When Emma (22) and Edward (24) from North London gave up their paid jobs in January to spend the year catering at music festivals across the UK, they were unaware that a virus would kill off their plans – and their income.
As the impact of Covid-19 took hold, the pair lost all the bookings they had secured, as festivals reluctantly announced cancellations.
“Overnight we lost everything,” said Edward. “Lots of our friends had been furloughed but we had just given up our PAYE positions to go on holiday to Morocco before working the festivals – but that got cancelled and then our whole life got cancelled.
“We didn’t get furloughed as we’d already quit our jobs, so we really messed up and thought we were going to be broke. It was bad timing!”
The couple saw HOPS’ call for UK workers to take up harvesting roles and agreed it could be a positive way to quickly earn more money.
“We had tried contacting farms directly but were getting nowhere so when we saw HOPS’ advertisement we tried this route instead. We had so much help from HOPS and managed to get this job,” said Emma about the roles they have secured picking strawberries on a farm in Herefordshire.
They have stopped renting their flat in North London and moved their whole life on to the farm – to do a job they have never done before.
“We have never picked strawberries before, but we’re used to the seasonality of the work from our festival roles,” said Emma. “We have started off with some irrigation work and weeding, and we have tried piece work as well, which we weren’t too good at. Fingers crossed with practice; we’ll get better!”
The farm has rented out some accommodation from a nearby adventure park for a group of British workers to stay in to ensure social distancing can be observed.
“The accommodation they have put us in is really nice. We are used to being in a tent when we work the festivals,” said Edward, who along with all the workers, is having his temperature checked regularly by the farm. “They have dropped off cleaning supplies and food hampers so we don’t need to go out. They haven’t been charging us rent either as there isn’t much work at the minute so they are doing all they can to help us survive.”
Safety is key at the farm and the reminders about Covid-19 are made clear – high vis jackets are printed with instructions on the back to keep 2m apart at all times. The farm has created small working groups of people and there are spare caravans for people to stay in quarantine should they show any symptoms.
The Eastern European workers that were already on site have been showing Emma and Edward what to do and they’re optimistic they can pick up the speed required soon.
“They have been really good at showing us what to do – we are just hoping we can keep up with them,” said Emma. ”It’s all table top work so it’s relatively easy.”
While the pair are delighted that it’s all worked out and are hoping to spend the next six months on the farm should they pass their trial period, they’re eager to get back to their old lives.
“If Coronavirus wasn’t a thing, I don’t think British people would be applying for these jobs,” said Edward. “Would I really choose fruit picking over being at a festival?
“But it’s the only option we have and I don’t think that’s going to change. We are really lucky, we feel like we have landed quite well.
“It’s the postcard for fruit picking!”
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