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What a difference a year makes

by EN

Martin Cairns, ESSA Chair, looks back on a year that promised so much for the future.

When I started my tenure as ESSA chair 22 months ago, I did not imagine that a year later a virus outbreak would stop the entire industry in its tracks. But, whilst it’s difficult to avoid being sucked into the vortex of doom, it’s worth recognising just how much we achieved as an association over the last 12 months.

ESSA has enjoyed record levels of engagement with members through events, working groups and key initiatives. It is tremendously encouraging and underlines the truth that an association is only as capable as its individual members. The pandemic crisis has severely tested the industry, and I’m bowled over by how constructively and positively our membership has responded.

The launch of ESSA Accredited at ESSA Conference 2019 last November was an exciting moment and, I believe, the start of an important chapter in UK events. This comprehensive quality assurance programme has been picked up with gusto by our membership, and I’m confident that as the scheme matures it will become the standard by which all suppliers in the UK are measured. ESSA is standing by to help your business navigate the accreditation process if you have not already enrolled – as a free service to all members.

To date, over a dozen members have successfully met the necessary criteria, with dozens more currently undergoing the audit process in their bid for accreditation. In spite of, or indeed because of Covid, members who can are using this enforced hiatus to re-examine their offering, build from within and strengthen their businesses, in anticipation of the eventual lifting of restrictions.

The conference and Chairman’s Dinner & Awards were themselves a huge hit, with 216 delegates and 267 guests for the dinner. The buzz around that event was louder than any ESSA conference I can remember, and the figures demonstrate just how valued and important ESSA events have become to the membership.

That was the high. The low, of course, began in 2020. After a couple of buoyant months with a stream of new members joining, the shutters slammed down on the industry as the UK went into a strict lockdown. The damage to the industry has been near-incalculable, and in those first few months, ESSA demonstrated beyond doubt the value of an active and involved association.

I am immensely proud of how the ESSA team, led by Andrew Harrison, met the Covid challenge. As the pandemic progressed, ESSA became the essential information hub and support service for suppliers facing the worst ever worst-case scenario for their industry. Simultaneously, ESSA was building “Project Confidence” and “All Secure Standard” initiatives with the AEO and AEV, to level-up the whole industry ahead of a return to mass events.

The effect of Covid isn’t limited to financial heavy weather, it is clearly having a toll on people as well. The lucky ones to escape redundancy are still facing an uncertain future, and have endured social isolation to the point where many are finding it genuinely difficult to continue working.

ESSA vice-chair Lou Kiwanuka will ascend to the ESSA chair at the most difficult time imaginable, and it falls to her to help guide the association into the post-Covid era, and make it match-fit for a world we could not have imagined 12 months ago. Personal wellbeing and welfare is going to be critical to the resurgence of events in the UK, and Lou’s commitment to making the event industry a better place to work for everyone is a matter of record.

The event industry is balanced on a precipice today. We need the sector specific support from the government enjoyed by the hospitality, travel and tourism industries, and we – the associations – are pushing and cajoling as hard as we can to make this happen.

#Do your best. It’s all any of us can do. This is not a commiseration or an excuse, but a rallying cry for us to keep fighting for this industry we love. For some of us, doing our best will not be enough to save the firm, or avoid redundancies, and there are no words that can make that any less horrendous for the people involved.

We must do our best, it’s all we’ve got.

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