“We’re sorry. Your festival is cancelled because we aren’t viable” – What it really means to be #ExcludedUK

Natalka AntoniukThis is a guest post from Natalka Antoniuk, Content Writer at Quadrant2Design. Natalka Antoniuk is a content writer at Quadrant2Design. Usually, you’ll find her at exhibitions or sharing her knowledge with B2B marketers in publications such as Event Industry News. However, for six months, she has been raising awareness of the #WeMakeEvents campaign to support her colleagues struggling through this crisis.

Natalka got in touch after reading about my survey on how coronavirus is affecting small businesses, offering her insights into the events industry. 

Weddings. Workshops. Conferences. Prom. Festivals. Wimbledon. Birthday parties. Exhibitions. Marathons. Galas. FA Cup finals. Seminars. Summer Ball.

All gone.

And before you say anything, we agree that the nation’s health needs to come first. By we, I refer to the events industry. An industry that has been forgotten, that Rishi Sunak excluded from his support packages. An industry that is crumbling and needs your help. 

Excel London

First to Close

The events industry was the first to close. When Boris Johnson announced a ban on mass gathering and a nationwide lockdown, we closed our doors. But not for long.

Although it seems like we have been dormant since March, we haven’t. Actually, we’ve been extremely busy.

Days after closing their doors and postponing all business in the following months, seven of our largest venues reopened to provide 13,160 additional hospital beds to the NHS. Exhibition stands installers constructed wards using shell scheme framing to take the pressure off during the peak.

The media and Matt Hancock praised the NHS Nightingale Hospitals and everyone involved. VisitBritain awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award to the business events sector for their efforts. We were, and still are, happy to help. But we need help in return.

The Scope of the Events Industry

Matt Hancock TweetAs an industry, we contribute over £70 billion to the UK economy each year. We are responsible for more than 600,000 jobs. And support hundreds of thousands of SMEs and freelancers.

The event industry supports other industries. Hospitality thrives, travel use increases and local economies benefit from the thousands of people that events attract.

We’ve experienced record-breaking year-on-year growth. Matt Hancock was an advocate, describing the UK’s music industry alone as ‘world-beating’.

But it’s not just music, festivals and award ceremonies that are responsible for this contribution.

My business, Quadrant2Design, supply over 600 companies with exhibition stands every year. These companies also rely upon furniture rental, event organisers, printers, graphic designers, audiovisual rental and many more suppliers and events businesses.

As you can see, it isn’t just the venues, musicians and event organisers that have been affected by mass closure. Millions of us have had no income since March.

No Access to Support

Over the past six months, Rishi Sunak has had a difficult job to do. The furlough scheme helped support millions of people spanning across every industry. Without this support package, more than half of the events industry would already be gone.

But as an industry that cannot operate, we need more.

Hospitality got “Eat Out to Help Out” and VAT cuts. £500 million in grants was offered to businesses with high growth rates. A further £750 million was offered to SMEs that focussed on research and development. 

The events industry was one of many excluded from further support.

The culture and heritage fund announced earlier in the year was supposed to save us. But millions of businesses weren’t eligible – including the venues that had offered their space, rent-free, to the NHS to fight the virus.

Furthermore, we couldn’t do our jobs (and you couldn’t go to events) without the millions of freelancers involved in every show. Many of these individuals have had no income since March. The entire events industry, including our freelancers, were forgotten.

The events industry may have slipped under your radar. I don’t blame you. A lot of businesses have been affected, and many of them are much better at making noise than we are.

I know how ironic that sounds. But when you think about it, the events industry are masters of behind-the-scenes magic. Our entire careers happen backstage. Nine times out of ten, if we are seen or heard, then something has gone wrong. 

Collectively, we have concluded that this is why we have been #ExcludedUK. But Sunak’s most recent announcement is devastating. 

Last to Reopen

Yesterday was supposed to be our restart date. Throughout September, we were expecting to run pilot events. These would show the government that we could create safe and secure environments. 

Event planning takes months, so many of us returned to work. Business started picking up. And then without warning, Boris pulled the rug from beneath our feet.

Once again, our venues are on red alert and ready to turn back into NHS Nightingales in 48 hours. We are all ready to help fight this pandemic. And you have not heard us complain about it once.

But we need support.

We shut our doors when you asked us to. We went back to work when you asked us to. And now we’re told it might be another six months before we can do our jobs.

Most businesses in the events industry have reported no income since March. Furlough is ending. We can’t work. How can you expect us to survive?

Our Careers Aren’t Worth Saving

For the most part, we have taken things in our stride. We have worked closely with government officials and local councils to work out a way of bringing our industry back safely. Everything was in place, ready to relaunch. And now we are being told that we can’t reopen.

That’s fine.

We are willing to wait. We’ll participate in the recovery. But we will continue to ask for support. 

However, once again, we have been excluded from packages that could save our industry.

Tell me, Rishi, how can our employees work a third of their hours? Events are not allowed to take place. 

You have decided that 600,000 jobs are unviable, based on the fact that Covid-19 has closed an entire industry. And the industry that, may I remind you, Matt Hancock applauded, for its growth and contribution to the economy. 

It’s hard to accept that our careers are unviable. Even harder to accept that one MP’s solution to our crisis is to help us get ‘better jobs’. 

Summary

We love what we do. Millions of visitors every year love what we do. Until very recently, the government loved what we do. We do not need better jobs and we are not unviable. We have been excluded.

Without further support, the entire industry risks collapse. We have seen many go already. This month we are expecting a swathe of redundancies as the furlough scheme comes to an end. 

The NEC, England’s largest exhibition venue, has announced a restructure. This puts thousands of jobs at risk in the midlands. And that’s just the beginning.

The #WeMakeEvents campaign has gone global. Thousands of businesses and millions of event professionals have joined forces to try to get through to the government. This is the genocide of an industry. 

A better way of hosting live events cannot simply grow phoenix-like out of the ashes. The exclusions we have already been through have cost the UK significantly. Thousands of jobs wiped from the Office for National Statistics report. Billions in revenue that would have gone back into the economy. 

That was our first wave.

The second wave, with the current exclusions in place, will wipe the UK’s events industry from existence. 

 

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