As I write we’re into our 123rd day of lockdown here at Meet Cambridge, moving out of our office on 16th March, before the nationwide closedown on 23rd March.  Today is the first chance I’ve had to draw breath and to reflect, and looking back now at the past four months, there’s been such a lot to take in.  Everything has changed for everybody.

In those early days and weeks, like everyone, we were in shock.  We had our first conference casualty early on, an international event that had been several years in the planning, cancelled.  Then like a house of cards, one after the other, events toppled and the year that was to be one of Cambridge’s busiest for international events suddenly looked very empty. For an organisation which has a remit to promote Cambridge and its venues for meetings and events, it seemed like we were facing an impossible task.

But even then, we remained resolute. We took a ‘roll up the sleeves’ approach and sought out positives. Looking back now, we were naïve. We expected to be closed until Easter at worst, but Summer was never on the agenda….and when reality dawned, we quickly had to switch our focus to crisis communications, to both clients and our member venues.  We discovered that although everything had changed, collaboration is still very much at the heart of what we do and thankfully, the event industry has it in bucket loads.

This was quickly demonstrated by many of our venues pitching in to help the local community, making accommodation available to key workers and homeless groups and redistributing food stocks to the vulnerable.

We implemented new initiatives, such as our weekly Hump Day Huddles on Zoom –  something that would never have seen the light of day in our busy pre-COVID world – but now we offer a weekly session to give our members a space to feel connected where they can discuss recent developments, challenges and solutions to reopening. This has opened up collaboration on a whole new level. Venues that would normally compete against one another are happy and willing to share ideas and resources, all working together to make sure that when the green light is given, Cambridge as a destination for meetings and events, can bounce back.

Our industry bodies are also showing inspirational leadership and sharing valuable resources; their advice and guidelines have been a lifeline to our venues in these uncertain times and organisers will be reassured to know that so much work is ongoing to ensure that when events can be held again, organisers can be confident that they will be successful and safe.

We’re also meeting regularly with other UK destinations and here with our peers in cities the length and breadth of the UK we’re sharing knowledge, to help to alleviate concerns and find solutions to challenges that COVID is enforcing on us. 

Lockdown has seen many firsts but a memorable and positive one for us was MeetGB Virtual. Organised by VisitBritain this event took collaboration to a global level and along with destinations throughout Britain we showcased Cambridge to buyers from all over the UK, Europe and North America and although we were all sat in our homes, for a few short hours, we were able to feel a part of something much bigger and we got to experience the buzz and excitement again of being a part of our wonderful industry. The conversations with buyers, who they themselves are facing difficult times too, brought a sense of solidarity that we really are all in this together and it was reassuring to see that there is definitely a strong will to meet again.

I’m pleased to say that here in Cambridge the approach to reopening is a considered one. We welcome the news that conferences and meetings may be able to resume from 1st October and our venues will be working incredibly hard to implement new measures in line with the latest guidance.

Our portfolio is largely academic venues, so for them, the focus is on making sure students can come back safely, which means meetings and events may have to wait a while longer but our hotel members are reporting safe re-openings for visitors who need accommodation and this last week event enquiries are definitely picking up.

When Cambridge does fully open its doors again – and it will – we’ll be ready to extend a warm welcome to organisers and delegates who can be confident that our venues can operate safely so that everyone can experience once again the magic of a face-to-face event.

Judith Sloane

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