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Delegates mingle without masks at UK pilot business event

Data collected from the UK’s first business event without Covid measures since the country went into lockdown in March 2020 will determine how and when meetings can resume safely.

The Change Business for Good event, the kick-off event for The Good Business Festival in July 2021, saw around 400 delegates participate in a government-backed, research-led event where social distancing wasn’t compulsory and wearing masks was optional.

All delegates, including organisers and staff, had to show a negative Covid test to enter the event at ACC Liverpool.

The aim of the event is to build confidence among delegates to meet in person again, but also to collect essential data to understand how a large group of people, all with a negative Covid-19 result, can safely meet again.

“As a human race, we have thrived and prospered because we have come together, come together in great cities, like in Liverpool. We’re social animals, so the sooner we get back together, the sooner we can exchange ideas, it’s where we can have a laugh. The fact is, we can’t survive without other people,” The Good Business Festival creative director Wayne Hemingway said.

“That’s the big test, how are people going to react? Obviously, this is business, you shake hands, will people still do that?” Hemingway added. “But the interesting thing for me is how people react.”

The Change Business for Good event is a significant milestone in the reopening of the events industry with scientists continually collecting data throughout the day to create an event case study. This data will help inform the Government on reopening the events sector in the coming months.

The pending results of the event will determine whether the UK is on track to lift all Covid restrictions on 21 June, the date currently set for this to happen.

Four sets of scientists from universities including Liverpool, Loughborough, UCL and Edinburgh collected data at the event.

Professor Iain Buchan chair in public health and clinical informatics at the University of Liverpool said that public health England had taken the decision to advise attendees that face masks were not compulsory for the event, however, they highlighted that attendees were free to wear them should they wish.

Several factors were measured throughout the event including airflow in the venue, stagnant pockets of air that could harbour the Covid-19 virus, bottleneck areas in venues that could cause too much grouping, whether testing thousands of people works efficiently, whether people still enjoy meeting and whether organisers can safely organise events.

“It’s heartening to be able to see people reconnect and with a safety net in place, I welcome the event,” Prof Buchan said.

The results from the event will be released a short while after the Change Business for Good event concludes.

Logistics

Claire McColgan MBE, director of Culture Liverpool explained that the Change Business for Good event was logistically “really tough”.

“The process was complex with four different universities, three different government departments and a whole new health process that has never been in place before. But the important thing is that nobody is going to see all of that difficulty.” McColgan said.

“Before the pandemic, we were having conversations around the weather, how many people were coming and alcohol at events and now we’re talking about pandemic contingency plans and we will for foreseeable future.

“But it will be easier for the next people. So when they’re on round two of the research programme, all the learning that we’ve done with the health side and the operational side will hopefully make the next people’s life a lot easier.”

The content programme

The event programme saw a line-up of entrepreneurial and political speakers including Simone Roche MBE, founder of Northern Power Women and Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH Nails and Beautystack.

The event rounded off in the evening with a comedy show from Mick Ferry, Kiri Pritchard-Mclean and Rachel Fairburn. As well as putting a smile on attendees’ faces the comedy show also allowed scientists to measure airflow in the room.

“Today we’re packing in the idea that people meet, mingle, network. They sit and watch the debates taking place on stage and then hopefully they have a laugh. We’re getting all those things into one short afternoon. But measuring it is the important thing,” added Hemingway.

Nigel Huddleston, minister for tourism, culture and media, opened the event by saying how weird but great it felt to be back at an event. “A moment ago I shook hands with another human being for the first time in a year and I’m actually wearing a full suit and trousers today, opposed to jeans or shorts.

“As the first live in-person business event to take place in the UK this year, this a really important landmark in the recovery of this sector and broader sectors and everyone involved should feel proud of the part they’re playing.

“At this point in time, I am confident that we are on track to opening much more of the sector from 17 May, just a few days away. However, this is all dependant on what the data is showing closer to the time.”

The Change Business for Good Event is one of 10 pilot events happening in April and May across the UK to research how we can get back to meeting again.

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