December 14, 2021
Blood, sweat and three years: Happy birthday Chapter 81
Well, the autumn seems to have disappeared pretty much overnight, (can you believe we had glorious sunny days in November?) and now feels like a good time to pause, take a breath, and reflect on the journey so far. We recently celebrated not one, but two birthdays here at Chapter 81 – three years since we started our journey, and one year since moving to our new home. As birthdays often do, these dates brought the ups and downs of the past 20 months into sharp focus.
Our third birthday itself passed us by last year in a blur of Covid-related challenges and days spent frantically trying to stay afloat. Running a business is no easy feat – even when the waters are calm – but along with so many others in multiple industries, recent times have seen us working harder than we ever thought possible.
The lows were deep, and for a time it felt like they’d never stop dragging us under. From losing clients and being unable to support the businesses we work with, to cancelling event after event and endlessly feeling like we’d let whole communities down, there were days when it felt like the good times would never return.
When hospitality ground to a halt during the pandemic, we began to realise the true value it brings to society. For us, that’s always been clear – it’s why we strive every day to bring brilliant experiences to life and support ecosystems of small businesses in the process. The pleasure to be gained from food, drink and events is something that’s always been close to our hearts – we see how it connects people to memories, happiness and each other, and even when things get tough, we never lose sight of the reason we do what we do.
For a while, that meant putting in unprecedented shifts, staying alert amid the chaos and trying above all else to be kind whenever we could. There’s nothing glamorous or admirable about long hours, but unfortunately for us (and so many others throughout the pandemic and beyond) they are an inescapable reality.
We adapted fast and pivoted faster. Cancelling Chow Downs, 24 Eat Norths, a Leeds Indie Food Festival and an International Festival was a low point, as was the ripple effect that whole process had on the people we wanted to support most. But with the downtime that followed came space to rethink and rebuild – time to trust our instincts, take some practical risks and analyse each move with the care it deserved.
Now, from our new office space, we can look back on the things that went right – the things we learnt, the things that made us stronger and the things we achieved. From our new in-house content offer, using emerging talent to livestream, film and capture content to our management of social media accounts and PR campaigns.
We considered whether Leeds Indie Food was fit for the future, fought and sadly failed to get the funding we needed, and ultimately tried to build a stronger model. We created Support Your Local, a directory of indies in Leeds; we trialled Digital Food Week, a content platform celebrating our amazing hospitality scene; and we built hampers filled with produce from some of the incredible indies that make our city what it is.
Holding the northern heats of the British Street Food Awards was a milestone for Chow Down – one of those moments that makes the whole journey seem worth it. And as the dining experience embarks upon its semi-permanent future down at Temple Arches, we’re seeing the vision evolve in ways that make us super excited for the future.
Leeds International Festival of Ideas brought another level of live experiences to the city, with the new focus on discussion, debate and ideas encouraging audiences to engage with content on a deeper level. We covered themes including identity, sustainability, food, the media and more, with panels and talks designed to provoke conversation and – maybe – provide some of the all-important answers we find ourselves questing for in a post-pandemic world.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how we innovated. It wasn’t always so easy – far from it, in fact – but with successes beginning to blossom in areas across our business and across Leeds, we can finally wish ourselves a happy birthday like we mean it.
As our next chapter begins, we’ll be using the power of storytelling as a force to drive us forward. From podcasts and articles to film and photography, capturing the moments that matter and turning them into stories that resonate and add value is a key focus.
Our business plan is a work in progress – we know nothing can be set in stone, and that the need to evolve and adapt will play a crucial part in the journey. But at the end of the day, it’s our values that count. Standing up for innovation and empowering people to do their jobs brilliantly is what we do, and we’ll emerge from this stronger because of it.
So here’s to the next three years – growing our collective, expanding our services and building our partnerships are just the start. Our sights are set high, and right now, the next chapter is ours for the taking. Watch this space.