Q’s With SEC Director Of Live Entertainment Debbie McWilliams: ‘The Coming Year Is A Very Exciting One’

Sunrise over the OVO Hydro (left).
Peter Summers/Getty Images
– Sunrise over the OVO Hydro (left).
The building’s team is committed to trading sustainably.

The OVO Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, just hosted the UN’s COP26 climate conference and the team running the venue as well as the wider Scottish Event Campus (SEC) is committed to making all aspects of its business more sustainable going forward. 
What is more, the OVO Hydro’s events calendar is packed, and 2022 finally looks like the year, live events and live audiences finally return without restrictions. Plenty of reasons for a catch-up with the SEC’s director of live entertainment, Debbie McWilliams.

Debbie McWilliams
– Debbie McWilliams
Director of live entertainment at the Scottish Event Campus.

Pollstar: What’s your professional state of mind at the beginning of 2022?

Debbie McWilliams: Navigating through the pandemic was an extremely challenging time for the events sector, however, after enduring a long wait, I am delighted that 2022 is set to bring us a busy schedule of events at the OVO Hydro.
Despite the challenges, I remain positive that we are edging closer to a return to normal. Having recently announced our new naming partner OVO Energy and hosting COP26, we are ready to deliver the best fan experience whilst being as low impact as possible.
The OVO Hydro’s upcoming schedule is pretty busy. As things currently stand in Scotland, could all these shows go ahead at full capacity if nothing changes in the meantime?
Yes, the Scottish government have given the go ahead, and we look forward to a busy year of shows at full capacity, of course, whilst adhering to government guidelines that are in place and delivering events safely whilst promoting an experience that can be enjoyed. 
You’ve hosted the COP 26 in November. How was that? What did it mean for the SEC buildings, and what are your main takeaways from that event?
COP26 was the first time in SEC’s history to become UN sovereign territory; it brought sustainability and the environment into sharper focus in our business and provided us the chance to learn and adapt our own aims and policies and build new partnerships for a global approach to the climate crisis.
The event had the highest number of in-person delegates attending any COP in history, with 38,000 badged attendees, and was the largest and most complex conference ever staged in the UK in terms of delegate numbers and footprint, occupying 109,000 square meters of space.
One of the main priorities that came out of COP26 was the net zero carbon events pledge, which attracted over 100 signatories and has created a network where best practise and practical solutions can be shared across the events industry.
From a buildings point of view, the event was certified to ISO20121 Sustainable Management System through the sustainability consultant used for the event. We will inherit the paperwork used for the standard which will give us a great starting point to implement the management system into our full site and operations. 
We’re very proud that UN expressed that COP26 was the best COP ever, of the highest quality and the most accessible. 

Activists from Ocean Rebellion wearing Oil heads are seen pouring oil during a protest outside the OVO Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 29, 2021.
Peter Summers/Getty Images
– Activists from Ocean Rebellion wearing Oil heads are seen pouring oil during a protest outside the OVO Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 29, 2021.
The Scottish Event Campus hosted the UN’s COP26, which began Oct. 31 and ran until Nov. 12.

Sustainability has been top of your agenda for some time now. Can you sum up, which areas you’re focusing on?

We’ve been developing a sustainability strategy for the last few months which will be launched soon. The strategy covers a range of projects, targets and objectives including energy management, waste, client and team engagement, procurement, and green travel. A priority is the removal of single use plastic from our venues, and we are poised to introduce a reusable cup soon.  
Any new sustainability initiatives aside from your food strategy announced last summer you can reveal?
We have a lot of exciting projects and initiatives in the pipeline to support our key targets outlined previously. Most notably is the work we are doing with A Greener Festival towards achieving ‘Greener Arena Certification,’ which will show that carbon reduction and transition strategies are at the heart of our operations. We also introduced digital ticketing when fans returned last year, reducing paper usage by removing the need to print tickets at home.
How does your new naming rights sponsor, OVO Energy, fit into the sustainability equation?
With OVO Energy we have a shared passion and commitment to green and sustainable practices as well as building meaningful partnerships. Their goal is to make zero carbon living a reality in everything we do, including when attending events. OVO will support us in strengthening our existing sustainability credentials and help fund newer initiatives to make the OVO Hydro as low impact as possible. 

Here's to a more sustainable future:
Courtesy of the SEC
– Here’s to a more sustainable future:
Debbie McWilliams, Director of Live Entertainment at SEC, Wallace Hendrie, Hendrie Brothers farmers (one of the SEC suppliers) and Kevin Watson, Business Director at Levy UK + I.

What does OVO Energy bring to the table that the building and wider SEC profit from?

As well as our shared green and sustainable values, our partnership with OVO Energy allows us to tap into a wider consumer database which drives attendance at the venue and ultimately profits the business. Maximising attendance through reaching wider customer groups contributes significantly to the OVO Hydro being consistently ranked among the top five busiest venues in the world. 
What makes you optimistic, or not, that this will be the year live finally returns? 
As an industry, many measures have been put into place to ensure that staff, customers, artists, and their crews remain safe and at minimal risk. Our ticket sales are strong and there is evidently a huge appetite from the consumer to attend live shows, as well as a real hunger from artists to get back to doing what they love most: performing live.
What do you envision touring to look like, how will it develop, in the next one to five years?
It’s too early to ascertain what the future touring pattern will be as there is continued uncertainty and much movement. With live entertainment being absent for so long, there has never been more demand than right now.
There will be some hurdles to overcome in the next year or so which could reshape touring timelines. You can see some change in 2022 already with the volume of outdoor business in the UK.  
Anything you would like to add?
The coming year is a very exciting one for the OVO Hydro – we look forward to welcoming both artists and fans to the city of Glasgow where they can enjoy one of the most atmospheric experiences in the World. As any artist takes to the stage at the OVO Hydro they pass a large clock which carries the message ‘time to meet the best fans in the world’ – a nod to our famous Glasgow audience – and I am delighted that this is the year they will do just that.