Just over a week ago, around 3,000 people descended upon an old warehouse in the centre of Liverpool to take part in a 2-day trial rave as part of a scheme by Public Health England. The event, aptly named “The First Dance”, boasted a line-up of the likes of Fatboy Slim, Yousef and The Blessed Madonna. There was no social distancing and face masks were optional. The goal was simple – party like it’s, well … before March of 2020?

The rave was organised by nightlife provider Circus and was part of the UK Government’s ERP, or Events Research Programme – a string of pilot events intended to study how the virus spreads in a range of different environments. Liverpool is set to be the host of many, including an outdoor festival in Sefton Park on May 2nd, and several open-air cinema screenings at the Luna Cinema. It is hoped that data from these events will help restrictions be safely lifted in the roadmap out of lockdown and will provide a guide for other festivals and gatherings happening this summer. But whilst these events are a chance for people to let their hair down, they also come with their own rules and restrictions. For the rave at Bramley-Moore Dock, all participants had to take one lateral flow test before and after the event, be current residents of the Liverpool City Region, and registered showing no symptoms of Covid-19. All money at the event had to be pre-loaded onto an individual wristband, reducing the risk of transmitting the virus across surfaces. The list of requirements for entry was long, as was the time spent waiting in a digital queue for tickets, which took hours in some cases.

It can’t help but be noticed that Liverpool has become somewhat of a guinea pig for pilots like these. The city has often been in the foreground in the battle against Covid, not only was Liverpool the site of mass-testing in November of 2020, then under the strictest tier of restrictions for much of the remainder of the year. For a city whose economy is so reliant on nightlife, hospitality and visitors, the promise of a return to mass-scale events is nothing short of exciting.

I was able to speak to Ella Bedingfield, a 2nd-year student at the University of Liverpool, one of the lucky ticket holders who attended the event. Although a return to large gatherings with no social distancing is no doubt a daunting prospect, she wasn’t too nervous to turn up. With everyone back at uni, she says, students are tested all the time anyway – the whole process just felt normal. There weren’t many nerves leading up to the event, as everybody knew what they were going into and what to expect. I want to go again,She said, “it was just so so fun. It was such a nice atmosphere there.” The feeling of happy excitement of people heading out for their first night out post-lockdown definitely gave a boost of energy.

“it was just so fun, It was such a nice atmosphere in there”

Despite the long process of applying for tickets, being tested, and lining up for the event, this still wouldn’t deter her from going a second time. “It was quite a long process. But it definitely didn’t put me off, I would definitely do it again.” After all, queues and bag checks are normality for festivals and raves all over the UK as it stands, and a small amount of inconvenience is unlikely to put many off returning to the dancefloor after months of hiatus. When asked if the layout of such events might be a feasible plan moving forwards, she replied that perhaps in the future there wouldn’t need to be such a long application process, and with more choice of events taking place, there would be less of a wait for each one.

It looks likely that mass-tested events like these may become the norm for the near future, or at least until the vaccination of the whole of the UK becomes a reality. But the outlook for this summer is still unclear, and although many festivals such as Creamfields and Boardmasters are still set to go ahead, nobody is sure of what they will look like. Many festivals are assuming no need for social distancing at all, relying on the fact that Covid restrictions are set to be all but gone by June 21st. Yet carrying on full-steam ahead seems somewhat risky, especially since a major issue facing future festivals is the lack of pandemic-specification cancellation insurance, in case scheduled events aren’t able to happen. However, should every festival-goer be required to show proof of a negative test before entry just as they have been in Liverpool, there might be some chance of security at these events.

“it looks likely that mass-tested events like these may become the norm for the near future…”

I was sceptical that many people might not bother to send off the second test after the Liverpool event, and Ella also agreed with me that is certainly a possibility. “It’s not a very nice thing to do a test,” she says, “I think a lot of people just won’t. But I guess lots of people will have, because lots of people really do want it to continue.”

It can only be hoped that the dream of seeing the music and nightlife scene in the UK return to normal will spur people on to get tested. Whilst the collective experience of the Bramley-Moore Dock rave was overwhelmingly positive, we can only hope and wait for an overall negative result.

Image Credit: Ella Bedingfield


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