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Stress Matters presents Once Upon A Pandemic

Once upon a pandemic: Richard Waddington

The twenty second in a series by Stress Matters, who have been asking those across the events industry - how are you doing? 

Richard Waddington, former CEO and founder of First Protocol (now First Agency), chair of the Event Marketing Association (EMA).

I've been in the events industry since I was 14 when I started helping out in the kitchens of our local hotel washing pots and peeling veg, eventually progressing to the restaurant – Id made it!! Well, certainly got the bug for hospitality. I’ve just turned 60 which I find hard to believe, but hey it’s only a number.

Pre lockdown when Covid started to be talked about, we were in France skiing and I actually caught Covid-19. We were in Chamonix when they closed everything down overnight, all at once it was a reality. We immediately changed our flights and headed home, passing through Geneva airport (which was manic) and where I think I caught Covid-19.

The following week, I came down with what I thought was just a really bad chest infection, and spent a couple of days in bed but was totally exhausted, totally breathless for about three weeks, it was tough but did not need to go to hospital etc. I had the blood tests in October and it showed that I have the antibodies, so confirmed that I’d had it and that I’d started this whole pandemic experiencing the actually virus. Take it from me you have to take it seriously.

Whilst we’re based in on the London/Kent boarders my mother (87) lives up in Worcestershire, and I do worry about her because she's on her own, and this constant isolation has a serious impact on the elderly and mental wellbeing.

As I mentioned earlier I turned 60 in November, my wife in January and our daughter was 30 in June – so we had big plans for a big weekend party in November in Worcester to celebrate all three milestones The Wads are 150. Very frustrating we couldn’t host this, so I'm very much missing events in my personal life not just professional life!

As for a working routine I am doing reasonably well, I am used to working from home but I do miss going to town for meetings and that human interaction. You miss being able to pick up on vibes that you get when face to face, on line is good but not a replacement for live.

A big positive has been the growth EMA, our membership has grown from around 350 at the beginning of the year to now over 1500 and our virtual events have allowed us to engage with members across the country on a weekly basis, supporting one another, discussing relevant and important topics. I’m investor and chair of micebook.com too and Chetan and his team were doing really well. The commercial side has been a challenge, they’ve focused on the network, driven knowledge and insights, supporting and growing the community and their value to it.

I sit on the Board of Meeting Needs the event industry charity. Events such as the M&IT awards, London half marathon, Prudential Ride London are some of the biggest fundraising events for the charity which didn’t happen. That's tough, those donations are absolutely life changing for people and when we haven't got that money we can't distribute it. So we are constantly trying to find ways to raise funds to distribute. – any great ideas out there anyone who wants to get involved please contact me / us – we’d love to hear from you.

Personally my coping mechanism for ‘wellbeing’ is very much focused on physical exercise, not pumping weights in the gym, but getting outdoors, getting some fresh air, looking around me helps me clear my head and focus my mind. – getting closer to nature gives me a better perspective.

Over the last few years I've become an ardent cyclist, (yes I’m a 60 year old MAMIL) and loving it, averaging 150 miles a week. I love being out in the countryside. I love the fresh air. I love the scenery. I love the wildlife, we live in a great country, we need to look after and appreciate it a little bit more, in turn it will return the favour.

My advice is that you have to stay positive, focus on being productive and have a purpose. Things happen and we need to individually and collectively focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, (there is one) and work to move towards it. The events industry is going to go through a massive transitional change, many business’s will go bust, hotels, venues close, whilst new innovative business’s start up, don’t ignore this evolution, change is uncomfortable, but inevitable. You have to embrace it and find your place.

We now have a vaccine, as such I hope we can see a return to a level of normality in Q2/3 of 2021 a better understanding of what the ‘new norm’ will be, being able to get out, mix and socialise, go on holiday without the fear of lockdown or catching Covid.

If you would like to share your story, please visit www.stressmatters.org.uk/pandemic-stories for more information.

Read other stories in the Once Upon A Pandemic series here.