The beginning of 2020 could not have got off to a better start for Peterborough-based Pearce Hire. Securing three final shortlistings across various industry award ceremonies, the team were thrilled to win the Favourite Power Supply Company at the TPi Awards at the end of February – an accolade they had worked tirelessly towards securing for several years. Things were looking bright, and business was thriving. Then the pandemic took hold, and the industry was the first to be locked down by the government.
Almost six months on and MD of Pearce Hire, Shaun Pearce is actively lobbying the government, as are many throughout the sector. He is asking for urgent government intervention. Specifically, the continuation of self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) for those individuals working in the industry, continuing furlough support for employees and extending rates relief to event hire businesses. Campaigning at the very least, for low interest, long-term repayment loans for those business needing a lifeline to survive until social distancing is a thing of the past and the live events industry can get back up and running.
Shaun established Pearce Hire over 30 years ago and since then has worked tirelessly to build a hugely successful business providing technical production services and dry hire solutions to over 2,000 events annually across the UK. Shaun and his management team had planned months in advance for another record year, recruiting another four permanent members of staff with typically, over 70 seasonal freelance technicians being employed every year as well. Pearce Hire was on the cusp of rolling out its busiest summer season ever when the government shut down the economy and everything came to a grinding halt. “The impact was immediate and disastrous for us”, grimaced Shaun.
As an event production company, with an expertise in temporary power and production services for outdoor events and greenfield site events, May to October are Pearce Hire’s busiest months. With an all too familiar and gloomy story, Shaun explained what happened next. “Even before lockdown was officially announced we had started to get cancellations from early March onwards. From then on it was a downward spiral and within six weeks we had lost over 85% of our annual business because of circumstances entirely out of our, or anybody else’s control.”
As the severity and seriousness of the pandemic became apparent, Shaun saw his company’s packed summer diary disappear. Late Autumn and Christmas work is also now being cancelled as fears of a second spike loom. Pearce said: “We have an extremely loyal customer base and many of the events we supply are on rolling long-term contracts – so planning and collaboration with our clients begins months in advance and we work closely with them as close-knit teams. But we couldn’t do anything about the situation and nor could they – social distancing and a ban on mass gatherings basically wipes out our core business activities.”
Shaun had to make some immediate, and very difficult decisions. From the end of March all his team went onto furlough. Since then he has lost 40% of the Pearce Hire workforce through redundancy. “We hope that will be as far as we have to go, and we are currently working very hard to try and ensure it does not get any worse for our loyal, experienced and highly skilled team.”
Shaun has diligently petitioned local government to help them understand the unique issues the industry faces and to seek additional support as it became increasingly apparent that “we were the first industry to be shut down and will be the last to re-open”. A mild mannered and softly spoken man, he firmly believes that “now is the time we really need the government to step in and provide some additional support to prevent the whole industry, the SMEs and freelancers who are the backbone of our industry being decimated.”
Shaun has spent hours writing letters, emails and making telephone calls to local MPs, councillors on the Peterborough City Council, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire, and the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, all to no avail. “We pay tens of thousands a year in business rates and we have not even been given any rates relief! I actually don’t think the local authorities have been given the scope by Government to get the grants to where they are needed most. Other small businesses – which the government seems to understand better – are getting all sorts of rebates and support while Pearce Hire, with an 85% loss of business, a strong local workforce (both full time and freelance), an extensive staff training and welfare policy, large annual tax bill, work experience and training engagement with the local college and schools gets nothing! It’s just unbelievable and I know we aren’t alone in this nightmare.”
He acknowledged: “Yes, we may well be a young and relatively small industry sector in comparison with others. But we are a world leading, highly skilled and resourceful industry. Our sector makes an enormous contribution to the UK economy – possibly punching above our weight in this respect. The camaraderie amongst our crews, our freelancers, and even between our company and our competitors is really unique. We are an industry based on individual skills and made up predominantly of freelancers and gig workers. But all this is at risk.”
Shaun and his team have also been supporting the industry’s key initiatives #LetTheMusicPlay, #WeMakeEvents and #LightItInRed. At the recent Red Alert #WeMakeEvents call to action, Shaun and most of his team headed down to London to join over 3,500 other industry colleagues and friends. Whilst others in the team travelled up North to support the demonstrations there. “Our industry works in the background, literally backstage – the spotlight is never on us. But we need to step out of the wings and demand the support we need. It’s not a comfortable place for any of us to be – upfront and on the stage. But now we need to be. Festivals don’t just happen. Tours don’t just appear in a city one day, and another city another day. TV, corporate events, product launches – these events all rely on a skilled workforce coming in and doing what they do best to produce the best events possible and match or exceed their client’s expectations.”
Shaun is forever an optimist – he is positive, determined and considered in his approach. He is also passionate about the industry. “How often as an industry have, we been told ‘you’ll never do that’ and then we have gone ahead and made it happen! It is this approach that makes us a strong industry!”
Shaun believes that the industry profile is becoming a little more front and centre as he watches the rolling news every day. This is helping to raise the awareness, but he still feels it’s not enough for the Government to take note, and, more specifically act. “I really wish it was. I am sorry to be a pessimist, it’s not in my nature, but without any Government intervention the situation is going to get a whole lot worse before we see even the slightest signs of improvement. We need grants (not loans), business rates relief and an immediate extension to the furlough scheme for our sector. An industry catastrophe is just around the corner coupled with a harsh winter for all the staff and crew of this industry and it breaks my heart.”
Pearce Hire has partnered with some companies to provide technical and production support in the weeks since March as, and where it has been able. The team have by no means replaced their usual packed summer calendar, but they have provided some technical resources to the Nightingale field hospitals around the country and the COVID-19 testing stations. They have also supplied power equipment requirements for Amazon’s large warehouse facilities to provide COVID-19 safe areas for staff access and egress to the warehouses. In recent weeks, as one of the preferred suppliers at the East of England Arena and Events Centre and Showground (EEAEC), Pearce Hire has also supplied power and on-site PA systems for one of their regular clients Warner’s Exhibitions who were able to stage a socially distanced Outdoor Motorhome Camper Show. This was one of the first outdoor events permitted since lockdown eased and followed the strict All Secure Covid guidance to produce a safe environment for all exhibitors and attendees.
The team are also now working with James Eade Training to provide socially distanced BS7909 courses (covering temporary electrical systems for entertainment and related purposes) from Pearce Hire HQ, the next of which is running from Monday 28 to Wednesday 30 September. “We are pleased to be able to support training like this to help individuals feel ‘match ready’ once the industry opens up again” says Shaun with a rare smile crossing his face.”
He concluded: “We can’t wait to get back to what we do best – providing award winning services to this brilliant and resourceful industry of ours and helping everyone get out there and celebrate life through festivals, gigs, running events and all manner of other outdoor and indoor events. Until then, we’re backing the #WeMakeEvents campaign which is now planning a global day of creative action on 30 September and we will do all we can to support that. We are an industry in crisis but there is a huge amount of camaraderie and positivity out there. We will play our part where we can. That’s what this industry does – when faced with a challenge we meet it head on and make things happen no matter what the barriers are! Why should the COVID-19 crisis be any different?”