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Thursday, July 29, 2021
Leeds Carnival 2019. Credit: Cris Collins

Uncertain forecast for UK’s summer carnivals

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After a year in which almost every carnival, music festival and village fete was cancelled, it was hoped that the successful vaccine rollout would allow festive life to return to Britain’s streets in 2021. Yet, despite the massive reduction in Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths, the virus has found a powerful ally that may yet rain on our parade: the insurance industry.


Already, more than a quarter of this year’s festivals have been cancelled (or reduced to online Zoomathons) and most of the remainder could go the same way unless the government introduces an insurance scheme of the kind that’s already in place for the film and TV industries, industry experts warn.
Festival organisers – including carnival organisers – are reluctant to commit to live events on the street or in a park without Covid-19 cancellation insurance, in case a third wave of the virus forces another lockdown. But reports suggest that insurers are unlikely to offer this type of cover before 2022 at the earliest.


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The Prime Minister’s announcement on 21 June is meant to mark the final turning point on the Covid recovery roadmap. However, the spread of the Delta (aka Indian) variant may prevent a return to normality on Midsummer’s Day. Even if restrictions are lifted by then, the announcement will be too late to save many of this year’s events. Soca News’s Carnival Calendar shows that most UK carnivals are expected to be virtual events for a second year running.


After providing £1.57 billion for the Cultural Recovery Fund (£34 million of which went to festivals), the Treasury is unwilling to offer further support for the events industry. Without it, the future looks bleak for Britain’s street park-based festivals. Notting Hill Carnival Ltd’s chief executive, Matthew Phillip, was among event organisers who gave evidence to a cross-party committee of MPs, warning that a second year in the cold could destroy many summer events for good.


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Committee chair Julian Knight MP said: “The vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations.” Smaller events such as carnivals could collapse, and struggling festivals are likely to be swallowed up by the two major players, Live Nation and AEG Presents.

Phillip and his team at NHCL will be listening intently on 21 June. Given the impossibility of regulating the size of crowds at a street-based carnival, never mind the behaviour of those crowds, it’s clear that a return to reality for Notting Hill Carnival in 2021 remains an uncertain prospect.


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