live events in Scotland this summer – Brian Ferguson

It is a fortnight since I ploughed through a long list of contacts to ask for their reflections on a year of restrictions on live events and entertainment in Scotland.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 7:00 am

The anniversary of the first announcements was, of course, well before that for the UK-wide lockdown marked with a national day of reflection yesterday.

For most in the Scottish cultural sector, the anniversary of their final performances, the closing of the doors and the sending home of staff have come and gone.

They have little time for reflection now anyway, given the sudden and intensive focus on rebooting, reopening and reuniting performances with audiences.

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The last seven days, since First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a provisional date for the return of live events in the middle of May and suggested a return to normality was possible as early as June, have seen the greatest flurry of activity across the Scottish cultural sector since that dramatic period of closures and cancellations last March.

The route map may have have been missing the crucial data on the nature, scale, capacity and ground rules for the return of events, but frankly the announcement of 17 May as a start date was more than enough for many.

In recent days, I have reported on everything from a dance music festival in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, a drive-in movie weekend at a stately home on the outskirts of the city and an event due to take place around the East Neuk of Fife to the revival of celebrations to mark 700 years of the Declaration of Arbroath, the opening of a nightclubbing exhibition at V&A Dundee and the return of a pop-up outdoor music venue at Eden Court in Inverness.

Most intriguingly of all, within days of the First Minister’s announcement came news from Pitlochry Festival Theatre of the creation of an 80-seater amphitheatre in its grounds and a four-month programme of completely outdoor events, followed by the announcement of Capers in Cannich, a socially distanced glamping festival on a nine-acre Highland farm.

The East Neuk Festival is due to go ahead this July.
The East Neuk Festival is due to go ahead this July.

There must remain some doubts about any of these events being able to go ahead while the current restrictions are still in place, and many event organisers are remaining understandably cautious until they see the fine detail of the regulations expect to govern events in the early part of the summer.

Events which can easily accommodate social distancing as part of their financial planning are likely to have far more confidence about pressing the critical “go” button and pressing ahead.

Scottish event organisers are still waiting to hear whether they can return on a similar basis as their counterparts in England, who are being allowed to reopen indoor venues at half-capacity and stage outdoor events for up to 4,000 people from the same day in May.

In adopting a slightly more cautious approach than Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Ms Sturgeon has injected real hope and a large degree of confidence into a sector that just a couple of weeks ago was on its knees and begging for help.

A festival to mark the 701st anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath is expected to go ahead a year later than planned this summer.

As strange as it may seem, for many of those involved in festivals and events, the first anniversary of lockdown has been marked with a mix of optimism, energy and even excitement, concepts that felt alien even a couple of weeks ago.

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Capers in Cannich, which is due to be held at the end of May, is billed Scotland's first festival to be created in response to the pademic.