Another successful retreat under our belts. This one felt no different than previous years. The setting at Sherwood Farm was idyllic, the workshop facilitators were phenomenal and the food was delicious. Yet there was a difference for me; with respect to the preplanning in the midst of a pandemic to ensure the safety of all our delegates and vendors. Here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes:
Firstly, I dithered a bit. Would I have the nerve to offer a live event despite the pandemic? And if so, what were the steps I needed to take to host a safe event? I had already hosted 2 virtual retreats and they were very successful from all aspects, including vendor and delegate satisfaction. It would be so easy to just offer another virtual event. However, I decided to take the plunge. If I, as an event planner could not design and curate a safe event, then who could?
Step One: I asked past participants to weigh in on this issue. Namely, would they want to attend a live event, knowing that I would be taking every precaution? An overwhelming majority said yes, so I hit the ground running.
Step Two: I enrolled in the Event Leadership Institute’s course: Pandemic On-Site Protocol. This was instrumental in determining which layers of safety needed to be incorporated to ensure a safe event and entailed the creation of a customized Duty of Care process. I also enrolled my on-site event planner in the same course so that we both benefitted from this specialized training.
Step Three: I decided early on that all participants needed to be fully vaccinated in order to attend and embedded that requirement in my registration process. For those who were not fully vaccinated, I had a private conversation with them requesting that they take the COVID-19 rapid test upon arrival. I ordered the Abbott Rapid Test kit and familiarized myself with the testing protocol. As a biochemist, I felt confident in administering the nasal test but nevertheless practiced using the kit beforehand.
Step Four: I selected a private venue so that there would be no exposure with other guests, such as at a hotel where various groups would be on site. Sherwood Farm is located in King City, ON on 70 acres of land. I met with the owner and we mapped out the space. The aim was for all activities to take place outdoors including meals. There were designated areas for vendor booths, yoga, horse meditation and speaker talks. We ensured that everyone was socially distanced and made use of signs “ Stay One Horse Length Apart”. Masks were mandatory inside the house which guests would access to grab coffee or use the washrooms. I also allocated a private area for on-site testing.
Step Five: I purposefully marketed the group rate to encourage people to sign up together. The thinking behind this was that people in the same bubble (siblings, best friends) would be more apt to feel safe participating in the various activities and eating together.
Step Six: When making catering arrangements, I requested that all meals be boxed so that delegates would only need to pick up their power bowls and an apple and proceed to eat anywhere on the property. There was a few tables and chairs set up and some people took advantage of that, while others ate elsewhere on the grounds.
Step Seven: On the day prior to the event, I sent out a link for the Covid screening questionnaire and asked delegates to provide us proof of completion when checking in at the registration booth. https://covid-19.ontario.ca/screening/customer/
Step Eight: I attended an event planning summit shortly before the retreat and benefitted from a planner’s story about how to differentiate people’s comfort level with being greeted by using a colour coded name badge system. Green meant you were comfortable being hugged. Yellow meant you were OK with elbow taps and red meant you were only OK being spoken to. It was interesting that most people chose yellow at our event.
I am happy to report that the retreat went very smoothly. People were very respectful. Everyone followed the protocols we set out and no one got sick. As a result of having planned this year’s live retreat, I am more confident in my ability to design and curate a wonderful experience that incorporates safety at every level.