James Brown, from Ramsgate, runs a small events production company and acts as a technical production manager and technician for several international events agencies.
Like all others in the events industry he has seen his opportunities for work dry up this year due to Covid restrictions:
March 1, 2020: Business was buzzing. A new premises was on the horizon; my first permanent part-time employee scheduled for April 1; two European cities had been confirmed for a product promotional tour with a third in discussion; 10 bookings for my Funktion One sound system in Thanet throughout summer and a triple booking of PA and DJ equipment for three separate May Bank Holiday promotions.
All was looking busy and prosperous for the year ahead. I was sure of a big step in progressing the business. Fast forward just 28 days, the bookings had gone, prospects dashed and growth severed; a tale that is sadly repeated all over the country.
As 2020 drags its heels to see in what will hopefully be a less restrictive new year, the shadow of Covid19 and the latest round of lockdown is still most prevalent in the events and entertainment sector. The restrictions imposed upon promoters and venues have rendered the concept of events, practically, null and void. Starting with a virus, fuelled by fear and determined by legislation; events have been blacklisted for 2020.
Huge loss of jobs
Recent surveys suggest up to 170,000 jobs in the events sector will be gone by the end of the year.
Campaigns such as #WeMakeEvents, have been actively highlighting the plight that is being faced by all of those who work in events, by way of performance demonstrations at Parliament Square (#SurvivalInTheSquare) and lighting venues in red to denote the crisis that is.
This has helped identify just how wide reaching these restrictions have been and continue to be. Venue owners, performers, musicians, DJs, bar staff and stewards are the first to mind when considering those out of pocket when an event is cancelled.
The knock-on effect to surrounding hospitality such as bars and hotels generally gets the second round of consideration. The back-line ‘out of sight’ staff force are, however, quite often completely unidentified. Content creators, lighting and sound designers who work in the shadows for months on end before large scale tours and concerts commence; technical production hire companies that rely on sometimes just a handful of regular reliable clients; set designers, set builders, site electricians, riggers, broadcasters, bloggers, advertising agents, security staff, make-up artists, drivers, cleaners, caterers, health and safety inspectors, the list is actually endless. Every service we use in our day to day life can be found in the event sector in some shape and form, just a bit more niche than those you might find in a telephone directory.
Freedom to congregate
These services all rely on the basis of freedom to congregate. So long as this freedom has been removed, so has the opportunity to earn a living. To legislate against singing and dancing and ‘loud’ music is akin to prohibiting an entire industry and decimating social norm. The opportunity, to satisfy the most basic human needs of interacting and sharing experiences in an event setting, has been lost for the entire nation. The wide-ranging discord of opinions of Covid restrictions is further exasperating the longer-term closure of the events industry. Perpetuated fear and Orwellian-esque legislation have destroyed public confidence and as a consequence, event-based businesses are closing for good.
The government set out their guidance on how to safely run events between lockdowns, but for most, the numbers simply didn’t add up. Aside from the draconian “no singing, no dancing” rules; analysing ‘costs vs revenue’ against such a rigid policy of socially distanced gatherings, it was easy to write off any venture as a non-starter. A venue that could hold 1000 in regular times, was looking at hosting a maximum of 200 people whilst actively managing them to ensure they aren’t singing or dancing; God forbid! With capacities slashed, staffing overheads hiked and the onset of risk assessment and method statement hysteria, this model for events simply did not work for most.
Curfews and distancing
Should Lockdown 2 end, as we all hope it will, in December, we will still face a further three months of no singing, no dancing, noise levels restricted to 85dB and curfews of 10pm being imposed upon us. The prospect of living this life of ‘red tape’ leaves me, and possibly you too, waning in hope of a return to what we know as a normal nightlife and cultural landscape.
What we will eventually return to, will be a far cry from what we have grown accustomed to. Event offerings will continue to diminish so long as the current restrictions are in play. And, a word of warning; as eager as you all are to book tickets for events that ‘might’ happen next year, make sure to read the terms and conditions for any ticket you seek to buy; opportunism is rife against this backdrop of Covid interruptions. At best, you will lose booking and admin fees; at worst, you will see no return.
Prior to this current lockdown, I was so pleased to see everyone who’s passionate about events and their business made the necessary moves to operate within the government guidelines and operational obligations of Track & Trace. Kudos to the smaller fish. Ramsgate’s Festival of Sound went ahead, smaller venues were open and performers were active; but now into another lockdown, is there actually any hope of regaining what we once had at the beginning of the year; true freedom?
Keep on dancing
Grey areas of guidelines have been blackened with legislation governing events and performances. We are simply not allowed to congregate. We, the people, are all in this together. We must never lose sight of this.
We are all still human, we all still need that social element in our lives. Having the opportunity to sit and gather with our ‘support bubble’ is immeasurably important right now and in the lead up to the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Until the policy changes, I can only urge you, keep being creative, know the ‘rules’ inside and out, then get more creative and of course; keep on dancing, albeit, at home.