We were fortunate enough to get tickets for the opening night of the Virgin Money Unity Arena to see the legend that is Sam Fender on Tuesday 11th August 2020. I thought that I would share my honest review for anyone who is due to go. Going to a concert in a pandemic may cause some people to be anxious, but they really have thought of everything to make it a great experience.
What is the Virgin Money Unity Arena?
The Virgin Money Unity Arena is the first of its kind, it is the first dedicated socially distanced music venue operating in the grounds of Gosforth Park, Newcastle. The team behind it are SSD Concerts – a North East events company with vast experience organising events, such as This is Tomorrow Festival and Bingley Weekender and the social/publicity/comms side of things appears to be Virgin Money’s very capable marketing team who are also North East based.
The venue is just off the A1 North, so it was easy to get to and the flow of traffic was good and there was very little queuing.
What do you need to know before you go?
Check your ticket email and any subsequent emails you may receive, as they will enclose the details you need but as a reminder:
Tickets – print them off. Don’t have a printer? They will accept them on the screen of your phone, make sure you have enough battery to show them! Thanks to the very responsive team on the venue’s twitter account for getting back to me within a minute with an answer to that question before our gig!
Allocated arrival time – you will have an allocated arrival time, this is to keep the numbers of people trying to enter the venue at once down to reasonably sized two-metre distanced queues and to limit waiting times for car parking/drop-offs. Stick to it if you can, it is there for your benefit.
Parking – there are fields for parking and another area for drop-offs/pick-ups within the grounds of Gosforth Park. It is a one-lane road so depending on how many people are before you there may be a slight queue, but the cars kept moving, we were in and parked within a matter of minutes. Leaving the venue was really easy too as stewards were there to stop/start different rows of traffic to keep it all flowing and to ensure everyone could get out fairly.
Remember your masks – you will need to wear your mask when you have your tickets checked, right up until you arrive at your viewing platform. Staff were regularly checking and asking people to put masks on. This means you need a mask on anytime you leave your viewing platform to go for drinks, food, toilet or wander around the field.
Food and drink – there are various bars at the back and front of the venue – the option to preorder is available with your ticket information and the pick-up point never had any people waiting at all. Small 2/3 minute queues were at other bars. There was the option to buy 4 pint pitchers for £22.50, pints were £5.50, there was also a pims and prosecco van. Waiting times on food were per vendor, so some were faster than others. There were also people walking past the platforms to sell shots and beer and cider directly. No cash, card payments only at the designated bars.
Merch – there were a great set of bespoke for the event t-shirts/posters on sale and the usual Sam Fender designs at £25 each. Card payments were taken. This may be artist-specific, but this is how it was set up for Sam Fender. There were also mobile vendors who walked around the venue to sell merch.
Platforms – You will be given a number when you have your ticket scanned, this is your viewing platform number and you have to stay in that platform and not move around them to other platforms. If you are put off by standing, there were a number of seats available for those who wanted them. The platforms were three metal barriers, one at the front and two at the side and were a great size and plenty of room between you and everyone else. The platforms are tiered too, so the ones at the back were slightly raised, to allow everyone to see the stage.
Toilets – there are loads of portaloos to the side of the venue, absolutely loads, so you will never have long to queue nor far to walk from your viewing platform. You must wear a mask. Alcohol gel is available just before all toilets and there is also some in the portaloos. Staff were constantly checking the cleanliness of the toilets throughout the event and replenishing paper towels.
I won’t write anything about the actual gig, because I don’t want to spoil it for the people who are attending the second Sam Fender concert, but you will love being back seeing live music.
I absolutely loved it and I was absolutely gobsmacked how the venue managed to get absolutely everything right on the first night. It was so well organised. Considering that no one had ever done this kind of event in the country before, it was absolutely faultless. If you’re attending, you will be very happy and if you are tempted, I would say go for it!
As a 37-year-old mum of two used to love going to gigs (I haven’t enjoyed the arena since the days of being sponsored by Telewest!) but as I’ve got older I enjoy my personal space a bit more, this was ideal for me and would be very happy to go to more events like this going forward and for this to be the new normal!