This guide walks through the basics of running an event and gives guidance on event planning, licensing laws, food and drink sales, road closures, insurance and more. It provides a great starting point for anyone tasked with putting on an entertainment event which can be anything from a street party or village hall music event to a festival.
There are quite a few things to think about but this article should help to demystify the process for you. It will also point you in the direction of other resources that can elaborate on the information shown here and offer further help when it is required.
One of the major things that seems to scare organisers is health and safety but it really shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just a common sense approach to identifying risks and eliminating or minimising them. Health and safety gets a really bad press and is used as the scapegoat over and over again when someone is looking for a reason not to do something or not to allow something to happen. The phrase, “can’t do it, health and safety” is trotted out way too often. The Health & Safety Executive website goes about busting some of the myths that have grown up and there are some amusing cases listed on their website http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/
Voluntary and community events are an important aspect of everyday life that help encourage people to play a more active part in society.
They may celebrate a particular occasion, raise funds for a good cause or simply bring people in a community closer together. We have worked with a range of civil society and government organisations (some of whose own guidance we link to here) to develop this guide, which will:
The guide should clear up any confusion over issues such as health and safety and food hygiene, which people often think will get in the way. Organising a successful event is really all about good planning and taking sensible precautions where necessary.
This guide has seven parts and you probably won’t need to read all of them, especially if you are planning a particular type of event, such as a street party or a cycle road race. There are links to more specialised guidance on these in part 7.
Good planning is vital to a successful event. Whatever sort of event you want to hold, the planning will often follow the same general pattern. You need to:
Discuss with your fellow organisers what you want the event to achieve – will it:
You will also need to decide:
The bigger the event, the more people you will need to plan and organise on the day itself, and the more time you will need give yourself to plan and prepare.
If you are having a larger event you may want to form a small working group, to plan all the main dates and deadlines and help clarify how much work there is to do, and when.
For larger events consider having small groups to look at each area, such as marketing, safety and logistics (these will obviously vary depending on your event). It may also be a good idea to have one member of each group as your core organising team.
If it is a larger event, it is sensible for 1 or 2 members of the organising team to keep an overview of the entire event to:
When planning the date of the event, try to avoid clashes with similar events that may be taking place nearby.
You can encourage more people to get involved by:
Think about asking other local organisations, including event organisations, to get involved. They may have the expertise to take a major part of organising the event off your hands.
Keep people involved in organising the event, and anyone else who should know, regularly updated about what is going on; if it is a larger event, this may include the local council, police and/or emergency services. This can stop an individual or an organising group from making mistakes that may be expensive.
Also, if it is a larger event, consider the impact of the event on the neighbourhood in which it takes place. Make sure that residents and businesses are aware of what is going on and have the opportunity to let you know of any concerns they may have.
Many activities that take place during voluntary and community events don’t need any licence. There is more information about this in Part 2.
You do need to:
If you are raising money for charity, you can find the good practice standards you should aim to meet in the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice.
You will be responsible for the safety of volunteers and visitors at your event. Looking after people’s safety at events is largely a matter of taking simple, sensible precautions that are outlined in Part 3.
You will need to consider the following:
If you are holding an open air event, the weather can be fickle. So ask yourself:
You should also consider whether you need to get public liability insurance.
All the following may involve costs you will have to meet:
So you need to plan how you are going to cover them. This could be through;
Be realistic. It’s better to underestimate income and slightly overestimate costs.
Even if you are aiming to break even, do allow some contingency to reduce the risk of making a loss. If you do then make some money use it to meet the cost of next time or decide beforehand a charity you can donate it to.
Talking to people who have organised similar events can provide a really helpful indication of likely costs and income.
You will need to decide:
Consider including some contact details with the publicity so people can contact you directly.
You should also make sure you get your publicity out early enough for it to be distributed and read – don’t wait until every last detail of the event is finalised.
Shortly before the event, you need to run through the day (or days) in detail with the organising team. You can ask yourself questions like:
Check the terms of your hire agreement to see exactly what the owner of the venue expects you to clear up.
It’s a good idea to count takings from the different sources separately, so that you know which activities made money and which didn’t do so well. This will help you make a more accurate budget for your next event. It’s also best to have two people at the count.
Bank cash as soon as possible.
It’s always worth having a brief discussion with your organising team after the event, to talk through what went well and not so well on the day, learning lessons for the future.
If the event took place to raise money for a good cause, find a way of publicising how much money was raised and thank people for their contribution.
Many activities don’t need a licence. However you should check the situation early on, because if you do find you need a licence or other permission, this can take some time, even months in some cases.
This part of the guide will help you with licences and permission for the following activities:
You do not have to register an “incidental non-commercial lottery”. This is a term that includes raffles, sweepstakes and tombolas. Tickets for this type of lottery must be sold and the winners announced at the event. Anyone at the event (including children) can take part in this sort of lottery. The expenses that can be deducted from the proceeds must not be more than £100, and no more than £500 can spent on prizes (not including donated prizes). See the section providing alcoholic drinks for information about alcoholic prizes.
Find out more with the Gambling Commission’s guidance on running raffles and lotteries.
You do not need a licence to play bingo, or run a race night as long as you are playing for ‘good causes’. This means that the night:
You can play either ‘prize bingo’ or ‘equal chance’ bingo.
For prize bingo:
For equal chance bingo:
Race Nights that are run to raise money for charity, also may not need a licence if they are run on the same basis as above.
Find out more with the Gambling Commission’s guidance on non-commercial and private gaming and betting.
The following events do not need entertainment licences between the hours of 8am and 11pm:
Other examples of performances that generally don’t need a licence are:
GOV.UK also holds more detail on entertainment licensing.
