One year of Covid: How Havering's entertainers kept entertained during the pandemic

Where are Havering's events organisers and entertainers now?

Where are Havering's events organisers and entertainers now? - Credit: Akash Verma/Jade Foster-Jerret/Matthew Johnson

This week the Recorder is marking a year since the coronavirus hit Havering and flipped the world upside down.

We're reflecting on how, in such a short space of time, our community has changed unrecognisably with its own new glossary of words that we are all too tired of hearing. 

For people in entertainment and events industries, this also marks a year out of their day job.

But what have they done to support themselves? Or just to the pass the time? From script writing to chicken nuggets, here's what they've been getting up to.

Matthew Johnson first bought Funktion in 2018.

Matthew Johnson first bought Funktion in 2018. - Credit: Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson, owner of Funktion nightclub, North Street, Romford.

Matthew, 35, from Romford, says that after a year of uncertainty, he decided in February to sell Funktion and invest in a "multi-use" restaurant and bar in Waltham Abbey, Pink Zebra which is set to reopen when restrictions ease. 

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Speaking of the nightclub, he said: "Imagining 950 people in close proximity in a post-Covid world is impossible - even if we open but have to slash capacity, the financial ramifications would still be devastating. It just felt like a lose-lose situation.

"My gut told me that it was too risky. If there are more Covid spikes, it's not financially sustainable, so it makes more sense to spend less money on venues that have multi-uses.

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"I have still got a Covid mindset with the concern of new virus variants. The government pledged that the November lockdown was the last and it wasn't. Now we have to make our own judgments."

"I am really sad to leave [Funktion] behind. We had literally just started to turn over, pick up momentum and then were flatlined out of nowhere."

Working his way up from zero, Matthew started DJing in Year 9 in school and later became a club promoter. After 15 years in the industry, he was able to start up Funktion in 2018, his first club venture, in his hometown.

To keep himself busy during the lockdowns, Matthew has been writing film scripts and completed a horror film and a comedy. He explained that he first got interested in film by making promo videos for events and, over the years, he has honed skills in filming, editing and script writing, but insists it's still just a hobby.

Akash Verma dazzling crowds at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch.

Akash Verma dazzling crowds at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. - Credit: Akash Verma

Akash Verma, magician, Emerson Park

The 20-year-old was just beginning to make strides in performing magic for large audiences, appearing at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, the GG2 awards and the House of Lords when the pandemic hit but he was reluctant to join the world of virtual performing.

He says: "Lots of performers of my generation have turned to TikTok and other social media to continue keeping people engaged, but my strength really is performing on stage and I'm not big into social media, so I did find myself at a bit of loose end."

He landed a job in digital marketing in June, when it became apparent the virus was here to stay.

"If I've learnt anything, it's to be more resilient and have a back-up to fall on should things go wrong again.

"It did make me think about what other skills I had and marketing seemed right, especially because I could apply that to my magic."

Akash says that although the pandemic has presented him with an opportunity to learn some important new life skills, magic is his passion and he is still raring to get back out there and start dazzling London with his tricks again soon as restrictions lift.

Jade had to give back all her deposits when lockdown was announced.

Jade had to give back all her deposits when lockdown was announced. - Credit: Jade Foster-Jerrett

Jade Foster-Jerrett, children's entertainer, Romford

Akash might have done well at avoiding it, but for others, social media has been a lifeline.

Jade’s idea of becoming a kids' entertainer grew from her love of taking centre stage at hotel performances on family trips to Ibiza as a child, "I just didn't want to grow up!" she says. 

As lockdown was announced last year, she decided to give things a go by putting her parties online.

She started story time Facebook lives which drew traction from all over the country and had up to 150 viewers at any one time.

On discovering the huge the demand for the story time sessions, Jade started Zoom sessions for a small fee, which turned out to be a life-saver through the pandemic for her brand, JellyJade.

Jade's story time Facebook live went viral, helping her to keep the JellyJade brand alive.

Jade's story time Facebook live went viral, helping her to keep the JellyJade brand alive. - Credit: Jade Foster-Jerrett

She says: "Initially I was in full panic mode because I had to shell out all the deposits back for all the bookings I had later in the year.

"Going viral for the story time live on Facebook really helped. It meant that when I started the Zoom sessions I was getting bookings from across the country, not just Havering, which is an amazing lockdown-only advantage.

"Without the online parties and story times, I honestly don't think there would be any business and I wouldn't be here talking to you!

"I think they proved so popular because if it's your kids' birthday in lockdown, there really isn't much else you can do."

Reis Esiroglu showing us how it's done in the Rising Sun kitchen.

Reis Esiroglu showing us how it's done in the Rising Sun kitchen. - Credit: Adriana Elgueta

Reis Esiroglu, owner of Serious Nugs, Upminster

Reis, 27, used to organise dance music nights at well-known clubs and festivals, such as Studio 338 in south east London and We Are FSTVL held in Upminster.

Coming from a foodie family - he is the son of the owners of Turkish Kusadasi Taverna in Rainham - he had long fancied the idea of getting involved in festival food trucks and making something new and exciting in the industry.

On losing his job, he focused his energy in starting up Serious Nugs, "the first food pop-up dedicated to The Nugget" - chicken nuggets.

Many tried and tested batter recipes later, perfecting the crispy nugget and splashing oil around his mother's kitchen, he found residence at The Rising Sun pub, Hornchurch, where the owner offered him the kitchen space as it was going unused during lockdown. 

So why chicken nuggets? Reis explains: "It just clicked one day! People have this sort of infatuation with nuggets - it's weird. So we decided to take that to the next level and make them really good."

He has an eclectic variety of Nug plates, having fun with flavours from around the world, such as Katsu curry nuggets, sweet and spicy Korean and Caribbean jerk chicken.

Now, Serious Nugs are selling out every weekend and he has armed a team of 10 - a lot them former DJs and and others redundant from the music industry - onto the nugget production line.

But has Reis traded in his raving glow paint for the deep fryer forever?

"Don't get me wrong it's still a party in there! We've got the music blaring and we're jumping around the place, but yeah it's weird, I've just got all my colleagues shelling out nuggets all weekend.

"For now we want to stay making nuggets and grow the business! Maybe combine the music and nuggets through a nugget brunch? Who knows!"

"Buffalo Soldier" and "Cheesy Does It" - buffalo sauce nuggets and deep fried halloumi nuggets.

"Buffalo Soldier" and "Cheesy Does It" - buffalo sauce nuggets and deep fried halloumi nuggets. - Credit: Adriana Elgueta

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