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One Industry One Voice is getting behind a new drive to promote mental health first aider training across the event industry.

Conceived by Music Support, the campaign exists to provide bursaries for professionals working within the UK live event industry to train as qualified Mental Health First Aiders.

The programme is open to all those working in the events industry and a Just Giving page has been set up to help fund it. Organisers expect 10 people to undertake the course each month and are calling on the wider live events industry to show support through donations. They are looking to raise funds to provide bursaries for 100 live event industry peers to complete training during 2021, with the price of each course costing £300 per person.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised training course, designed to teach people how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and provide help on a first aid basis. Everyone on an MHFA course is taught a set of skills which enables them to support someone experiencing mental health issues.

Paul Jones, director at Ethix Management Event Production, who set up the 15,000-member Live Events Freelancers Forum, has been actively working with the Music Support charity for most of the year, as industry professionals are equipped to deliver the training.

“I saw a need to get help right across the events sector and as the forum grew it was very obvious that many people were struggling, not just financially, but mentally,” said Jones.

“After completing the MHFA course last year and seeing the benefit I decided to fund the first cohort of students myself. Ten students volunteered for the training with the aim of helping Music Support create a database of qualified mental health first aiders right across the sector.”

Jones added that the aim is to have 10 people each month pass the course, but that the support of the wider industry is needed to achieve this. “If I can put in £3,000 as a small business then I would hope others will follow. Aiming to sponsor industry sector students to complete the mental health training is the end goal and having mental health first aiders available to all who will need support, right across the whole industry. Please spread the word.”

Simon Hughes, chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), and who is fronting the One Industry One Voice, movement said it was vital to show support for such an important cause. “Mental health is a serious concern right across the events spectrum. While the vaccination programme seems to be going well, there is still much uncertainty for so many people with regards to the jobs and businesses.

“We are calling on those in the industry who are in a position to sponsor the MHFA campaign to do so. We are not asking for a full amount of £300 to cover just one person on the course, but whatever you can afford. It will all help and make a difference.”

Sara Sutherland, a freelance event production manager who was one of the first to undertake the course, described the content as “amazing”. She said: “I’ve wanted to attend the Mental Health First Aid course for some time, particularly to be able to support others in the live events industry, as we navigate these changing times, and this was an amazing opportunity. The course is amazing and the trainers delivering the course are so engaging, kind and very knowledgeable.”

Gareth Barton, a lighting and sound engineer, described the last 12 months as “tough”, but expressed hope that if the events industry gets behind the course, it will lead to a proper database of mental health first aiders in the industry.

“I’m really enjoying the Mental Health First Aid course,” he said. “It’s been a tough 12 months both personally and professionally and learning with the music support team on a course that has been adapted to be more relevant to events is really helping my own outlook as well as equipping me to help other people. Hopefully this program will gain more industry support and funding to build a database that can really make a positive impact.”

Mental health in sharp focus

Mental health has been brought into sharp focus since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, with the events industry finding itself hit disproportionally hard.

One Industry One Voice conducted a survey last November of more than 1,600 businesses, including company and event owners, suppliers, freelance event owners, freelance agencies and freelance professionals – the biggest ever of its kind – which revealed the pressures caused by a collapse in income and mounting redundancies.

Among the key findings:

  • 83% said they had struggled with stress or anxiety
  • 41% say they had experienced symptoms of depression and 7% had experienced suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
  • 57% had experienced feelings of loss or failure

Conversely, events and experiences play a big part in promoting mental health and wellbeing, touching millions of lives, so the industry has a big role to play in leading the post-pandemic national revival.

Professor John Drury, who leads the Crowd and Identities Group at Sussex University and sits on the independent SAGE group, said: “There is extensive evidence showing that emotions and groups are good for our mental and physical health. Attending live events not only brings us joy but is good for wellbeing. This is not just a matter of lifting people’s spirits. The economic cost of mental ill health in England has been estimated at £105bn a year. Through bringing joy, live events make a vital contribution to both our emotional and our economic wellbeing”.