INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: HELEN MOON & EVENTWELL
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
‘It’s a pain in the neck – Northern Rail – it was a pain 25 years ago, and still is today.’ I am speaking to Helen Moon, the founder and CEO of EventWell, the event industry’s charitable social enterprise dedicated to mental health and wellbeing, and she is explaining how she landed her first events role. ‘I was a PA working in Manchester and just got sick of the commute.’ This frustration led Helen to apply for a PA role at a local hotel in Southport, and they offered her a role as event coordinator. ‘I was 23, 24 at the time, that was the start of my career in the industry.’
It could be suggested that Helen, like many, fell into events although she does caution against the ‘accidental industry’ tag. Whatever may have brought her in, 23 years later, she loves ‘everything about event management and planning, the business of it, the drive and energy, the buzz when you’re in the thick of it. Nothing else would come close or compare.’
There were no event industry qualifications or degrees when Helen started out in 1997. ‘You learned on the job, event coordination, event management, operations… It’s different now, there is much more strategy in event planning which is brilliant to see.’ Indeed, for an industry, which at the beginning of 2020 was valued at £70 billion and with a range of degrees and qualifications available, the growth and opportunities are clear.
Helen undertook her own diploma in event management in 2015, a move designed to support a change in career focus following the birth of her daughter. ‘I had spent so much time in hotels and venues, and I knew that to be the mum I wanted to be, it wasn’t going to happen if I continued.’
In undertaking her qualification, Helen understood the way forward to achieve the life she wanted. The word ‘pivot’ has taken on a new connotation in 2020. Previously, one may have associated it with physics, carpentry, or that episode of Friends, (which is also Helen’s favourite). This year, we now associate this term with the opportunity that comes from disruption, the bounce-back in a different direction.
Helen’s own pivot, arguably, started in 2009 when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a ‘massive career burnout’ where she explains, a sufferer has lost the ability to manage stress well and cope on a day to day basis. The three stages to burnout – initial alarm, prolonged exposure to the unresolved situation and finally exhaustion – left Helen in a situation where she was using alcohol to self-medicate and had removed herself from those who cared about her. She also experienced suicidal thoughts. Whilst traumatic, Helen credits this experience with driving her to get the help that she needed. Out of this came EventWell - ‘I hope that by sharing my experience, it will help someone else get the help that they need.’
Statistics tell us that 1 in 6 people will suffer poor mental health. In the events industry, this figure becomes 1 in 3. ‘Events aren’t alone,’ Helen explains, ‘hospitality, travel, exhibitions, experiential marketing and creative communications – they are all included as we all ride the same creative circle.’ Founded in 2017, EventWell’s vision is to make tangible changes to the event industry’s relationship with wellbeing.
Has Helen seen a difference in this relationship founding EventWell? ‘Absolutely, although there is still a long way to go. But the industry has moved massively. Events like Confex, IBTM and IMEX, [have had] people talking on stage about mental health.’ Helen tells me that prior to 2017, this simply wouldn’t have happened and ‘EventWell are so incredibly proud to have been a part of that catalyst.’
EventWell work closely with Time to Change, Mind and Public Health England. The 6 core mental health standards that came out of the Thriving at Work review, conducted by Paul Farmer CEO of Mind and Lord Stevenson, are at the centre of what EventWell does. The EventWell Manifesto, available for event organisations to sign, brings these standards into play. Helen fundamentally believes that understanding and implementing these standards is a vital component in developing inclusive, open working environments that allow people to bring their whole selves to work.
Helen further draws on her own experience to describe the industry’s inherent view of wellbeing. ‘When you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ll be very much be aware of the rhetoric that ”this is the way the industry is, if you can’t hack it, go and work somewhere else.” There was no empathy, this was very much the tone, every single one of us would have had experience of a colleague disappearing for 2 weeks, or having to take a last minute holiday with no one really knowing what is going on.’ Helen tells me that whilst positive steps have been made, there are still a lot of organisations within which this message is prevalent. EventWell seeks to counter this culture and to help the new talent coming into the industry at the start of their careers. ‘If someone had told us all this at the beginning, maybe we could have had a different experience.’
So, what is EventWell doing to help individuals, and organisations within the industry? Fundamentally, they desire to put mental health and wellbeing at the centre of business culture, not simply as a ‘benefit’ or a ‘nice to have’. Helen states, ‘we still have a plethora of event professionals who will not ask for help as they are fearful of reprisals, of losing their jobs, of people not thinking they are good enough and this is what EventWell really wants to change.’
First, there is EventWell Pledge, a scheme set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic where event professionals pledge support for their peers and colleagues. Pledges include an hour business mentoring, help with CV writing or financial help with a utility bill. ‘We have had a couple of people applying for pledges,’ Helen says, ‘but others are finding it difficult because they don’t want people to know that they need help.’
Help isn’t just for those at agencies, or in corporate, but for what Helen calls the ‘forgotten corner – the riggers, the sound technicians… [anyone] in our industry who is experiencing not being able to put food on the table.’ EventWell can ‘give them a grocery shop, we have people that have pledged that – we really just want to get the message and word out there that EventWell is here to help and support, it’s not here to judge.’
Companies can also sign the EventWell Manifesto, and thus drive ‘improved understanding and commitment to workplace wellbeing.’ Once a company has signed, EventWell commits to training one of the signatories’ team as an EventWell champion, to work within the organisation to implement best practice measures. A long term aim is to have one EventWell Champion in every events business by 2025.
There are also the volunteer positions at EventWell, which are offered for 3-month stints. At the time of this piece’s publication, there are a number of roles open in the UK with a number available in the US as well. ‘Come and volunteer, pick up some new skills. There are just so many opportunities, and we have an amazing team at EventWell who are very passionate about what we are doing and about the industry, which makes a huge difference.’
Finally, EventWell offers a series of resources in the form of virtual events for individuals and businesses to attend. Following the successful pivot to a 2-day digital EventWell Summit earlier in the year, 1st September sees the start of #EventWell20 – Event Wellbeing Month 2020. In previous years, this has been a week’s worth of events, podcasts and activities. This year, ‘given everything that the industry has gone through’, it’s a month focusing on the themes of Sleep, Nutrition, Movement and Action. ‘Anyone can get involved’ in the free-to-attend sessions, funded by donations from event professionals and a grant from NatWest. The content ties in closely with the EventWell champion training and the manifesto. One aim of the last 9 days of #EventWell20, focused on ‘Action’, is to encourage businesses to sign the manifesto and commit to change.
The programme is an opportunity for businesses to talk on social media about what they do and how they look after their people. ‘And of course,’ Helen reminds us all, ‘they can contact us at email@example.com and we can offer guidance and support on what they can be doing and how they can get involved.’
In an industry where 1 in 3 professionals experience ill mental health once a year, and 42% of professionals say that they have changed roles due to stress, it is clear that both support and long-term change are required. Helen, and EventWell, have planted their flag within this space, offering empirical resources to effect tangible change. What is Helen’s main wish for someone to take away from this piece? Quite simply, she says, ‘just to ask’ because ‘the help and support is there.’
The Intrepid Collective is proud to be an EventWell manifesto signatory. We are a boutique events agency that fearlessly seeks to connect the world through exceptional events and experiences. Say hi by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.