Drive-in events and cinemas deserve a reprieve from restrictions – Brian Ferguson

I had an intriguing glimpse into the future the other day, one which appeared tantalisingly close, but still frustratingly out of reach.

Six months of drive-in events were meant to be staged at Edinburgh Airport. Picture: Lloyd Smith
Six months of drive-in events were meant to be staged at Edinburgh Airport. Picture: Lloyd Smith

It was a vision of festivals, events, parades and celebrations returning to villages, towns and cities across Scotland – bringing life, vitality, laughter and colour back to places currently shrouded in darkness, uncertainty, depression and despair.

But that was the vision conjured by a conversation with one of Scotland’s leading events experts.

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If Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, has his way, it will not be long before the kind of events which have been in cold storage for the best part of 2020 are back up and running again.

More than 50 staff have been working at the drive-in events at Edinburgh Airport. Picture: Lloyd Smith

If you’re wondering what kind of events he has in mind, there is a long list of them online, along with details of a new “recovery fund” aimed at helping bringing them back to life, on VisitScotland’s website.

Not only that, £2.75 million has been ringfenced to help support the return of music, comedy, book and food festivals to Highland Games, clan gatherings, agricultural shows and gala days.

The organisers of drive-in events, light shows and illuminated trails, maritime celebrations, fashion festivals and celebrations marking Burns Night, St Andrew’s Night and Hogmanay are also being encouraged to apply for funding.

Not only that, but Mr Bush revealed that the events industry will soon have its own route map to cater for every occasion mentioned above and many more.

When culture secretary Fiona Hyslop shared my interview with Mr Bush on social media at the weekend she declared: “I’ve been clear that we need to plan for a safe return of events in Scotland in 2021.”

All of this would appear to be the kind of long-awaited good news the Scottish cultural sector has been crying out for.

But there is a fly in the ointment in the form of the five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions that, now into its second week, only allows live events to resume at level 1.

For the growing number of areas in level 3, this means the toughest restrictions since the entire country was in peak lockdown.

Under this system, cinemas which have been allowed to operate successfully since the summer have been forced back into cold storage, while drive-in events have been suddenly brought to a halt.

Both decisions seem to defy logic, particularly given the fact that cinemas, which have had to cut capacities in screens dramatically, have simply not been linked to any outbreaks in the UK. Audiences at drive-in cinema events are largely confined to their vehicles.

The clampdown on film events and cinemas makes even less sense given that bars and restaurants in level 3 have been allowed to reopen since last week – albeit it without being able to serve alcohol.

With a dark winter looming ahead, especially for those areas operating under the harshest restrictions, a rethink to allow some degree of normality to return, in safe, controlled environments, does not seem unreasonable or unduly risky.

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