The events industry was one of the first to shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will likely be one of the last to resume normal service.
The sector employs over a million people in the UK alone, spanning everything from festivals and theatres to grassroots venues and industry events – and while, in July, the government pledged £1.57 billion in funding to help the UK’s cultural industry weather the economic damage of coronavirus, campaigners say much more needs to be done.
Peter Heath, MD of PLASA – the trade association that organised the campaign – told VICE News, “[Culture Secretary] Oliver Dowden said [the funding] was there to protect the ‘crown jewels’, and his definition of the ‘crown jewels’ is property and venues – certainly iconic ones. I think they want to protect them while they’re mothballed, so [the money] won’t actually reach [the majority of industry workers].”
“Today is about letting the general public know that we exist. You wouldn’t really know about us until something goes wrong at a gig, then you might see one or two of us,” he continued. “Not many people know that, if they go and see their favourite band, and their favourite band is an A-lister, it takes 350 people in the supply chain to make that gig work.”
Today, marches took place throughout the country under the banner of the #WeMakeEvents Red Alert campaign. Until the industry is allowed to operate in a way that is not restricted by social distancing – important for public health, but devastating for businesses that rely on packing a large number of people into one space – those behind the campaign want the government to commit to three streams of support.
Per the #WeMakeEvents website:
- Grants – not loans – made available to businesses in the events supply chain.
- The furlough scheme being extended until the industry is back at work.
- An extension of the self-employment scheme, tailored towards the industry.
Without that support, campaigners say, the UK risks “losing its global position as a world leader in world class events”, adding that “all of our incredible creatives and technicians could lose their livelihoods for good”.
“The supply chain is already under threat if we don’t do something to try to protect it,” said Peter Heath. “The campaign has gone to red, because we’re already losing people to redundancies. We also stand a chance of losing some of our iconic cultural events, such as Glastonbury. Organisers have already said that if Glastonbury doesn’t happen next year, that’ll be the end.”
Photographer Chris Bethell was at the Manchester leg of the demonstration, where industry workers marched in silence through the city centre, pushing flight cases and holding banners reminding onlookers that there will be “no more gigs without us”.
UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include quotes from Peter Heath, MD of PLASA.