Neil Chandler joined The QEII Centre as operations director earlier this year, but just four weeks into his new role the venue shut to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Here, the former Fairfield Halls Arts Centre venue director talks about his experience so far at QEII and how he and the operations team are preparing for the Centre’s re-opening.
How would you describe the first few months of your new role?
“It has been an interesting time to join an events venue. While COVID-19 has been very disruptive to QEII it has given me a good opportunity to understand every aspect of the business in a very short space of time; something that under normal working conditions I wouldn’t have had the luxury to do.”
What has been the most challenging aspect you’ve faced so far?
“Getting to know the team without actually being sat with them. I like to get to know individuals and manage them as individuals, but I only had four weeks on site with the team before lockdown and that was mostly spent finding my way round. In fact, two of those weeks were gradual lock down so little business as usual was achieved. Over the last 10 weeks, through daily team calls we have achieved a lot but it has taken a huge amount of effort on all sides to understand personalities properly. I think that takes real face time.”
What plans have you been making ahead of re-opening?
“We have liaised with national organisations and worked hard to produce our response policy for clients; devising new room layouts for events in different configurations and capacities, cleaning regimes and additional signage production. We have purchased new equipment to assist with sanitization and thermal imaging and created an animated infomercial for clients and delegates detailing processes in place at the Centre. We are ready to re-open and like all venues are waiting patiently for the next announcement from government.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve come up against for re-opening?
“The (understandable) lack of clarity at this moment in time, on how we will be able to re-open. We have planned for many different scenarios and are sharing these with our clients, but as time moves on the clients need to firm up plans for their event, but we aren’t able to give them the information they need. QEII has always been proud of its relationship with clients and at the moment this is the biggest cause of sadness across the teams. We want to work with our clients to deliver the very best events, but right now we just don’t know what we will be permitted to host. What we do know is that we are prepared and will make the very best of whatever is thrown at us.”
Can you tell us about some of the steps you’re taking to reassure visitors to QEII that the venue is COVID-secure?
“From a 48-hour pre-event health screening process, (managed by our clients but expected by the Centre) to temperature checks on arrival we have a lot of plans in place. Lifts and toilet facilities are restricted to minimum numbers and we are encouraging pre-registration and QR scanning on arrival. Additional precautions are being taken in our cloakroom and by the teams at QEII Live and QEII Taste. Our cleaning team will carry out nightly deep cleans with our new fogging machines and continual sanitisation of touch surfaces from open to close.”
We have a created a video outlining our measures and to provide reassurance which can be viewed here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6678682071809970176/
What are you finding most challenging about planning for re-opening?
“The lack of clarity, at this moment in time, on how we will be able to re-open. We have planned for many different scenarios and are sharing these with our clients, but as time moves on our clients need to firm up plans for their event and we aren’t able to give them the information they need. The Centre has always been proud of its relationship with its clients, so not being able to confirm events is currently the biggest cause of sadness across the teams. We want to work with our clients to deliver the very best events but right now we just don’t know what we will be permitted to host. What we do know is that we are prepared and will make the very best of whatever is thrown at us.”