The UK’s first large-scale socially distanced music venue is opening in Newcastle this summer.
Virgin Money Unity Arena, to be installed at Newcastle Racecourse in Gosforth Park, will open from August until mid-September. It features 500 individual viewing platforms for each household of ticketholders overlooking an outdoor stage, allowing for a maximum of 2,500 attendees. Each platform is spaced two metres apart from the next.
Ged Bell of Newcastle city council hailed it as “a brilliant innovation where people will be able to enjoy top bands in a safe, responsible and socially distanced way”. Concert lineups are due to be announced on Tuesday 7 July.
The arena has been conceived by SSD Concerts, a promotions company that manages Newcastle festivals This is Tomorrow and Hit the North, as well as four venues in the city. “We think even in these hard times the people of the north-east will come out in their thousands to see the artists they love,” said managing director Steve Davis.
The initiative comes as the live music industry faces dire losses amid the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, stars including Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and the Rolling Stones signed a letter to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, calling for support for the live sector, alongside the #LetTheMusicPlay social media campaign. The letter called for financial support including VAT exemption on ticket sales, and a clear timeline for when venues could reopen.
Dowden wrote on Twitter: “I understand the deep anxiety of those working in music & the desire to see fixed dates for reopening. I am pushing hard for these dates & to give you a clear roadmap back.”
A survey in mid-June by Music Venue Trust, which represents 819 independent UK venues, found that only 36% of the public felt it would currently be safe to go to a concert. They called on the government for £50m in support to keep venues afloat while they were forced to stay closed.
In the meantime, major concert promoter Live Nation has created a series of drive-in concerts across 12 outdoor UK venues, with artists including the Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Kaiser Chiefs.