I have been speaking to a range of people to get a picture of lockdown life in Leeds. This week, my conversation was with Jordan Odu, Director at Leeds based PR and events company, Pink Gorilla & Hairy Lemon. We chatted about life before lockdown, about coping strategies and plans for the future.
Our discussion began with how things have changed as a result of the lockdown. Jordan explained that things were going really well for the company, with events, PR campaigns and promotional staff booked left right and centre. Life for him and his team was busy, each day packed from morning until night with meetings and mingling. Each day was a contrast with the rest, but always involved seeing many different people, being out there in the City and beyond. Then, when March 23rd hit, restaurants, bars and cafes closed and Jordan had to act fast to ensure the company could continue. He had to make the tough decision to make all his team redundant to start from scratch, and enrol himself on the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
For the first few weeks of lockdown, Jordan kept himself busy with walks in the park, chatting with friends and generally enjoying the slower pace of life. He told me that as a sociable person, keeping in touch with friends was key to helping him to cope through the crisis. So, quizzes on Zoom, long phone calls with friends and family, and virtual events became part of Jordan’s daily agenda. He has enjoyed having more time to get to know people better, something that I am sure we can all agree with. Having more time has also allowed him to get back in the kitchen, cooking a roast for the first time ever and even baking a cake!
In common with many people who have been furloughed, Jordan said that when the lockdown continued for much longer than expected, he seriously considered looking at a different career path. As a youngster, he trained as a hairdresser, and he thought about switching back to make sure he could get work post lockdown. Other career options that he considered were recruitment, thanks to his love of chatting with people and sales, or even putting some past experience to good use, working in clothing retail. These options weren’t on his mind for very long, because he realised what he really wanted.
After spending years building Pink Gorilla, Jordan knew he wanted to do something to bring the company back to life. In addition to spending time boosting his own skills on social media, and online classes, he offered to help businesses out for free, keen to try to help in the crisis. This involved developing free mailers, PR and promotion for companies starting up takeaway ventures. He also worked with local businesses to raise money to help feed the most vulnerable children across Leeds.
Now, eight weeks since Pink Gorilla was forced to cease trading, Jordan is keen to move things on. He told me that he’s been working hard to relaunch PG promo, adapting it to meet the needs of the people. For example, he is now working with a bike shop to help them spread the word about their products, and he has also started a collaboration with a new, low chemical hair dye product, which I’m sure will be of interest to all those people whose visit to their hairdresser is long overdue!
Talk then turned to what Jordan plans to do post-COVID-19. He’s aware that the hospitality scene is unlikely to come back as we knew it. We chatted about what might change, discussing things such as needing to book ahead to secure a socially distanced table at restaurants, or using phones to pay for food. But he highlighted that many of these changes are going to make it very hard for the hospitality business to cope financially. We chatted about another campaign he’s worked on, helping Leeds venues support for the Hospitality Union’s #NationalTimeOut campaign, developed by 15 restaurants in the City, which advocates for a rent freeze to help businesses bounce back quicker post-COVID-19. The campaign has so far received over 12,000 signatures, but even more would be great.
Before we finished our call, we discussed what Jordan is planning to do to make sure Pink Gorilla can adapt and survive following lockdown. He’s considering changing up his approach, looking at larger or outdoor venues, exploring virtual events, and chatting to businesses about how they could best promote their offerings through his vast network across the City. He said that he’s keen to spread the love equally with national brands and independents and will make sure he can help businesses in Leeds, no matter their size or situation.
Whilst lockdown has brought great difficulties to so many, it seems it’s also giving people a chance to make choices and take decisions, some of which are affirmations that their original choices were and are the right ones. Jordan Odu’s determination, drive and energy may have wobbled briefly, but those qualities which led to his success with Pink Gorilla are most certainly back in evidence.
If you would like to sign the #NationalTimeOut petition to help cafes, bars and restaurant owners in Leeds and beyond, it’s here. It only takes a moment.