Bryan’s Blog: A new world, a new White Light

Who’d have thought that at the start of this year, we’d find ourselves in the middle of a global health pandemic. Without stating the obvious, the impact of Covid-19 has probably been one of the most devastating experiences of my lifetime. Firstly, we must never forget that this is a pandemic and that  nearly 45,000 people in this country alone have died as a result. Alongside this tragic loss of life, there has also been the catastrophic impact on the economy. As a company, all of our business effectively stopped on March 16thwhen the government officially closed theatres, pubs and essentially all live entertainment venues. As a result of this, we’ve naturally had to make some incredibly tough decisions in order to ensure that we not only survive this period but come out of it as strong as possible. As a company with the core values of being honourable and adaptable, we thought it was only right to share how we have dealt with this situation, what we’ve had to change as an organisation and what our next stages are. We are still the same White Light but, in many ways, now a much different company.






Making Redundancies






We knew that, as soon as our income stopped, we would have to seriously think about how to save the business. We suddenly found ourselves with no work for the foreseeable future and around 95% of our staff with nothing to do. It also became apparent that, even when the workload returned months later, it would not reach pre-Covid levels for some time. As such, we realised that we would sadly have to make some redundancies as part of the severe cutbacks needed to save the business. Despite having no prior experience of this process (something I’m very grateful for), the one thing I was certain of was that I wanted to conduct the proceedings in the most professional, and humane, way possible. For us, this meant complete honesty and transparency with all of our staff. We held our first Town Hall meeting back in March, just as lockdown was announced, and were completely open with everyone as to the difficulties that lay ahead. We continued to hold these on a monthly basis whenever there were any major developments/decisions. We also issued a weekly staff newsletter to all of our team which outlined the steps we were taking and who would be affected. It was, of course, difficult reading for many. But we felt this level of clarity and openness was something we owed to the brilliant staff who make up the WL family






In total, around 65 staff members will be leaving us, which is just over a quarter of the company. As difficult as this process was (and one I hope I never have to go through again), what was so incredibly humbling was how brilliantly the overwhelming majority of the staff handled it and how they graciously accepted that the decision had been made for the good of the company. At WL, we are all about our people and what this whole situation has showed me (amongst other things) was how right we’d got it in the past by employing such wonderful individuals. Whilst they may no longer be our colleagues, they will always be our friends and I want to take this opportunity to thank them again for their service over the years. 






Throughout this whole process, we’ve been completely transparent with our staff, updating them every step of the way.






Keeping the business sustainable






A large part of our work over the past few months has been trying to ensure that the business not only survives this current period but comes out of the other side as healthy as possible. Like most of the industry, and in fact the UK, we have been incredibly grateful for the Job Retention Scheme as it has been a complete lifeline over the last few months. Sadly it is likely to end before our work (especially in theatre) returns to normal but it has certainly bought us space to breathe and plan for the future. We are also very grateful for the support of HSBC, our bankers, who have been helpful and supportive resulting in a multi-million pound CIBILS to help us over the coming months. 






Sadly, apart from JRS, all the help we have received has been in the form of deferments rather than waivers – i.e. we will still have to pay our rent, suppliers, leases and other costs; something which is obviously going to hamper our growth & investment plans for the next few years.






Stephen Hammond, our local MP, has been a brilliant support and even mentioned WL in the House of Commons!






That said, we are greatly appreciative of the support from our local MP, Stephen Hammond MP and other local businesses as we battle with Merton Council to include suppliers to the Events industry in the Business Rates waivers offered to other companies involved in the Events industry. Mr Hammond has been a true representative of ours and even mentioned White Light in his House of Commons speech last month – a first for us. 






One of the main ways in which we have tried to keep the company sustainable is by restructuring internally. This is to ensure that our team is able to focus on the work we believe will return the fastest, whilst also nurturing the areas in which we were growing as a company. For instance, broadcast is a market in which we have continued to expand and one in which we’ve continued to work during this whole crisis. We were delighted to supply the BBC for their VE Day Celebrations at Buckingham Palace; not only was it “a paying gig” during the darkest days of the last few weeks but it was also a visible reminder of what we (and our customers) deliver and how important our industry is to society as a whole. 






It’s also worth noting that this internal restructure will not affect our customers and that we will still be offering the same level of excellent service they expect. In fact, we are now expanding the range of services which we can provide to our clients (see more below…).






The BBC VE Day Celebrations at Buckingham Palace as a great project to work on; particularly as it took place during the ‘darkest days’ of the crisis.






New ways of working






With most of our work stopping following the outbreak of Covid-19, this meant we had to find new and innovative ways to generate income. This mainly came in the form of SmartStage. SmartStage is a fully immersive video platform which replaces the traditional green screen element of a virtual studio and we have built two of them in our SW19 warehouse facilities, available for hire. If you had told me earlier this year that we would be hosting church services, comedy nights, music promo videos, live sport broadcasts and  corporate conferences in our warehouse during 2020 then I would have assumed it was April 1st.  We have also been using the SmartStage for our Town Hall meetings and I am convinced that using this technology has helped us communicate with the team in a more effective (and honest) way.






As we move out of this current situation, we appreciate that we’ll be entering a whole new world in which additional health and safety measures become paramount. As such, Our Health and Safety Director Chris Nicholls has been offering training to all of our staff, as well as putting in place a range of measures such as social distancing signage, creating one way systems around our offices and warehouse along with installing sanitisers at all entrances. We have also created a booklet which highlights guidelines and advice for those returning to work as well as hosting weekly Zoom calls to address any health and safety questions from our staff.






We are incredibly excited about our strategic partnership with SFL and what this will offer our clients.






And whilst these past few months have been a period of unexpected transition, I’m pleased to say that the biggest change to our company is one we’re all extremely excited about. Earlier this week, we announced our strategic partnership with SFL – one which will see both companies broaden our existing offerings and allow our customers to receive the highest standard of full service technical production (you can read the full press release here). We had already been looking to expand on our production services and the next twelve months would have meant a lot of investment in both people and equipment. Covid-19 obviously saw those plans change, yet rather than scrap them completely and not fulfil our ambitions, we explored other avenues and were extremely fortunate to find a company who shared our values and were also looking to expand (specifically in the lighting side of things). It’s a partnership that just feels right and, whilst it is still very early days , we cannot wait for things to return to normal and for our customers to be able to draw on this exceptional service we are now able to offer. 






And finally…where do we go from here?






Personally I think Covid-19 is here to stay and that we will just have to adjust our lives and make informed decisions on the risks we are prepared to take alongside the medical improvements that will minimise this.  We therefore need to take the positive out of the situation where possible. The environment is the healthiest it has been in decades, people are talking to their neighbours, many have realised that work/life balance is important, but, in the context of this blog, many have also realised how much they have missed going to the theatre or a music gig, missed meeting colleagues at a conference or corporate event and missed the very human need to ‘come together’. And as a company that has spent almost fifty years supporting these events, I’m hoping that, once we return to some sort of normality, we’ll be able to do so for the next fifty too; although I may have retired by then.




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