Government needs to underwrite events so that organisers can plan as if it is a normal year. Here, Tom Critchley, MD of Caboose and Co, gives his views on the future of the events industry…

This year hasn’t turned out the way any of us expected. If you’d approached me at the end of 2019 and told me the industry would be in chaos by the middle of next year, I wouldn’t have believed you. None of this feels real, does it?

Caboose and Co. has been hustling hard and managing to survive in the challenging times we’ve all found ourselves in; but we appreciate other companies haven’t been so lucky. As a young and small company our nimble team has been able to move quickly to safeguard the business. Our efforts have been focused on staying positive, flexible planning and continuing our goal of revolutionising the pop-up accommodation space. Now, alongside us, our friends, colleagues and co-workers are facing huge uncertainty. You don’t need me to tell you that not much has changed; we’re all entitled to our opinion, and thankfully I have the space to share my thoughts right here

Where are we at?

To be blunt, the events sector is in a right state. You’ll have had the same challenges as us. Cancelled live events. Invoices piling up. Worried staff. Thankfully, we’ve done all we can to secure our team and to let them know that when they’re part of the Caboose family, that means looking out for one another. The tension at the beginning of lockdown was palpable… “up in the air” was a phrase we became too familiar with. The events sector urgently needs more support to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

But have faith, there could be a tiny glimmer of hope on the horizon. Socially-distanced festivals are starting to take place – our comrades in arms did a sterling job at Gosforth Park kicking things off with headliner Sam Fender. Recent Government policy changes means from July to the end of the year, a site can now be utilised for a temporary use for 56 days.

Taking the initiative

A growing collective of organisations, companies and freelancers have taken to social media, to video, and even outdoor events to get their voices heard and to demand help. #WeMakeEvents is raising awareness of the UK’s 1,000,000 highly skilled industry professionals who have been out of work for months and have to face the prospect of not returning until Spring 2021. It’s a fantastic initiative but I do worry, as every sector is calling out for help right now so we all need to be thinking ahead and working together.

I’m not going to start complaining that the Government can do more; I believe there is little extra they can do when things are still so unknown and changeable.

While #WeMakeEvents is calling for grants not loans for businesses in the events supply chain, I think the only thing the Government can do is underwrite events so they can plan as if it is a normal year. Unfortunately, the events crowd are being treated like every other industry – only the restaurant industry has been thrown a lifeline with the Eat Out To Help Out incentive. I’m hopeful we will see something similar extended to our area, and it is looking promising with more innovative ways to hold social distanced events emerging (but that’s still a challenge in itself).

The #WeMakeEvents initiative also wants to extend the furlough scheme until the whole industry can return to work – suggesting an extension of the self-employment scheme but done so in a way that is tailored towards our industry. I agree with this, as I think freelancers are struggling the most and have little support. Perhaps the most optimistic step forward would be for the Government to create conditions allowing the events sector to get moving again, rewarding innovation that facilitates this over hand-outs?

Dare we look ahead to the next couple of years?

The industry needs support, now more than ever. Ours is an industry that will suffer until it is allowed to operate in a way that is not limited by social distancing policies. Events are about social connections not social distancing. We can’t really pivot or adapt without losing the core essence of events and risking too many jobs. This uncertainty is going to paralyse the industry for the next few months, so all we can do is hold on tight, innovate and adapt if possible.

If the next few months are going to be tricky to navigate, then what will the following 12 and 24 months look like? Caution. Lots of caution. And who can blame us? A good by-product will be more preparation and better communication between clients and suppliers all across the event space. No one should be left behind or hung out to dry. I hope everyone realises that we are all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. Working together is key, so old rivalries will have to be put aside.

Live events have always been known for requiring rigorous planning, but unfortunately, I think with constant regulation changes we are all going to have to get used to even more last-minute histrionics.

Remember, we don’t work in the live event business for a boring life!