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  • Writer's pictureAlex Mahoney

Are online events the new normal?

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

After nearly seven years working at incredible event agency, Continental Drifts, I decided to take the plunge and go freelance at the end of 2019. I had an amazing year of projects lined up with clients such as Punchdrunk, Festival Republic and The Roundhouse, but then Covid 19 hit and, like most freelancers working in the arts, my diary was suddenly empty. To make matters worse, as a new freelancer, I do not qualify for any government support; but after a period of panic, one mortgage holiday and a small grant from Outdoor Arts UK later (thank you!!), I had come to terms with the fact the rest of my year was void.

However, I was very wrong! A friend who works at Age UK Lambeth told me they were looking for a Digital Events Coordinator for their social membership programme MYsocial. I applied and I was very lucky to get it. MYsocial is a community built by Age UK Lambeth. It is here to bring people together, to connect with their neighbours, develop lasting friendships and feel part of a community in the London borough of Lambeth. Usually, they do this via a calendar of events and local meetups, but during Covid they have had to cease their usual calendar. My role as Digital Event Coordinator was to build an online events programme for MYsocial members, and I didn’t realise just how important that would be.

Although MYsocial is open to any age, many of our members are over 60 who are retired and/or live alone and rely on our programmes to connect with others, so it was crucial MYsocial could still engage with our members during this frightening, unprecedented time.

We especially wanted to create opportunities for fun and help everyone forget the news, so I built an online programme using Zoom. Our calendar of digital events currently includes Cuppa Clubs, singing, exercise classes, drawing, Bingo, quizzes, MYsocial’s Gogglebox plus opportunities to debate, discuss and learn. I also produced (and now host) a Digital Festival on Facebook Live on MYsocial’s page!

The feedback we have received from members has confirmed just how crucial online events have been to their happiness and wellbeing during lockdown. Some members have lost family to Covid-19, others have been shielding and all have been dealing with the challenge of isolation. It’s been a very difficult time for everyone, but many have said how wonderful it has been to still be able to connect with people through online events, some even commenting it has saved their life!

This is proof that art, culture and events play an incredibly important role in enhancing our lives. The live event and theatre industry have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, which is a huge loss to all of us workers and audiences too. However, event managers are some of the best problem solvers in the world and, even through this heartbreaking time, many organisations have adapted to this new normal by creating amazing online experiences. For example Secret Cinema’s Secret Sofa and their Stranger Things Reunion party on Zoom. Strong and Co created the Festibox, which includes all the necessities for building a festival at home, plus a live stream Glastonbury themed party. The team behind Glastonbury’s Shangri-La have created Lost Horizon Festival, a fully interactive and multi-stage virtual festival. Amazing!

There is no doubt that technology is incredible and one positive to come out of the Covid crisis is that people of all ages are now embracing technology. Many MYsocial members had never used Zoom before and had very little online experience, but now they are avid users and extremely grateful for the opportunity MYsocial has given them to learn. Many have even said they would like digital events to remain in our calendar after Covid, which has got me thinking, could online events become the new normal alongside live events? Could they be a way of giving people who usually struggle to leave the house an opportunity to connect with others and culture in a brand new way? They have certainly made a huge difference to Covid isolation and now that more and more charities are offering communities help to get online, online events could potentially help reduce loneliness and isolation across the world post Covid too.

If it wasn’t for Covid, I would have never been MYsocial’s Digital Event Coordinator and it has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had. It makes my heart full to be able to bring joy to our community during difficult times and it has opened my eyes to a new way of sharing culture. I have been growing Swans with my amazing business partners, whilst working with MYsocial and I would love to be able to share Swans projects with our members, on and offline. Watch this space!

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