We talked to John Adkins, managing director of JA Productions as he shares details of Birmingham Festival 2023 with us. Taking place from 28th July – 6th August, the event marked the one-year anniversary of the Commonwealth Games and followed in the footsteps of the hugely successful live sites.

JAP delivered all production, site, safety and operations management on behalf of organisers Birmingham Festival 2023 commissioned by Birmingham City Council. Building on the Commonwealth Games’ legacy, a cultural programme of entertainment was curated by JAP’s partners at OPUS with tens of thousands coming to Birmingham’s Centenary Square to enjoy local and international art, culture and entertainment.

What were the main operational challenges that you were faced with?

As with any event in the public realm, delivering in a city centre environment is completely different to a green field site and brings its own set of complex challenges. There’s no controlled access, it’s free to attend and you have general public who are completely outside the event. For example, estimating audience numbers for SAG and licensing is just one of the many challenges that you face.

With so many stakeholders you’ve got to consider the artistic and operational aspects, ensuring that you’re engaging with everyone, that they are onboard and aligned with the overall event delivery.

As with all JAP’s projects, a key consideration during both the planning and delivery phase was minimising the event’s environmental impact. JAP set out a sustainability strategy for Birmingham 2023 that took its own plan and objectives, along with the findings post Commonwealth Games into account.

It’s fair to say that the British summer presented with a few challenges of its own too. One particularly wet Saturday we moved a lot of the entertainment indoors where we could and we also paused the show when there were heavy downpours. We have a fantastic working relationship with OPUS who were responsible for the programme so we worked together to manage the situation.

Was there anything that you approached differently this year based on learnings form 2022?

Definitely! There was a real focus on accessibility off the back of our work at the Commonwealth Games. Artists like Critical Mass, an inclusive dance collective who performed at opening event Wondrous Stories are massively inspiring and really influenced our event delivery plans. From how we set up the stage and only installed accessible toilets backstage to completely eliminating cable ramp front of house and installing DDA compliant ramps back of house where it was needed. I personally learnt a a great deal working with them in 2022 about what is required to make everyone feel safe and comfortable to perform. As a result, the Critical Mass performance was the highlight of the whole festival for me.

What about sustainability, how important was that in the overall delivery of the event?

From the start of the project, setting sustainability goals was a key consideration. We engaged my long-time friend and colleague Richard Bate, vice president of IOSH and event sustainability guru to publish a detailed Event Sustainability Report.

The event supply chain was managed to minimise emissions wherever possible. Supplier selection was based on meeting specific criteria with local suppliers prioritised. We encouraged our suppliers to use local staff wherever possible and engage with their own local supply chains. We also asked to complete post-event sustainability performance analysis. Given the busy nature of the event season we are still waiting for some of these, which we always expected.”

Substantial gains and successes from the overall plan included powering the event using 100% grid power and negating the need for generators; an initiative to use 100% recyclable branding materials; removal of all plastic bottles and cups from the event; entering into an agreement with local bars, cafes and restaurants to allow event attendees to use existing toilet facilities removing the need for any event toilets to be brought onto site and working with local cafes, restaurants and bars for the food and beverage offering rather than bringing in concessions.

We’re also keen to look at social sustainability, commitment to education, diversity and inclusion as an important part of our ethos. We invited three students to join the JAP event delivery team at Birmingham Festival 2023 to gain practical experience in a live event environment.

The full Event Sustainability Report can be found here.