By Darren Crossman, Facilities & Safety Manager, Welsh Rugby Union Group
The last 12 months have been very challenging for us all.
The onset of COVID-19 last year coincided with the usual, frenetic, stadium-wide preparations for Wales v Scotland in the Six Nations. News of its cancellation came through on the eve of the match, and the stadium was effectively mothballed.
A week later, a call came from Cardiff and Vale Health Board, and within days work began to convert the stadium into a Nightingale facility. Admittedly sustainability slipped down the priority list as the pitch was covered and the entire stadium was converted into the 1800-bed Dragons’ Heart Hospital – in less than six weeks.
We sustained the hospital, which did receive COVID patients, until November 2020. Removing the hospital took a few weeks to accomplish, but transforming the stadium back into a world class sports venue was complicated and took significant work. Some areas had to be refitted from scratch.
The pitch was a particular issue. It was released to us less than three weeks before the first 2021 first Six Nations matches so a pre-grown turf carpet pitch was brought in and laid, enabling the matches against Ireland & England to take place.
Continuing lockdown meant that, of course, spectators were not allowed and both matches were played behind closed doors. But the broadcasters did a sterling job of making stadium look as good as the welcome spectacle of world class sport coming back to Cardiff. We had no events planned after the Six Nations but, due to the condition of the pitch at Rodney Parade in Newport, we helped the Dragons out by hosting three of their home matches at the stadium. Slowly, we are on our way back.
As we move deeper into 2021, the sustainability of our operations comes back into focus. We are proud of our record but we’re determined to keep improving – looking in particular at waste management and power consumption. We’re challenging ourselves and our operations to keep improving.
In the meantime, following the successful return of fans to the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley last week, we’re getting the stadium ready for spectators. We’ve got events planned throughout the summer and, restrictions allowing, it feels like we’re getting closer to the spine-tingling roar of a packed stadium. We can’t wait.