13th November 2020


You might have seen that poster regarding the events industry. It’s sparked a lot of controversies online. There are even rumours that Amazon’s Christmas advert is a direct response.

The poster that I’m referring to is the government’s ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’ advert. The poster features Fatima, a young ballerina, lacing her shoes in a traditional dance studio. Sounds good so far, right? I would forgive you for thinking that the government are celebrating the arts. The image sits alongside the words: ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (She just doesn’t know it yet)’. And it’s that short passage that is causing all the drama.

The events industry have been campaigning for additional government support since they were forced to close back in March. As other industries, such as hospitality and tourism, began to reopen, vents were still waiting for a restart date. They are still waiting and with the second national lockdown looming, businesses in this sector aren’t expecting in-person shows to be back until late 2021.

Problems started to arise when the government launched schemes like ‘Eat Out to Help Out’. It felt like they were supporting other industries by helping them recover from the loss of business from the first lockdown. The events industry still had no restart date and no support to keep them going. My company, Quadrant2Design, designs and builds exhibition stands. We have not raised an invoice since March.

A study by Feast It found almost two-thirds of events businesses expect to be closed within six months. The furlough scheme was utilised but as that comes to an end the industry is preparing for 400,000 job losses. To survive, they are asking for a specific job support scheme for the live events supply chain and grants to be available for businesses affected. Their plight was ignored. The Survival Tour saw five music industry stalwarts cycle 1,500 km across the country to the UK’s iconic venues. Survival in the Square gathered industry professionals from all areas of events for a week of creative activations in parliament square. Thousands of letters have gone to  MP’s and leading industry bodies are in talks with Oliver Dowden.

All of this was to raise awareness of the plight facing the events industry and urge the government to save these businesses. But all of these activities have been overlooked. Then, in an interview with LBC, Edwina Currie said it made no ‘fiscal or political sense’ to offer financial support to the events industry. She acknowledged many companies would go out of business but declared you ‘cannot save all the puppies’. Rishi Sunak was then reported to have said those working in the arts would have to retrain. He never said those exact words and, after complaining to ITV, the editorial was changed to better reflect the interview.

However, when Sunak announced his job support scheme which would offer payroll assistance to employees working 20% of their hours. The events industry is closed. Employees are unable to work 20% of their hours. Their jobs have been deemed unviable. As if being excluded wasn’t enough, Currie and Sunak had made the events industry feel rejected.

And then someone found that poster. The poster looked like another attempt to point out how unviable the events industry is. Understandably, people weren’t happy. They took to social media to vent which led to more and more people witnessing the 18-month old advert for the first time. The poster went viral.

The majority of individuals believed that the government was telling the arts to go and retrain.  That is not the case. Fatima was part of a campaign that launched in 2019, before Covid-19 even had a name. The ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’ campaign was designed to encourage more young people into cybersecurity. 

Fatima wasn’t alone. Sophia, Dan, Justin and Will star in their own posters, displaying work environments such as retail, mechanics and hospitality. The idea was to encourage people from all walks of life to think about a career in cybersecurity. This campaign was run by QA, an online company that delivers training, tech and apprenticeships. The government were happy to support it because the UK currently has a shortage of cyber talent and an abundance of jobs in that industry.

With women making up less than 20% of the global cybersecurity field, the government used a ballerina to appeal to that market. Is this not something we are supporting now? Women in STEM. The intention was never to single out the arts. I’m convinced that one year ago we would have commended Fatima’s poster. It appeals to an audience segment that not only wouldn’t have considered a career in cyber but also would have felt excluded from it.

Now, for all you event profs that jumped on the bandwagon, let this be your lesson. Perspective is a funny thing. It’s hard to give the full picture when you have a character limit of 280 characters. Yes, the events industry is in desperate need for support. But this poster was not an attack. 

As an industry that already struggles with a gender divide, this is something that we should unite to support. More women in tech mean more female lighting designers and sound engineers. That’s a very small tip of a very small iceberg. Let’s change the meaning of #Fatima. 

Our industry has created a community spirit like never before and we have a voice. Let’s put it to good use while we wait for a restart date.