By Toby Filby, Managing Director, Stable Events
Just over a year ago we were celebrating our 10-year anniversary as organisers of ‘meet the buyer’ events, a great achievement for all of us here at Stable. This coincided with our sixth physical activity facilities forum, and we duly marked the occasion with a vintage fun fair and a real festival of celebration.
We headed into 2020 with high hopes of a successful year, looking forward to our upcoming events taking place at The Belfry in March. We had put together an impressive line-up of speakers, some great delegates, had organised a golf day on the famous course and had over 200 represented companies eagerly waiting.
Then the week before our March events the country went into a national lockdown. Even at that time we thought that China was far away, that the UK would not be affected to anywhere near the extent we had seen there and optimistically rescheduled for June… how wrong we were.
Like many others, as things developed we were left numb, unsure how we were going to continue to operate.
One event after another throughout the leisure sector was postponed or cancelled. Along with our own paf forum, IHRSA, FIBO, Active Uprising and Awards, National Summit, Elevate, ActiveNet and SIBEC were all forced to close their doors – physically at least.
All great events where the leisure community come together to engage, socialise and do business. Trade events such as these are key to bringing manufacturers, suppliers and buyers together. Of all the sectors our company is involved in the leisure industry is the one that has a genuine sense of community. This has never been more apparent than during these times of adversity.
We know the importance of exercise for one’s mental health and physical wellbeing and it should be a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19. It has been truly inspirational to see the efforts made to ensure gyms and leisure centres have been able to open safely. Many have become models as to how the COVID infection can monitored and measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus within a safe environment. This has been undoubtably proven within the recent data displayed by ukactive.
Sadly, live events are still not permitted, and I believe will not be for at least four to five months. As an event organiser, our company hosts 12 ‘meet the buyer’ events a year, it is now 19 months between events for us, which has naturally had huge impact on our business. However, through adversity comes opportunity. The need to communicate remains as strong as ever and we have seen Zoom and Teams meetings becoming the new norm.
We are seeing webinars and virtual events step in and help fill the void, keeping us meeting, talking to each other and doing business. At Stable we have managed to create a virtual platform that perfectly replicates the interactive experience of our live forums. Our virtual paf forum, which is being produced with our event partner ukactive, will be taking place on the 25 and 26 of November and is attracting leading speakers and senior professionals from across the industry, showing the desire that exists within the sector to keep the dialogue going.
Webinars are providing a voice and keeping audiences engaged, allowing a flow of ideas and information in real-time. Following on from its popular ‘Together’ series of webinars, ukactive is providing a vital series of educational webinars which will ensure the sector is ready to reopen as soon as the Government permits, effectively utilising the virtual world to provide direction and information.
Although nothing can beat the experience of live human interaction it is evident that the online format is with us with us to stay. Even when live events return, I believe virtual events will to continue to play a large part in event strategies.
The rapid adaptation of people working remotely shows they are open and ready to find new ways to conduct business. The virtual experiences that have been developed during the pandemic will remain in demand even after the virus has been consigned to the history books.
People engage online daily, from virtual museum experiences to virtual cooking classes. Virtual conferences, forums and meetings will remain, even as our world moves back to a more recognisable place. I believe that virtual seminars and events will be mainstream for some time to come, continuing to grow and improve, allowing us to come together from around the country and to reach out across the world, all without leaving the comfort of our office.