After 12 years working for Cork Chamber, I took the leap of faith and established Leigh Gillen Events in July of 2018, in order to help businesses to run professional corporate and business events. In the first 18 months, the company went from strength to strength, with great support from Cork business. We helped businesses large and small to deliver the highest quality events for their attendees, their clients and their potential clients.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland in February and got progressively worse, it was immediately apparent that the future of what was a booming events industry was effectively in dire straits for the foreseeable future. It was like the world stopped turning and from a personal and professional perspective, it was a frightening and stressful time, not just for us, but everyone was in the same boat.

Over the course of the proceeding weeks and subsequent lockdown, like everyone else, I just tried to adjust to the “new normal” hope for the best and wait for the storm to pass.  But, this storm did not pass, it just got stretched out into an uncertain and limitless period.  How to adjust when the goalposts keep moving?  How do you plan when things can change at the drop of a hat?  It was an impossible situation to be in for us and for everyone in the event industry.

After this “survival” mode period, it was time for action and at Leigh Gillen Events, we had to take a long hard look at what the future of events would be, and by the same token, keep the business afloat and still relevant for clients. Not as easy as you’d think, not only had our business fundamentally changed, but so had the rest of the world, so it was a known unknown, the hardest of nuts to crack.  So it was back to basics and reaching out to contacts, asking people about their experiences and testing the level of appetite for online events with existing clients, and others in the event supply industry.

I took to naming myself “Alice” as I felt that I was jumping down every rabbit hole, searching for ways to innovate, keep the business strong and continue to help companies by providing practical solutions for them.  Several months ago, the world of online events was a completely different landscape to what it is now, with half of the people I spoke to not taking it seriously as an option at all, and the other half trying to fully embrace it.

But amongst my colleagues in the event industry, the story was the same – where is our support? Why aren’t we on any roadmap? Where’s our representation? How do we keep the event industry supply chain strong and try to support each other to stay in business. With much media attention going to the pubs, clubs, hairdressers etc. it seemed that live events or any events were the last thing on everyone’s mind, except ours. I talked to so many colleagues in the industry, hardworking, dedicated, highly skilled professionals who were desperate to go back to work. Every single one of us would have traded our pandemic payment for any piece of work, in a heartbeat.

While we all worry of course about the future of events in Ireland, both the economic impact and the impact on our own businesses, the worrying issue of the supply chain started to loom larger and larger.  What happens when events re-start and there’s no one there to build a stage, position a light, cable a microphone or take a video? What if we turn around and all the lights are out – literally?

Like a wave of consciousness, this reality dawned on every corner of the event industry and this week in September, every event professional, crew, venue, supplier, technician and entertainer in Ireland is coming together to highlight what will happen if the event industry dries up – that means no more gigs, no more live music, no more festivals, no more parades, conferences, seminars, charity fundraisers, award ceremonies, b2b events.  The sheer impact of this stoppage affects tens of thousands of people in Ireland, plus their own suppliers, as well as their families of course.

We at Leigh Gillen Events were fortunate. We had an opportunity to pivot our business to deliver the same level of high quality to our clients for virtual events, helping them with production, moderation and event creation.  No doubt there is increasing demand and budgets for online events and virtual experiences, but there are still a lot of highly experienced and skilled people in our industry, particularly in the live events sector, who are being left out to sea.

The event industry in Ireland was the first to close and will, most certainly, be the last to re-open. We need to be on the roadmap and events need to re-open and exist alongside this pandemic. Need any ideas for how to do this in Government?  I know about 45,000 people who can help…