When the Police get called...

If visitors to an event I was organising were so frustrated with the travel organisation that they called the police, I would be devastated. Amazingly that happened at two events in Manchester on Saturday!

At the Ideal Home Exhibition, the roads around EventCity (event venue) and the Trafford Centre (shopping mall next door) were in a gridlock. The situation was so frustrating that some drivers called the police after being trapped for up to 90 minutes and it made the local press.

EventCity claimed that traffic was flowing freely and being managed – the Trafford Centre claimed that their car park plan was working well and the problems were due to factors ‘beyond their control’. In reality, there were cars parked on verges, on kerbs and everywhere. Stewards, with radios, looked bewildered and elsewhere there were empty car parks. Roads all around were at a complete standstill (not helped by minor accidents on the motorway and a nearby Parklife music festival).

This is what we observed, and there are lessons for all event managers:

-There was a large consumer exhibition being held at EventCity – it needed advanced traffic planning with all local agencies including the exhibition centre, the adjacent shopping centre, the local authority and the police.

-It needed a traffic plan. Starting on the motorway with matrix signs directing travellers to different destinations using different exits.

-It needed signage – advise travellers which car park to head for, and change that when each car parks get full.

-Have a plan. Actively manage where people park – all day. Let the stewards, security and authorities know what’s happening and let them provide live updates.

-Be aware – the consumer show, the Ideal Home Exhibition, had been heavily advertised in the weeks before. The weather was dreadful but that had been forecast for days before – and that meant more people travelling to the shopping mall. The music festival was a known factor. On the morning it was easy to forecast problems with traffic, so have the hands available to manage and direct drivers and make people aware that there is a plan and that everything that can be done is being done – that way you can avoid the roundabouts and traffic lights becoming gridlocked and above all you stop individual drivers creating their own solutions and abandoning their car, without regard for the consequences.

At the Parklife music festival, there were very different problems and much better organisation. There, the organisers had laid on dozens of buses to take visitors back to the city centre at the end of the night. They had erected fencing to create managed queues.

An impatient minority broke the fences to jump the queue and were not stopped because there appeared to be too few stewards and those who were around seemed not to know what to do. The consequence was a complete breakdown in the queue system, the bus operation was suspended until police arrived.

The following night, there was large numbers of security and a police presence and everything worked well.

As event planners it’s important that we take control and understand the whole event experience for our attendees – it doesn’t matter how good the Ideal Home Exhibition was inside or the music at Parklife, the experience for many outside was poor and that is what they talk about afterwards. So in the minds of many people there is an association between bad event management and both the venue and the event.

I’m glad I was just a driver caught in the middle of the chaos at the Trafford Centre and not responsible for the mess - and that my son escaped Parklife and, like many others, chose to walk home.

Lessons for us all!

Alan Wight