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The Music Venue Trust is in discussions with the Government and other partners about a series of highly Covid-secure events in London and Bristol that would eventually reach 100% capacity.

Priests perform at The 100 Club, one of the venues for the performance pilots

Andrew Aleks

Performance pilots are expected by March as the music industry eyes options for a safe and sustainable future.

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) is in talks with the Government about running a series of events at The 100 Club in London and The Exchange in Bristol, the first starting at 50% capacity, the second at 75%, and finally at 100% capacity.

Several outside partners providing technologies that reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission are on board and ready to go as soon as MVT is given the green light.

Discussions with DCMS began back in September. The events were initially expected to happen this month, but are now most likley to take place in March.


MVT Chief Executive Mark Davyd said the trust is waiting to see what affect the current lockdown has on transmission rates and what progress is made on the vaccine rollout.

It's not a matter of if, but when: "I'm positive we would use the concept we're testing; if I had a doubt it would be that timeline," Davyd said.

The plan

MVT's plan is to take the responsibility for preventing the virus' spread away from individuals and place it on venues.

By exploring what aspects of risk management venues can adopt, the industry gains a better understanding of what it can do to restart safely, Davyd said.

"We have asked individuals to do a lot and we haven't asked businesses to do much except stay closed. The problem with that for music venues is that it involves policing behaviour.

"What we have been thinking about with these pilots is, how can we get on the front foot? How can we have our own risk management practices?"

Davyd likens the model to layering slices of swiss cheese: if you line enough layers up right, there won't be any holes.

The hope is that, if there aren't any holes, the sector might be able to remove the biggest barrier to its future success - social distancing.

The partners

The risk management strategy is threefold: test attendees before they arrive, give them virus-killing face masks, and purify the air in the venue to remove potentially infectious aerosols.

You Check, a identity verification app, will be used to store Covid-19 test results and, eventually, vaccination records against event tickets. Company Founder Fred Krefting said the technology simplifies security checks for venues with a single QR code they can scan on the door.

The result is a kind of 'digital event passport' that ensures the person buying the ticket and taking the test is the one who enters the venue.

AnyBrand, a subsidiary of accomodation technology company Boxbuild, is providing brandable anti-microbial face masks. The Swiss-made coverings are treated with HeiQ Viroblock, which kills 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 particles.

It will also coat touch points with the hypoallergenic substance and supply treated air conditioning filter covers to reduce the potential viral load in the space.

Two air purification providers are involved in the pilots. Pathogen Reducation Systems' (PRS) disinfecting UVC light technology will be used for events at The 100 Club; music business strategist Denzil Thomas is the partner for shows at The Exchange.

PRS, which is providing the same to a hospital in Kent, says its add-on to heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can calculate the amount of UVC needed based on the size and capacity of the building.

Thomas' version, initially developed by South Korea to tackle SARS, is standalone. "This makes them incredibly easy to install; the existing HVAC system does not need to be changed or altered, and there is no risk of voiding warranty," he explained.

Each partner offers something crucial - existing, proven technologies that can tweaked and applied to coronavirus risk reduction in the arts and cultural sector.

"There's a chance that we're going to lose a lot of businesses that haven't been [open] for ages and it would be a shame for that to happen," Krefting said.

"If everything goes well in about a 90-day period of staging events and increasing capacity then we could get back up to 100%... we're waiting on the Government to understand how they want to do it."

AnyBrand Founder Colin Graham commented: "We're ready to go this month, so we'll just sit on our hands and wait and see."

The promise

Beyond the uncertain timeline, there are other hurdles to scaling up the pilots in the coming months.

A PRS spokesperson explained that "the hardest thing" for the company, whose product is normally used to purify water, will be proving it can clean air too. 

"We would put 25 people in, then 50 people in at once. Then we would have to monitor, test and track.

"People know the science works... what we have to do is create efficacy around this being used indoors. We need third party verification of our test; we would hope that be a three-to-four month process because we need it now."

Cost is another factor. UVC cleansing can cost between £3000 and £5000 for a sigle clean.

Thomas said his UVC system costs about £5000 for a venue the size of The Exchange. It requires a simple clean once a week.

Graham, at AnyBrand, said his filters need replacing once a month. However, they take away the need to consistently deep clean a venue.

"The costs aren't that much higher than a standard deep clean," he said.

Davyd said this approach will inevitably involve additional costs for venues: "There's no point in pretending otherwise."

"The question is, what do we want to invest our money in? Do we invest in keeping lockdown going, or sensibly invest in permanently cleaning these rooms? Okay, it costs £10,000 now but it will make places safe for the next 10 years."

He said theatres and music venues are known "superspreaders" for other diseases like flu and must take a long term view, especially as new variants of the coronavirus emerge.

"Hopefully we will be the places that are safe next time, that the Government says, 'you don't have to close.'"

The partners share Davyd's vision. "We struck a chord with his positivity that we're not just here to bleat to the Government and ask for money; we actually want to do something," Graham said.

"I don't think we can do much more really than the combination of practices."

Krefting also agreed with MVT's preferred model of testing, cleaning and preventing the spread of coronavirus rather than placing the responsibility on audiences.

"We have asked the whole nation to rely on behaviour change. I don't know why we don't just make the venues safe."