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Chelsea Football Club’s head of venue and development, Simon Hunter

Lockdown diaries

As venues move towards reopening for events again on 1st October (barring any changes), Chelsea Football Club’s head of venue and development, Simon Hunter, takes a month-by-month look back at how his team successfully managed the twists and turns of a Covid-19 restricted world.

March - Boris announces lockdown and instructs everybody to work from home. It’s clear that no events are going to happen for a while either. Although most of us were pretty certain this was coming, there is still a degree of shock now that it’s become real. Thoughts immediately turn to family and friends who are potentially vulnerable, as well as how day-to-day life is going to change. Within a day of the announcement, like businesses across the land, we are up and running on video conferencing, working from home. We know we’re in the calm before the storm, and book in almost daily team meetings to ensure we can manage what’s coming.

April - The reschedules, temporary cancellations and refund requests continue to roll in as it becomes clear lockdown is going to last much longer than a couple of weeks. Positively, the vast majority of clients are keen to reschedule rather than cancel. We quickly realise that, above all, they want us to do everything we can to provide flexibility. We add a clause to our standard contract that gives clients this. Enabling them to reschedule events free of charge should Covid-19 disrupt them. Clients can request postponements that will be granted if lockdowns, travel restrictions or quarantines impact the organisation or travel to an event. Fortunately, it has the impact we’d hoped for. Our clients feel protected, and many keep events scheduled for the autumn in the diary. We also ensure our onsite Millennium & Copthorne Hotel remains open for NHS staff, with the goal of supporting those working at nearby Chelsea & Westminster Hospital.

May - Now that we’ve dealt with the initial shockwaves, there is time to take a step back and think about how we prepare and adapt our offer for ‘the new normal’. A phrase everybody suddenly seems to be using! Nobody knows how this new normal is going to look yet, but we know we need to find ways to keep engaging with clients. One solution is creating a state-of-the-art 3D virtual tour of our event spaces, allowing event bookers to experience these spaces in virtual reality. They can see everything Stamford Bridge has to offer for conferences, exhibitions and dinners without the need to visit in person. The virtual tour quickly becomes popular with clients who need to view spaces for London events scheduled to take place further into the future, but had been unable visit due to restrictions. Our team also sets up meetings with industry colleagues – including booking agents and competitors – to share experiences and stay connected. It is a really useful tool for discussing strategy to deal with the current situation.

June – Venues start to look towards reopening as it becomes a nearer term possibility, but they still need to get to grips with how live events could look. Lively debate on industry webinars are keeping our team informed, connected, and up to speed. The successful management of hybrid events, and how socially distanced events will be run, are two topics getting a lot of airtime. Keen to get ahead of the game we unveil new ‘safe’ formats for post lockdown events. Our approach to catering is completely overhauled by our catering partner, Levy UK, in anticipation of reopening and the need to introduce new enhanced health and safety measures. All menu options are re-designed with safe production and delivery of food in mind. Customers will be able to enjoy meals that have been pre-wrapped, boxed or individually portioned. The catering team also introduces clear protective measures to keep everybody safe including PPE, distancing measures both front and back of house, clear signage, and new queue management systems. We also worked with our AV supplier Peachy Productions to produce socially distanced floorplans.

July – We start planning to pilot a live ‘new normal’ event package. The aim is to create events for groups of up to 30 people with the option of a webinar feed for up to 100 delegates. We want to use relaunched live events as an opportunity to emerge cleaner, greener, more collaborative, and more innovative from Covid-19.

August – With the 1 October reopening date fast approaching enquiries gradually start to pick-up. We work tirelessly to ensure clients are up to date on our re-launch plans, working groups, hybrid options, and our offers designed to ensure they and their guests are safe. It seems like our hard work to ensure we are ready to reopen is starting to pay off. We can see light at the end of the tunnel now, and although we haven’t reached it yet, we confident we are ready for when we do.

 

We also open one of our event spaces specially for the NHS Blood Donation Drive. This is something we have been doing throughout lockdown with social distancing measures in place. In fact, blood donation events are the only live events that have continued to be held at Stamford Bridge! We are delighted we have been able to keep accommodating them.