Ricoh Arena is one of few multi-purpose venues that has been able to carry on trading during the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to the creation of the venue’s very own ‘bubble’ - whereby organisers of elite sporting events have been able to use the 6,000 sqm Indoor Arena and on-site hotel.
One of the key figures helping to keep Ricoh Arena’s ‘bubble’ afloat is Mark O’Shea, General Manager at Delaware North and Ricoh Arena’s Head of Catering Services. Mark talks candidly about what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught him, and how his role has changed.
The past six months have enabled me to learn more about my team by doing the jobs they would normally have done when hosting a rugby match or an exhibition. Alongside my existing role I’ve effectively been juggling the roles of a caretaker, waiter and steward - including emptying bins and washing dishes among other tasks.
If we take a Wasps match day as an example, many of the venue’s staff are now furloughed, so game set-up is down to two people - a chef and me! I start by preparing the coach’s office and changing rooms, before moving to our boardroom where new rules state that only five home, and five away directors can attend.
I ensure match day pre-packaged takeaway food is available and that the directors fully understand our strict social distancing procedures, before distributing refreshments to the media and stewards, whilst maintaining social distancing.
After the game, the chef and I prepare post-match food for the home and away teams. The day is full-on and has opened my eyes to better understand how I can support my team in the future.
Another of my main challenges is the 200-plus staff employed in my catering team. Many have been furloughed and are keen to get back to work. As their manager, I’ve had to support them, treading the fine line between optimism and realism.
Understandably they want to know when they will return to a normal working pattern. This experience has made me realise how privileged I am to go to work every day, while others have the challenge of home schooling, balancing a furloughed income and doubt over when they will return.
Staff welfare has been so important to me. I’ve hosted informal, voluntary catch-up video sessions to check they’re ok. These sessions include quizzes, coffee mornings and exercise classes to keep spirits up. I’ve also engaged in one-to-one calls to give team members the opportunity to talk to me on a personal basis.
We have hosted a range of behind-closed-doors sporting events; including darts, ten pin bowling, pool and ping pong, so we are well-versed in delivering Covid-secure events, which will stand us in good stead when we are able to welcome crowds back to Ricoh Arena.
The rollout of the Covid vaccine has given me hope that the events industry will fully re-open in the not-too-distant future, but inevitably there will be nervousness to start with. Developing safe operating procedures has been a primary focus, and as a venue we are ready to open our doors to larger scale events.
The preparation work for re-opening has been considerable and has been worked on for months, and I believe technology will play a big part in the customer-facing experience with drinks and food ordered via mobile phones and delivered to tables.
There is no denying that the last year has been hugely challenging. If I had to pick the most important lessons that I’ve learnt, it’s that small daily gestures - such as asking a colleague how they’re doing or sharing a light-hearted joke — really matter, because you don’t know how someone is feeling deep down.
And never underestimate the importance of planning and preparation. We have taken this, as you would expect, very seriously at Ricoh Arena, and the Ricoh ‘Bubble’ has maintained the safety of staff, players and supporting groups - and some of the approaches we have adopted at these behind-closed-doors events will no doubt stand us - and the wider events industry - in good stead when we are allowed to fully re-open our doors.