‘The events industry must return – but redundancy means it’s too late for me’

With little certainty around when gigs and conferences could return, an entire sector of jobs is at risk. Jamie, in Basingstoke, spoke to The Big Issue about being made redundant from his events job and being forced to abandon his career to support his family

Covid-19 has hammered the events industry. The Government’s crackdown on multiple household mixing means concerts and conferences are, for now, an impossibility. Up to 90,000 jobs could be lost within weeks as the Job Retention Scheme ends, sector bosses told the Prime Minister.

For Jamie, near Basingstoke, it means the end of a decade-long career. After seven months living off 80 per cent furlough pay, he is being made redundant from his job with an audiovisual rental company that put on everything from product launches to major TV programmes.

The 32-year-old is “devastated”, he told The Big Issue. Having only been with the company for two and a half years, and entitled to only statutory redundancy pay, he will receive just two weeks’ wages.

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“I’m not poor but I might be soon,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking, really. I love what I do and like everyone in the industry. I’ve put in a lot of work over the years. But big companies are already going bust and more will in the months ahead.”

Both Jamie and his partner, a personal trainer, were furloughed from their jobs in March and spent three months shielding with their son, now just over a year old, who has acute respiratory problems. 

The gym his partner worked at is now permanently shut, but she has been redeployed to another location more than 20 miles away, meaning she faces significant commute costs while being the sole earner in the household on an £18,000 salary. The couple also make regular hospital appointments with their son – travel costs which add up quickly.

Now Jamie is concerned they could have to live off the money from their flat sale, which would stop them being able to move on from their temporary stay with family. “We were lucky to be able to do that, but it’s not sustainable in the long term,” he said. “I have significant debts – mostly from just trying to survive when I was younger, putting things on a credit card to get by from month to month – so I could end up paying out £500 a month with no money coming in. I need to be working next week. It’s a scary time.

“I’m on the job hunt like a mad man, of course,” he added. “In the last few weeks I’ve applied for about 25 jobs so far. They range from car salesman to Covid testing to office admin to project support work. Anything that is within a sensible commuting distance and pays a wage, basically. But I haven’t heard a single thing back and there are hundreds of people applying for the same roles as me.”

It will be a huge challenge for so many of us to get into basic low-paid jobs

The outlook is bleak, Jamie said, and he has “given up” looking for work in the events industry.

“My mind’s made up that I want to shift away from it as a career because I just can’t see events coming back in any reasonable timeframe,” he says. “There needs to be an industry left when events are allowed to happen again, but it’s too late for me.

“It’s tragic. So many highly skilled people who spent years honing their craft and now they’ve lost their livelihoods overnight, and there has been nowhere near the desperately needed amount of targeted support.”

Like many who have lost their livelihoods in so-called “unviable” sectors during the pandemic, Jamie is worried about convincing prospective new employers of the transferable skills workers pick up in arts and events jobs. 

“Someone will look and say, ‘you don’t have relevant industry experience to go and sell cars’. But I can manage a team, I can sell to a client, like so many people I have all those transferrable skills. It will be a huge challenge for so many of us to get into basic low-paid jobs when competition for any job is so fierce.

“In the meantime I’ll do whatever I have to – I’m not too proud to stack shelves, I’ll take the first job I can.”

Tell us your stories and your ideas

Has your life been affected by the pandemic? Do you have an idea about how people’s jobs and livelihoods could be secured? We want to share your story and bring together different thinking to form some solutions. Get in touch – email rora@bigissue.com.