Tackling staff welfare with Bournemouth 7s Craig Mathie

It’s vital to look after your staff. Craig Mathie, managing director of Bournemouth 7s, talks about the festival’s decision to increase staff welfare facilities at this year’s event…

How did Bournemouth 7s 2022 go and how did it compare to last year?
We were absolutely delighted with how the 15th Bournemouth 7s Festival came together this year. The team had a fair bit more certainty, particularly in relation to COVID, and this allowed us to really hone our offering and improve our proposition for sports people and festivalgoers alike. I was absolutely delighted with how incredible the site looked this year and it’s been great to hear amazing feedback since we closed our doors. In addition to this, 2022 was notable for some incredible brand engagement and experiences – it’s clear to see that brands are ready and willing to engage with festival audiences again.

You increased staff welfare facilities at this year’s festival. What factors led to your decision to increase welfare provision?
At the end of 2021, I attended a few industry events, including the fantastic Event Buyers Live, and was confronted by a host of colleagues and friends, who were absolutely done in after an incredibly challenging post-COVID return to major events. This reiterated to me that our industry needed to do more to look after the people who make our events come to life. Aligned to this, our incredible Bournemouth 7s team had gone through COVID uncertainty, a 42-day lead into our biggest ever festival and then a month lead into a festival launch.

They kept delivering but were under significant pressure and we realised that this was not sustainable. We have always been good at looking after our staff, but I was determined that we could and should do more to ensure that they enjoy going to work, even in the busiest times.

What welfare provision did you previously deploy? How did this year’s provision differ?

Staff welfare isn’t complicated; it’s just about making sure that you take care of the basics, which so easily get forgotten when everything is bang up against it. This year, we had a dedicated staff and welfare manager who was tasked with ensuring staff were fed, watered, and rested during the event. We had several dedicated mental health first aiders, supported by our partnership with Dorset Mind, and ensured that welfare provisions were in place throughout the weekend. We worked with a new staff catering company, Kingsgate Catering, who delivered great hot food throughout the event and built a dedicated Light-On Lounge for staff to eat, rest, and relax during the event. In addition to this, we also looked to see where we could reduce shift times and avoid staff starting at the crack of dawn and finishing 18 hours later. Inevitably, there are long shifts and high pressure in our world, but we wanted to make sure our team knew how valued they all are in making Bournemouth 7s the success it is.

How were the new welfare facilities received?

Monitoring the impact of these measures is always a little bit challenging as you don’t see a tangible outcome from many of them. However, anecdotally, we received some great and generous words about the thought we had put into many of the plans. We saw far more staff working throughout the weekend on adjusted shifts and staff drop-off was significantly lower than in 2021.


What did you learn at this year’s event and how will you build on staff welfare for 2023?

Looking after our people is right at the centre of everything we do, and we will continue to build on this for future versions of the event. We are looking to create a dedicated quiet zone on-site and will be engaging with some of the wider events industry bodies to see where there are gaps and how we can build on these. One area we have highlighted is in providing access to all and we have some great ideas to welcome new audiences next year.

In terms of 2022 event delivery – how did it go? Was it stressful? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Through my wider network, I’ve heard some real horror stories about the events supply chain this year and I certainly wouldn’t want to have been delivering a year one event in 2022. With that said, we are incredibly lucky to have an amazing and established network of supply partners and contractors who play a huge part in delivering our festival each year. I’m pleased to report that we were able to source everything that we needed for the festival, and all were delivered on time and to an excellent standard.

With that said, there were certainly some real challenges in managing our budgets for this year with infrastructure costs, rising by around 30 per cent year on year. We managed to work around these increases by having honest conversations with our suppliers about their cost increases and working out where they were not operating at maximum efficiency. For example, Mar-key Group which provides some of our most- loved festival arenas chose to move away from the small clearspans on-site. This led to us working with Camelot and Chique Marquees, which delivered a host of smaller structures across the event site. Similarly, by working with local plant providers (Hire Access Platforms) and specialist buggy companies (OBH), we were able to mitigate increases in hire costs that were being seen when provisions were combined.

In 2021, we saw huge challenges in recruiting people in various areas across the event, most notably SIA security staff and hospitality team members. As such, we sought to split our requirements for 2022 across several local and regional suppliers to ensure that we had sufficient numbers in place. By working with Showsec, PPE Security, and B-Secured Security, for instance, we ensured that we had more than the required SIA staff across the event. This model of zoning your event site and staffing specific areas required more work up front but certainly provided resilience in the delivery of a safe event. We also worked alongside The Fair in ensuring that we had a security coordinator in place to supervise the various companies operating in this space.

What site developments did you implement this year?
Having made the most changes we have ever made in 2021, we thought it best to allow the festival a year to bed in those changes for 2022 and we’re incredibly pleased that we did. Bournemouth 7s Festival 2022 was the best-looking festival we have ever pulled off with more finishing and branding touches than we have ever been able to implement before. Visual Architects and A Different World both made a huge impact to some of our fantastic festival arenas whilst our team of in-house creatives and chippies created the backdrops to some truly inspirational moments.

Looking to 2023, what’s the plan?

We will take the summer to reflect, learn, and recover before planning starts in earnest later in the year. We have
some amazing ideas for new arenas, an enhanced VIP offering, and a new sport but, for now, I want my team to recover and reflect on the amazing festival they helped build in 2022.