If you are planning on playing pre-recorded music at an event that is open to the public, check with your venue to see if it holds licences from PRS (Performing Rights Society) for Music and PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited).
If your venue does not hold these licences you should check with those organisations whether you need a licence. A fee will probably be payable.
You don’t need a licence to provide alcohol at a private event, such as a street party, as long as it is not being sold.
You also don’t need a licence if the venue has either of the following:
This is something you can check with the owner of the venue.
You don’t need a licence to offer bottles (or other containers) of alcohol as prizes in raffles and tombolas provided the following conditions are met:
You must not sell tickets that can then be exchanged for an alcoholic drink, or to ask for a donation in return for alcohol.
If none of the above apply and you want to:
You will need a Temporary Event Notice.
Despite the stories you might hear, health and safety law does not, generally, impose duties upon someone who is not an employer, self-employed or an employee (although civil law may apply).
In most cases, all you need to do is consider realistically what could potentially go wrong, what effect this could have on those present and what you need to do to prevent it. Focus on risks that could cause real harm and ignore the trivial.
For many events all that is required is to follow a basic series of steps. Ask yourself:
These are some of the things you may need to think about:
If you are using a village or community hall or similar venue, the Health and Safety Executive has a simple checklist to help you:
Anyone providing a venue for a public event must assess the risk from fire to those using the premises and ensure that the fire safety measures in place are suitable to protect lives in the event of a fire.
Discuss with the venue owner what fire safety arrangements are in place and make sure you know what to do should a fire break out.
Questions you should ask yourself are often a matter of common sense. For example:
Remember you may put lives at unnecessary risk if you attempt to fight the fire.
Sensible precautions you can take to help minimise the risk of fire include:
If you want to provide or sell food at an event, here are some basic questions you need to be able to answer:
Food sold for a charity or other community organisation, only has to follow food labelling regulations if the seller is a registered food business. This includes food sold at one-off events such as village and church fêtes and school fairs.
However, labelling food voluntarily may be helpful to prospective buyers, particularly if the food contains a common allergen that buyers may need to be aware of, such as nuts in a cake.
Closing a quiet street for a small community event, such as a street party, is easier than a lot of people think:
Find out more about planning street parties by following the specialist guide linked to in Part 7.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of closing a street, you can organise a street meet/gathering on private land (with the landowner’s permission), such as a driveway or front garden, without any requirement to fill in council forms. Streets Alive has guidance about how to go about it.
For a larger scale event or for proposals to close a busy or main road you should contact your council as soon as possible, and at least several months in advance, to ensure there is enough time for your proposal to be properly considered by the highway authority and the police.
There is no law that says you must buy insurance for a voluntary or community event – but you might want to make sure you are covered in case something goes wrong and someone makes a claim against you. Having public liability insurance may give you peace of mind, but it’s good planning, not insurance that stops things going wrong.
Sometimes another body, perhaps a local council you have contact with or someone that you contract with (such as a landowner if the event is taking place on their land), will require you to have public liability insurance. If this is the case you can ask why they are requiring this because it is not compulsory in law. Sometimes signing a disclaimer will be adequate instead of buying insurance.
If you do decide you need insurance remember that before you buy it, you should check the terms of the policy carefully to make sure you know exactly what cover it provides and any requirements you may have to meet.
If you are holding the event in your home or garden you may be covered by the public liability section of your own home insurance policy. You can check this yourself and talk to your insurer if you have any questions.
If you are renting or using someone else’s building, you may be covered by their insurance, do check to see if this is the case.
If you are hiring equipment such as a marquee or bouncy castle check with the company you are hiring it from whether their terms of hire include insurance and read any conditions carefully (particularly any exclusions).
If external businesses are providing services, such as food or rides, you should check they have their own insurance, and that it is in force on the day of the event.
Find out more about event insurance with the Association of British Insurers’ ‘Celebrate – An ABI guide to planning an event’.
This insurance covers the organisers of an event providing them with financial protection if they are held to blame for injury to a person or for loss or damage to property and sued.
You can buy different levels of cover, from £1 million upwards. This seems a lot but costs are relatively low, sometimes as little as £50 or £60. How much you need varies according to:
If you are unsure, talk to your own insurer or an insurance broker who will be able to advise you.
You do need to be sure that the policy you buy covers all the activities you want included, so be open and clear with the insurer or broker you talk to. And make sure that you check the terms of the policy and in particular any exclusions.
You can find a specialist insurance broker on the internet or on the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) website.
There is a lot of good guidance available for particular types of event. Some of it is linked to below.
The Local Government Association’s top tips for holding a public event in your community.
Your guide to organising a street party on GOV.UK.
The Street Party Site provided by Streets Alive.
The Health and Safety Executive’s Giving your own firework display: How to run and fire it safely.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ (RoSPA) Safer Fireworks.
RoSPA advice on using Chinese/sky lanterns.
If you’re planning an event, from a family fun ride to a challenging sportive, British Cycling can help you organise and publicise it, and provide event insurance.
You can find out about organising road running races with Run Britain.
The Motor Sports Association has guidance on organising car treasure hunts.
The Big Lunch is an Eden Project idea to help bring communities together.
Playing Out aims to increase children’s safe access to informal play in residential streets through resident-led street play sessions.
The first Wednesday in August is National Playday. To support Playday there is a Get Organised guide for planning local events to support children’s play. The guide can be used for similar events at any time.
The Community Games are an opportunity to bring communities together to take part in sporting and cultural activities inspired by London 2012.
Games are organised in a way that works for the community and celebrates its uniqueness.
This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.