It can be argued that the events industry has been hit harder than almost any other by coronavirus. Large gatherings were among the first things to be prohibited by social distancing rules - although many had already fallen by the wayside as organisers and attendees weighed up the risks involved.
Like many others, Windermere-based events and PR company Flock had to react fast to prevent all their hard work disappearing before their eyes.
Co-founder Janett Walker said: “The events industry was the first to go, and we probably spent the first three or four days going through our emails as we saw the domino effect of all our events being cancelled one by one.”
Along with fellow co-founder Sophia Newton and their small team of consultants and creatives, Flock had to dive into the world of virtual meetings and online video conferences to get their events back up and running.
“We had a networking event planned shortly after the lockdown started and we were just about to send out the promotional material - we decided to do something low-key online at quite short notice, but once we realised the format could work, we looked at ways to make it bigger and better.
“It’s an unusual way of working for us, but it’s been a way of keeping us in people’s minds because we didn’t want to sit back and wait this thing out.”
Janett and Sophia have been working together for around three years and formed Flock in 2018. In that time, they’ve become well-known for making their events unique, fun and engaging - an ethos they were keen to impose on their new online events.
“One of our flagship events is called LA23NET and it is normally a monthly business forum with a key speaker, food and drink and a big social element to it,” said Janett.
“We’ve had things like Lawrence Conway, Chief Executive of South Lakeland District Council, giving a talk on board a train, zip wire days followed by a talk, and making paper at Croppers and a talk from James Cropper.
“We market ourselves as being a company that runs unconventional events, so that was something we had to consider - how that would work in this kind of environment.
“For our most recent event, we had a Zoom ‘room’ for 100 or so, with people like Tim Farron, Dan Visser from Cumbria Tourism, and Jo Lappin from Cumbria LEP each talking about how they’ve adapted and responded to Covid, and how they see things changing. We had pre-prepared questions from the other participants, so I would cut to them to ask their questions, and anyone else could contribute and ask questions in the chat.
“We’re also renowned for our love of gin at Flock, so we sent out a small bottle of gin in advance to everyone who was involved so everyone could enjoy a drink together.
“The comments have been great, with people saying that they felt like they were in the room and praising us for the way we managed to create an atmosphere when these kinds of events usually seem so sterile. We’ve had plenty of emails saying ‘more, more, more!’ - so it looks like we’ll be doing it again next month.”
Since lockdown rules were imposed, Janett and Sophia have only been able to visit their headquarters in Windermere Works to get supplies, instead setting up at home where they both combine work with their home-schooling duties.
Just like millions of us worldwide, they decided to fully embrace Zoom.
Grant Seaton, Senior Business Lending Manager here at The Cumberland regularly attends Flock’s LA23NET events and says that Flock are one of many who are adapting to the new normal and finding different ways to continue working.
He said: “I’m really impressed by the way Flock have taken to this new way of working, and to see that they have managed to keep their events running in these times is amazing.
“Many businesses are suffering at the moment with the lockdown restrictions, and although it will be some time before all are able to resume work, those that can adapt quickly and use alternative ways to maintain their customer base will certainly see the benefit in the future.
“Video conferencing has become ‘normal’ for everyone within the space of just two months, and offers additional opportunities for many businesses, including our own. I can see a lot of businesses continuing to use tools such as Zoom for everyday meetings and major networking events long after the coronavirus crisis.”
Janett added: “We’ve only used Zoom very, very rarely before all this, usually to discuss things with our clients in London, so it is a new way of working for us.
“We always prefer to meet clients face-to-face so we can discuss plans and know that we’re on the same page, but this has made us think about things like the difference that not driving everywhere has had on the environment.
“We’ve adapted to what is the ‘new normal’ and we probably don’t all need to move around as much as we once did. People can come to our workshops whether they’re based locally, in Manchester or Mumbai - I think that’s something we’ve come to realise and will be really embracing in the future.”