With many live events cancelled during 2020, alternatives for shared experiences are being sought. Becky elaborates further…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. Now owned and operated by the fifth generation of the Freeman family to oversee the business, the company has additional offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate 2020, all businesses have been impacted. The company’s standing as a local business has included supporting many community events and activities over the years, and this year is proving to be somewhat of an exception. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, explains how the local community is continuing to engage with and experience events, despite social distancing…
My career in events now spans more than a decade, having completed an Events Management degree in 2010. During the first year of my course, in 2006, we spoke regularly of online events, and pondered how they may change the shape of the industry. To put it all into perspective, smartphones weren’t yet available at the time, social media was in its very infancy – you still required a university email address to join Facebook, and other platforms didn’t exist – and we weren’t watching TV and films via streaming services online.
Online events were seen as a huge threat, and were touted as the next big thing, but they were also regarded with some suspicion. The wider thinking was that human beings like to gather, and that attending live events is in our very nature, so the question was more whether people would want to meet online. It was all a bit chicken and egg, though: we had the basics of technology, but not to the extent which we have it now, and it’s always hard to envision this unless you’re on the inside of development, so it was a case of which was to come first – the technology, or the desire.
As it turned out, it was technology by a nose: here in 2020, we have the capability of holding mass-participation events online, and with great integration and engagement features. The desire has now caught up, thanks to COVID-19, and the fact that the situation remains ongoing, with events on certain scales impossible for the foreseeable future. The exciting thing for the events world is that the capacity for digital events, and the quality of them, can only improve – things such as virtual reality (VR) are still developing; arguably, VR is at the stage now which smartphones were at in 2006 when I first entered the events industry – not widely available and adapted for, largely due to the expense, we haven’t yet reached anywhere near critical mass for these products, but I have no doubt that this day will come. Who knows, perhaps at some point, those people who have famously been running marathons in their back gardens and on their balconies will one day do so with a headset on, in order to feel the rest of the crowd around them, and ‘compete’ ‘alongside’ their fellow runners. Given the popularity of Peloton (an exercise bike company which includes interactive live classes for participants worldwide), it wouldn’t surprise me.
Perhaps it’s confirmation bias thanks to my own career and lifestyle choices, but since undertaking my placement year during my degree, plus various roles within the industry, I actually witnessed very little digitisation of events, beyond social media engagement, advertising, and event information. It seemed to me that webinars, online conferences, and other internet-based events weren’t the threat that had been perceived to the industry – live events have dominated, from the Olympics and World Cups, to Glastonbury, Coachella and far more besides. Almost all events have, of course, been enhanced by digital media, and events are even being thought of more broadly – you only have to look at the fact that certain brands’ launch of their annual Christmas advertising campaigns have become hotly-anticipated events, immediately covered and circulated via social media, to appreciate this.
Until, that is, 2020 happened. I’ve watched as the industry I’m part of has collapsed. As I write in June, it’s no longer a surprise to hear that an event due to take place later in the year has been postponed or cancelled, but in the early days it was heartbreaking every time I heard about something that my peers had already worked hard to bring to life. Many in the events industry, from Directors and Managers to Hospitality Assistants and Crew face uncertain futures – some have been furloughed, others have already been made redundant.
There are occasional glimmers of hope, and many of these are thanks to online events. Since lockdown began in the UK, I’ve been drawn to attend an online gin tasting (where I purchased a kit of samples which arrived via courier; I was also sent instructions on what else to prepare, and a link to the Zoom meeting, which the organiser facilitated and hosted); I’ve also been to online networking meetings; I’ve given a few talks online too – about my own history, the growth of Freeman Brothers, and how to choose an event venue. I’ve learned online too – last week I participated in a training about LinkedIn, and a webinar organised by the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) about scattering ashes.
One of the many cancelled live events I’ve heard of is the St Catherine’s Hospice Memory Meadow event, due to be held during the summer. We have a long-standing relationship with the Hospice, and it was a delight to support their Heart Trail last year. Fundraising events are important for charities, and memorials such as this are critical for service users of the Hospice, and I was pleased to hear that it had been moved online.
I watched the service via the Hospice’s website on Monday morning – it had been live on Saturday, but is available to view for free online. Hosted by Reverend Lisa Rainier, Chaplain at the Hospice, the service is about 25 minutes long, and is well-guided. There are readings from various members of the team, including a lovely children’s book, with images of the illustrations included. There’s also a ‘responsive reading’, a time for reflection, and a musical performance. I won’t spoil it any further, instead I’ll say this: I thought it was a great representation of an event which has had to be changed. The service has been well captured, and is set instead at the Hospice’s memory garden, which I know from experience is a lovely, tranquil space.
It was great to see that a variety of the team were able to be involved, and the Hospice’s dedication to the people it serves was again clear. I think it’s also fantastic that people can revisit an event at a time they choose, or pause it should they need to. Although I watched it via my computer at the office, I can see this working well on a TV screen at home, or also a personal device such as a tablet, in a more private environment. I’m pleased that the team at St Catherine’s were able to put this together for those who need it, and again feel fortunate that we have such a charity in our local area, willing to help people as much as possible.
I also think that this is a great sign of things to come: whilst I would love to see the return of live events once it’s safe, now more than ever, we are learning what can be achieved positively with the help of technology. Long may that continue.
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