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Elham (El) Afzal, a 30under30 alumnus, is the venue manager of the newly inaugurated Co-op Live in Manchester. El’s previous experiences include the O2, as well as major UK festivals and sporting events such as Download, Latitude, Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and World Taekwondo. Here, she discusses industry challenges, career highlights, future plans and more!

What made you want to get involved in the industry and why?

I’ve always been passionate about music, though I never imagined I could work in the industry (yet look at me now!). Growing up, my friends were in bands and musically talented, but I wasn’t. I discovered a passion for planning and found a way to be involved in another capacity. I always wanted to be a part of the team that works behind the scenes, contributing to people’s incredible experiences – that’s what drove me to where I am today.

What is the first career highlight that comes to mind?

For me, it would be seeing Avenged Sevenfold and Guns & Roses on my first ever Download Festival. The event took an incredible amount of work and planning, so it was a real ‘pinch me’ moment when some of the acts I’ve admired and followed throughout my life hit the stage, and I could proudly say I was part of the team that made it all possible!

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome?

Personally, one of the biggest challenges for myself has been the diversity and inclusion across the industry, and events as a whole. I’ve often found myself, especially in music and venues, in the minority when it comes to my ethnicity. People will often see my full name and presume I’m a guy, or question my role due to my age/how I dress. I’ve definitely become more resilient to this over time, but I do think more action is needed across the industry to make a meaningful change. We need to pave the path for others of all backgrounds and abilities to enter the industry and not face these recurring issues.

Is there anyone in the industry who has influenced or inspired you?

It would be 2 iconic Johns for me! John Probyn, who interviewed me in my first year of uni and offered me a role in licensing with Festival Republic for Download festival. This would soon escalate to a few years, with quite a few festivals along the way. Everyday I feel grateful for applying and meeting the person behind my favourite festival.
Equally influential to me is John Grundy from Manchester Academy, who took a rookie under his wing and taught me from the ground up about venue operations, especially in smaller (yet iconic) Manchester based venues. He’s been someone I’ve turned to at all parts of my career, and I’m eternally grateful for his advice. These two icons have continued to support and inspire me to this day!

When not at work, what do you do to switch off and relax?

I’m passionate about gardening; I grow my own vegetables and am particularly proud of my chili and pepper plants! I also love to cook and go on long walks, which usually end with a pub lunch!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

The dream is to work on the Olympics; and maybe get a Wrestlemania under my belt!