Festival of Ideas, Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address at the Watershed, Bristol

The Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address is a Festival of Ideas event, held in partnership with Bristol City Council. On the evening of 14 October, the Mayor of Bristol, the Youth Mayors and the Bristol City Poet addressed the city, discussing Bristol’s economy, development, and growth as well as plans for the future. The mayor also included a reflection on past years and the impact of the current situation. 

The Annual State address was originally planned to be held with an audience in the hundreds, however due to the global pandemic, the organisers decided to run an online event from Watershed as well as hosting a limited, socially distanced audience in the  cinema. 

Watershed is a Grade II listed building
Image - Watershed

Watershed is a Grade II listed building located on the historic harbourside, in the heart of Bristol city centre, offering three conference, event, and meeting rooms, which can be used individually or combined for larger events.  Watershed also has three state of the art cinemas, equipped with the latest technology, which allows for lectures, presentations, and screenings. 

Thriving on innovation, collaboration and creativity, Watershed works with clients to deliver outstanding events, from meeting and conferences to week-long festivals, fully supported by our award-winning technical, catering and in-house events teams. 

Event Summary  

Watershed and Festival of Ideas have been collaborating and working together for many years, delivering some of Festival of Ideas biggest talks, Q&As and the biennial Festival of the Future City. Unfortunately, in March, all in-person events at Watershed were postponed due to Covid-19 and Festival of Ideas began organising all their talks online from speakers’ homes. 

The aim of the Festival of Ideas team and the other partners involved in the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address was to deliver an address that was as professional and visually similar to previous in-person events as possible. We explored the possibility of broadcasting the address from one of the cinemas to create and run an engaging event, with a smooth, professional look that would stand out from standard online webinars. 

Watershed has extensive experience in broadcasting and simulcasting conferences to other parts of the venue, including the café/bar, and to other external venues, and in response to the first lockdown Watershed created the ‘Live from Watershed’ hybrid package.

The Live from Watershed broadcasting and simulcasting service enables speakers to be hosted in the cinema and event spaces, with other speakers able to  join remotely from external locations. All of this is managed by a dedicated and experienced in-house technical team filming the event on two cinema level cameras and then live-editing and processing this into one seamless stream being cast out, mixing the speakers with their presentations, collating videos, sponsor stings and pre-recorded videos. The Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address also featured BSL interpretation, which involved a separate camera for the interpreter which was then included in all live streams. 

A small audience attended the address in person, however most of the audience joined online through Crowdcast, YouTube or Facebook. Watershed also provided a media room for the media outlets to follow the broadcast in a safe and covid-19 secure space.

Festival of Ideas, Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address at the Watershed

What's our learning so far?

As current capacities have been reduced due to social distancing, running a hybrid event helps reach a wider audience without losing the essence of an in-person event. The Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address had more than 500 people join live, and the YouTube video has now been watched more than 1,000 times. 

Our hybrid event offer is going to be a great benefit even after social distancing restrictions are lifted, giving many more options for event organisers who are conscious about attendees flying for environmental reasons or who have a portion of their attendees that are unable to join in person.

Our hybrid event offer does have challenges – there is a need for more pre-production planning eg creating a strategy for virtual and in-person delegates separately.  The technical production also requires a much bigger set-up e.g. more staff members, microphones, lighting, etc. plus stage management to enable a smooth liaison with speakers onsite and coordination of the online visuals and setting. 

Watershed facilitates and runs outstanding hybrid events, thanks to the in-house technology expertise and experienced delivery teams who are on hand to help throughout the whole process. 

Andrew Kelly, Festival of Ideas director, said during the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address, that Watershed provided a safe and comfortable environment, a model for all institutions and buildings to follow. 

“The Mayor’s State of the City Address is a significant moment in the city’s event calendar. It usually attracts 900 people to the Wills Memorial Building, which we knew simply wouldn’t be safe or possible in October 2020. It was reassuring to work with Watershed; a team with whom we have a strong relationship with and trust implicitly. They were excellent at helping us find solutions to moving into a hybrid event space and took the time to learn and test our online platforms. On the day, they were faultless at making our team, speakers and guests feel welcome and safe, and ensuring that the technology ran smoothly.

The Mayor and other speakers were joined by a live audience of 25 people in cinema. 500 people joined the event on Crowdcast and a further 1,200 have watched it back on YouTube. 81% regional audience (Bristol and 10 miles around) and 18% came from the rest of the world, including Iceland, Canada, France, Spain, Nigeria and New Zealand.

Watershed showed tonight how our live events can work. Thank you from us all.”

You can watch the whole event in the Festival of Ideas YouTube channel and read the address in the Festival of Idea’s blog.

If you are planning an event in Bristol, Bath or the surrounding areas Meet Bristol can help advise on the best venues and suppliers to meet you needs. Please get in touch with us at conference@meetbristol.co.uk


Watershed Conferencing
Creative & Cultural
Watershed Exterior

Watershed is the ideal venue for any event. Established in 1982, they have many years experience of organising and running events.



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