As academic venues start to prepare for welcoming students this autumn and the Government’s recent announcement that conferences and events can re-start, what are the key issues to be addressed? Freya Vaughan, events manager at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge gives an
overview of what is on her team’s agenda.
Essentially, our objective is to keep our people and our visitors’ safe, ensuring they feel comfortable as they navigate the college. It’s also about communicating clearly, following Government guidelines and timings – from 1st August for up to 30 people and from 1st October for larger groups – subject to the rate of infection remaining low and social distancing measures in place. For events specifically we are adhering to the guidance issued by the Meetings Industry Association (MIA).
There are a number of different operational areas of the college involved in planning and undertaking risk assessments, including the general manager, events manager, catering manager, accommodation manager and head porter.
One of our main challenges has been designing a one-way system with social distancing. Although this has proved tricky in places – we’ve actually installed a ‘mini roundabout’ in one area – our Brutalist-style buildings are light and airy with long corridors, wide doorways and a feeling of space so it hasn’t been as difficult as it might have been at older venues. Our two conference centres are self-contained and modern, again making it easier for us to align with the guidance. The reduction in room capacities due to social distancing will have a significant impact on income and our events offering, particularly on our day delegate rate which is built around minimum numbers. We’ve lost almost all of our commercial events for the year which impacts directly on the college as revenue is ploughed back into delivering the highest standards of education for our students.
However we are remaining very positive and here at Murray Edwards we have a number of factors in our favour as we plan for the ‘new normal’. In addition to our airy buildings, we also have ‘walk on the grass’ gardens where supervisions, teaching and meetings can also take place, 11 large flat-floored meeting rooms which we are proposing to segment to facilitate social distancing and we also have on-site parking.
Our two self-contained conference centres, although with reduced capacities, mean that we can beam presentations from one to the other, working closely with our long-term AV supplier so more people can be accommodated.
Together with this external support and our in-house AV technician, we are confident that we can provide virtual solutions and hybrid events.
One of the plus points about the COVID-19 crisis has been the way all our different departments – including those who are stakeholders in events delivery – have worked closely together, to find solutions to these new challenges. This has included creating Back to Work guidelines, so that anyone wanting to organise an event in college can feel confident and secure that all guidelines are being addressed. To help with this, we are working on the MIA ‘AIM Secure’ and Visit Britain ‘We’re Good To Go’ accreditations to give reassurance to our clients and visitors that we are committed to their safety.
Of course all operational areas of the college will need to design and implement procedures to meet new requirements, including catering where major changes will need to be made in terms of presentation and serving and also housekeeping with enhanced cleaning and hygiene. Work on all of this is underway, even though we are working through the challenges of furloughed members of the team, annual leave and newly emerging guidelines. So the planning and preparation continues as we look forward to welcoming students, Fellows and additional staff back to college for the beginning of Michaelmas term at the start of October. Everything has changed for everybody – but we hope that, with care and consideration, we can enjoy meetings and events once again.