We spoke to Belfast students working in hospitality, on the impact of Covid on the industry

“It looks like things will never be the same”

For an industry that is propped up strongly by student workers, more must be done to protect both the industry and the workers.

The hospitality industry generates over £1.1bn into the Northern Ireland economy, and employs nearly 60,000 people, and provides many students with a main source of income on top of student finance. Yet, right now, it seems non-existent.

Like everything else remotely enjoyable, this is due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the reality is that things aren’t looking too promising for the future either.

As a student who is involved in the industry, I have seen first-hand the massive impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had. The vast majority working in the scene: Bar Staff, DJs, Promoters and Security to name a few have been impacted, either by a loss of income or job. 

Major businesses that have been around for decades are facing closure. Some have already closed. The result of this is a trickle-down approach to redundancies, businesses ceasing and unemployment figures rocketing.

The reality is that culture, arts and hospitality play a very important role in Northern Ireland, and the Executive should acknowledge this. 

The support from the government has been fantastic for most of the industry, but not ALL of it.

Recently, a £1.57 billion fund has been announced to support the arts industry, which sadly doesn’t include “dance music” as an art form, meaning another key part to student culture and the industry even just here in Belfast (miss you Shine), has been left to rot.

We can see this as last week Northern Ireland recorded the highest amount of daily cases, with 1,080 positive cases. Right now, it is a double-edged sword for Northern Ireland nightlife — so where do we turn?

Workers have been the real victim here and need more protections and reassurances from the NI Executive

Not a single nightclub in Northern Ireland has been opened in over six months, and the prospect of opening is a distant thought.The reality right now is that some of our favourite nightclubs may never re-open.

When your favourite venues go, jobs will be lost, and so will a part of the culture. The current state of the scene is grim and whilst this all seems inevitable, mobilisation for workers and the future of such a strong artistic culture here in Northern Ireland must be preserved.

Speaking to The Belfast Tab was Jake, 22, who is a Business student at Ulster University. He said: “It is very sad to see the way the industry is left struggling to survive, particularly when government funding doesn’t even support the dance music industry which plays such a pivotal part to nightlife here”.

Adding to this, Keith who is a student also working in industry said “I feel the curfew, for want of a better term, is a load of nonsense. Scottish pubs cannot serve drink indoors and yet the Executive can only give mixed messages. What’s the craic with that? The curfew needs scrapped, the night time economy needs funding”.

Keith believes that the best way to do this, would be for the Executive to lobby directly with workers and Hospitality Ulster, to ensure more is being done to preserve the industry.

Also speaking to The Belfast Tab was Sarah, a Biomedical Sciences student. She said, that working in a bar has been one of the highlights of her student life but that right now the industry is looking dire. She said, with the way things are going, “the current situation [it] looks like things will never be the same”.

Decades of hard work and a nightlife scene that students thrive on is being swept under the carpet. Students, like you, need to stand up and make a difference: write to your local MP, and make them aware of how you feel. Already, things will never be the same, so the blow needs to be minimised as much as possible to protect both workers and the cultural livelihood of Northern Ireland.