Connection Crew among more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from government awards.
The clocks rolled forward an hour a few weeks ago, heralding the start of Spring; a time of new life and new beginnings. It’s appropriate then that the same week brought news of a crucial grant from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, which will breathe new life into social enterprise Connection Crew, which operate in the supply chain of a hard-hit events industry.
The award-winning crewing company provide hand-picked teams for shows, festivals, exhibitions and any other enterprise requiring heavy lifting, rigging, lighting and set building. Uniquely, 20% of any Connection Crew team will have been at risk of, or have lived experience of homelessness. Connection Crew are among more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from the latest round of awards.
The funding awarded today is from a £400 million pot that was held back last year to ensure the Culture Recovery Fund could continue to help organisations in need as the public health picture changed. The funding has been awarded by Arts Council England, as well as Historic England and National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.
Connection Crew has a high retention rate with events clients – 80% return year on year – and prior to the pandemic was never short of work. ‘We’ve been lucky’, says Director Charlie Dorman, ‘Live events were so plentiful in recent years that we had little need for proactive business development, in fact, the greater challenge in the Summer season was recruiting enough team members to meet the demand’.
But when the pandemic struck in 2020, the events industry was hit hardest – with its supply chain soon to follow.
Directors Warren Rogers and Charlie Dorman reflect on a challenging year in the events industry.
How quickly did you feel the impact of the first lockdown?
It was immediate. Everything switched off within 72 hours and there was suddenly no work to do.
What was the hardest decision you had to make?
We’ve worked hard to protect as much as possible, but even with the furlough scheme, some redundancies were necessary. We’re a tight family-cultured team and that was a tough thing to have to do.
You’ve made some interesting pivots into new sectors and spaces – did you accelerate existing plans or were you thinking on your feet?
It was a little of both. We were fortunate that we had enough diversity in our portfolio that we could develop accounts and relationships and see what else could be done for them – and having time to do that was a bit of a novelty.
How does the future feel for Connection Crew?
We’ve got a couple of big considerations going forward.
There are really serious cash challenges ahead, so we’re under no illusions that events reopening is a panacea. The status quo, with 60-90 days payment terms in industry just isn’t workable for us now. Many of our crew are paid weekly, which ultimately necessitates borrowing to facilitate cash flow and liquidity. The knock-on effect is that we’ll need to revise our terms and conditions; we’ll need to formalise contracts, issue proformas and extend lead times somewhat.
So we’d really like to see better collaboration up and down the events supply chain with regard to cash flow. We can’t overstate the importance of the grants we’ve recently been awarded. We had a year in the tank – that’s all – and we’re on a knife-edge. This additional funding should see us through the uncertainty of the months ahead, but it is uncertain. The ‘roadmap’ is there but we don’t yet have a clear picture of how events will proceed, whether temperature checks will continue, testing on the door – who knows?
Another consideration is our people. We may struggle to attract talent back; we’re anticipating a shortage of people this year. With the events sector as uncertain as it currently is, there’s a good chance that talent will migrate towards more stable and better-paid employment. As an industry, we need to focus on the quality of our offer and really looking after people to attract talent back to the industry. That means building back better: sensible working conditions, good rates of pay, and personal development. People get slammed in events, and burn-out can happen within a year of long days.
You’ve said you want to build back better – what initiatives are you planning?
We’re focused on our social mission as we go forward; Covid has brought homelessness closer to all of us this year with half of working renters only one paycheque away from losing their home, a 50% drop in job vacancies in London in 2020 and redundancies at record levels. Jobs are needed, and it’s important to give job seekers the greatest chance of success, not just at application stage but beyond. We’re building links with other employers in order to offer Connection Crew Academy graduates even more options.
In addition, our pivot into new sectors – such as construction – is a great way to upskill our crew and create even more onward career opportunities.
An additional stream of activity this year is our commitment to environmental impact. We’ve made a start and will be sharing more news on that soon, but it’s our ambition to lead the charge to Net Zero in our industry.
Have you taken any positives from the last year?
It has been a hell of a year, but we can take some positives. We had the opportunity to step off the treadmill and really look at the organisation and think about what’s important. As a result of that, we’ve been able to explore building more efficiencies into how we run things and grow relationships with new commercial partners in entirely new sectors – construction for example. Having Camilla Marcus-Dew on board to drive new ventures has been extremely valuable.
More about Connection Crew
Connection Crew CIC is an award-winning crewing company and social enterprise. Around 20% of Connection Crew’s experienced team are ex-homeless, and the organisation delivers high and direct social impact. Connection Crew’s core business is in live events, but the organisation has successfully pivoted into new areas in the wake of the pandemic, and proudly offers the energy and agility of event crewing to the construction sector, facilities and workplaces, and TV and film production, as well as technical digital services via Stitch Digital.
Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. We have set out our strategic vision in Let’s Create that by 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high quality cultural experiences. We invest public money from Government and The National Lottery to help support the sector and to deliver this vision. www.artscouncil.org.uk
Following the Covid-19 crisis, the Arts Council developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90% coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support. We are also one of the bodies administering the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. Find out more at www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19.
At the Budget, the Chancellor announced the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund would be boosted with a further £300 million investment. Details of this third round of funding will be announced soon.