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From Conference to Coronavirus

14 May 2020

The relief and adrenaline at the end of a conference are palpable - a year in the planning, the buzz - friends, teams, colleagues reunited and then suddenly it's all over. This was an odd one - should we kiss, hug, elbow tap, nod - no-one knew!

Time for a large G&T or five and a rest and brain break before Conference 2021 clunks into action.

Not this time.


Our conference ended on 4th March, and the first UK Covid19 fatality was on 5th March - a harsh reality check. Those whose company policy had prevented them from attending, and the overseas delegates who were anxious they would be quarantined on return - you weren't over-reacting - you were the future!

On Monday 9th March we were back in the office. On Wednesday 11th WHO declared a pandemic - the world was going into lockdown as the UK holds resolute aka rabbit in headlights! Pubs and restaurants closed, followed by non-essential stores.  

Slowly the dice landed on the square marked 'stay at home' - stay safe, save the NHS, save lives. Reality hit on 23rd March: UK lockdown. New words like furloughed, self-isolation, PPE and bloody 'unprecedented' are now in everyday use. Our liberty has gone - will we ever eat out again?

Apparently, there was an obsession with bread making and bum wiping - flour and toilet rolls were only available on eBay and the black market according to the front page of the Daily Mail - so it must be true. Endless surveys on the telly at 5 pm - I feel like I'm studying for a Masters in Biochemistry. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted.

So, we started to interpret what this means for us. Let's all work at home. I couldn't help laughing, the last time I home worked, I had to go through a full H&S assessment, sing a chorus of the land of hope and glory and demonstrate I could stand on my head for approval. This time - leave your kids with the dogs, work in your Harry Potter cupboard under the stairs, and don't forget to 'wash your hands'. 'Let's Zoom' sung to the David Bowie tune.

My son who had just returned from Ghana, planning to get a new job, ended up staying with me in Hastings and we slowly turned the spare bedroom back into an office. Thank god everything is digital - can you imagine how many files and folders we would have had to lug home 20 years ago?

The GCVA team quickly got into daily Zoom calls, the executive twice weekly. We wrote to members and sent a survey – what can we do for you? What do you need? Things are changing so quickly that it's hard to make plans; just as we pressed send the axis spun again. We pulled together a comms plan: we're promoting the industry, digital is growing, physical cards are still selling. We've had some good press coverage including The Times. We're helping to find a solution for the NHS and Royal Volunteering Service - GCVA members at your service - just waiting on their response.

How long will the lockdown last? What should we do with our events? Luckily the venues have been flexible and with your support we've nailed our future events including Conference 2021 - subject to Government guidelines.

It's fantastic to see the industry pulling together to make a difference. We have digital volunteer gift cards (M&S, Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, and Waitrose & more ). John Lewis is offering online wellbeing sessions. Edenred, a key government supplier, worked with Tillo to launch a scheme to support free school meals - also offered by other members. One4all launched its #NationsHeroes campaign and Motivates has an eVoucher giveaway initiative, #KeyToOurCountry. Wirecard is hosting a series of webinars on the power of the gift card and how to get a digital programme up and running fast… stay tuned.

This week we are launching GCVA Connect - our community app and online events platform to help steer you through. The app is a brilliant way to keep up to date, share info, chat, and solve problems – you can reach members with one click. Would we have launched it now if there was no coronavirus? Of course not.

There's this crazy reality that millions of people have coronavirus, people are or have been in hospital fighting for their lives - our prime minister, friends of yours, even your family. Many have been furloughed or lost their jobs and livelihoods. Many are trying to juggle a full day’s work and home schooling, and our key workers risk their lives every day to keep us safe. Just I am sending prayers, thanks and respect to you all.

While we continue to fly the flag for the gift card industry and our members, I recognise this is a tough time for everyone - the 'new normal' is not normal. What's rational about a pandemic - nothing that's what. Boris’ announcement last Sunday about ‘staying alert’ only adds to the confusion - talk about mixed messaging!

So, tonight, raise a glass of whatever your tipple is, to good health, to your family, your friends, your colleagues, and our industry.

L'chaim - to life.