In the first of a series of interviews looking at how the pandemic has impacted companies in the events industry supply chain, A3 Events owner Jon Wilding reveals how it has led him to pivot from supplying marquees and furniture into aerial photography.

Wilding’s two-person company has received little Government support and although his colleague was furloughed last year, he was not able to do the same as he is the director.

As a result, Wilding, who is based in the West Midlands but travels all around the country for work, has trained to operate drones for aerial photography and hopes to use the qualification going forward as part of his business.

How has your business been impacted by Covid-19?

When the Government banned gatherings of over 500 people, we lost almost £500,000 overnight.  I have worked in the events industry for almost 25 years, and have had this business for 15 years doing the same shows every year on a contractual basis. Our year runs January to December, and we are reporting a turnover for 2020 in the region of £18,000. We also started a smaller business for my son late in 2018 and after only one year of trade this has been forced to close leaving us with an enormous debt.

What support have you been able to access from Government?

My son’s company was only in its second year of trade. It had made a loss in its first year, which is almost inevitable, but now it is closed. There has been no support at all for this business. It is a registered limited business and his future looked good as a start-up. For A3 Events, we received a £10,000 rates grant at the start of the lockdown. I furloughed the member of staff I have but because I was on dividend payments, I was unable to get any form of support for me.  We got a Bounce Back loan of £50,000. Suppliers have been kind regarding rents and leases etc but this is through historic relationships rather than through Government support.

What support would you like the government to give businesses like yours so they have a chance of surviving?

I think that now our industry has had the benefit of some trade through this terrible time, many have seen turnover that they weren’t expecting with long term hires for test stations. This has allowed me to negotiate with many of my contractors regarding the moving forward of deposits paid to 2021. In March, clients immediately wanted deposits back and contractors were reluctant to return deposits paid to them, which put me in a very precarious position. As we move forward into 2021, we are hoping that the shows are able to come back and we can almost pick up where we left off, however there is much uncertainty in the industry right now and this lack of certainty is a major worry.

Support – I would like the tax man to understand that the monies that would have been made in 2020 would have enabled me to pay the corporation tax owed from 2019. It would be great for me if they agreed to right this off or spread it over the next 3-5 years and stop charging interest. Give me a pass to allow me to spend the money I have to make more money to pay the bills rather than me worrying over preferred creditor liabilities. We want to trade. We don’t want to go bust as it is a small industry, and I will not let my clients down unless I have no other choice.

Will you be able to sustain your business going forward?

I don’t think we are massively short for what is required to sustain the business. If we could get the corporation tax delayed or written off (£20,000) a grant of around £20,000 – £30,000 and some leeway on the legalities of Limited trading then yes, the business is sustainable.  This is on the basis that the shows are allowed to trade and have the confidence to spend the same amount of money they had planned to in 2020. We are working now on planning shows in May and July but already the one in May is deciding whether to move to September.

You have chosen to pivot into aerial photography, why?

Diversification has been required to survive. I have had a lot of time on my hands unfortunately. I have been working as a Sainsburys delivery driver since July just to help pay personal bills. I have also needed to think outside the box a little so decided to get into aerial photography. The qualification for this took approximately four months and I see work for me in the events industry as well as many other industries. Drones are now much more technically advanced and, more importantly, safe. The CAA has tightened up on the legislation to ensure that those of us that are operating drones are properly qualified to do so.