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Licence to thrive

“Promoters and organisers need to see us as partners,” says Paul Cowell, culture and events manager at Southwark Council. The statement puts in the spotlight the role local authorities play in moving the live events industry forward.

He believes councils aren’t just key-holders but the gateway to most parks and public spaces and the partnership approach will bring benefits to both.

Cowell and his team are behind the Creative Southwark, the borough’s new cultural strategy. Southwark boasts many galleries, theatres, makers and artists and this strategy, launched in July this year, sets out the borough’s vision for 2022.

“We continue to place culture and the creative industries at the heart of our priorities, shaping context and delivering a range of programmes that support our long term ambition for Southwark, as the first choice for people to live, work, study and visit,” he explains.

Business model

Paul Cowell

Paul Cowell, culture and events manager London Borough of Southwark

The Creative Southwark strategy relates to the live events sector as it’s based on three main areas the industry caters for: economy, growth and people.

The first pillar aims to ensure that the council provides the right environment for the creative industries, and the employment in these industries, to thrive.

The growth aspect focuses on supporting existing cultural venues and spaces, and welcoming new ones.

Cowell explains: “This includes offering our parks and open spaces as venues for outdoor events.”

Finally, the plan aims to ensure the council’s work, and the work of its partners, directly benefits the residents of Southwark. “We want to make sure that everyone has access to a high quality cultural opportunities and that this positively impacts on the health and economy of the borough,” says Cowell.

Events are an important part of the strategy. Southwark currently hosts a range of free festivals and events, however its cultural chief says residents would like access to more: “We hope to work with promoters, agencies and event owners to increase the diverse range in the borough.”

As a result, the council has reviewed its outdoor events policy, location conditions and premises licences in its parks and public spaces to offer more scope for a wider range of activity to take place.

“We will strongly advocate for local businesses to deliver key event services, such as catering, staffing, production and talent,” he says.

Licence to events

This approach, Cowell says, adds value and supports event partners to deliver smooth and successful events.

Southwark Park, Peckham Rye Park and Burgess Parks are some of the public spaces in the Council and demand from local residents to expand the events on offer is growing.

“As it stands, we have had very few large-scale events. It means that there is currently no precedent set for large events within the spaces. This of course presents a fantastic chance for a promoter looking to create something remarkable,” Cowell adds.

The council has set up new systems to work proactively with stakeholders and work closely with partners to ensure that the events are successful for promoters, while supporting local access and opportunities.

Everyone in the industry is under pressure to deliver profitable events, however many council commercial teams differ on what they will and will not allow. A trend has been on for some time now as to how can this be brought together under one rule to allow clarity in licence acquisition.

“Licensing regulations were set up with venues in mind, not outdoor spaces,” Cowell comments. “Even though there was an overhaul of the system, there can still be inflexibility and personal interpretation in granting licences in outdoor spaces. It can therefore be problematic at times.”

For Cowell, one of the things local authorities could do is review all the different licensing and permissions processes, including consultation and decision making, and look at what could be merged.

“Bringing these together may speed up the process, improved cooperation, communication and understanding between all the agencies involved,” he explains.

The topic of licensing is a subject Paul Cowell will be addressing to visitors attending the Festival and Outdoor Events Show (Festout) as part of the session Unification in licence agreements, which takes place on the Main Stage sponsored by The Ticket Factory on 28 September.

Cowell will be joined in the conversation by Mathew Phipps, head of TLT’s England and Wales licensing team and Nick Morgan, The Fair CEO and founder.

Registration to attend Festout 2017 is now open.