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No one's been a stranger to video calls in 2020

Lockdown in review

The end of an old year and the beginning of a new one is always a time for looking back. And what a year it was. And while we’re already into February, the “current climate” continues to encourage reflection.

In March 2020, sole traders in creative industries everywhere had their home workspaces invaded by family members and housemates. We all thought it would soon be over and yet I’m writing from a fresh lockdown.

Still, there was plenty of positivity fodder this year and that’s what I want to mention here.

Communities came together and online learning took off

Early in lockdown, a kind soul on our street delivered a small note through every door with his phone number on it. “Message me if you’d be interested in joining a street WhatsApp group,” it said. Discussions ensued. We spoke of bin collection days and questioned, “Who might need help but doesn’t have WhatsApp?”. They even arranged for musicians to (attempt to) perform Somewhere Over the Rainbow in sync after the NHS clap.

Local community was not necessarily invoked everywhere, but online events did give a wide range of people access to social events and CPD. They might not otherwise have attended these – even at the best of times.

While Joe Wicks and a whole bunch of gyms inspired and were inspired by an upswing in fitness regimes, it seems more apt to focus on the professional events in my fields here.

Italian network aperitivi

The ITI Italian Network was quick off the mark to get regular events up and running. Those acquainted with Italian culture will know that an aperitivo is a pre-dinner event, usually consisting of snacks, drinks and socialising – an apt name for this fortnightly event, then!

Naturally we had to provide our own snacks and drinks, but scope for both socialising and for learning was endless. Open chats became structured sessions that members could volunteer to lead. Topics have ranged far and wide:

  • The wine business, particularly in translation
  • Regional Christmas fare in Italy (to which the ITI food and drink network was also invited)
  • A translation slam
  • A discussion of books to read and TV to watch in Italian

Another aperitivo subject was our most recent and deserving of its own subsection.

The Little Book of Poetry Translation

The group responsible go by the name of BLT Creations, a group of professional translators who met at the British Library. In their own words, The Translator’s Little Book of Poems is not a book about poetry translation, nor is it a book of translated poems. It’s a book of poetry and translation.

This beautiful little project started before lockdown, but by the admission of one of their numbers, lockdown provided extra time to focus on it. Most heart-warmingly, our speakers said this would have been an incredible collaborative opportunity at any point, but truly shone as such due to the pandemic. Thus it’s another example of how communities came together in a year often most markedly defined by disaster.

Copies of the book can be ordered from email and you may wish to follow the BLT business page on LinkedIn.

ScotNet show and tell

The Scottish branch of the ITI was also keen to hear from its members, setting up a Show and Tell event. At each one, four members gave a short presentation on a subject of personal interest to them. We had a whole range of things, not necessarily translation-related, so it was a great way to get to know each other:

  • Book binding
  • Open-water swimming
  • My own indulgence – cycling!

We also stuck to the usual workshop schedule, moving October’s Autumn workshop online – with the added challenge of sticking to the usual timeframes. Ramón Iglada did a great job of keeping us active and involved across several hours, looking at Machine Translation from a fresh perspective.

In both the Show and Tell events and the workshop, we also made good use of Zoom’s “breakout rooms”, to ensure everyone had the chance to socialise directly. Sometimes one can feel like a bit of an onlooker at these things.

More webinars

It wasn’t just ScotNet to realise the potential of online events. Webinars sprung up from everywhere, allowing us to meet our CPD targets for the year early without the faff or cost of travelling long distances.

The ITI increased the number of professional webinars available, software providers like FreeAgent posted detailed information on support schemes, and HMRC published its own webinars on how to access their Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was another source of information for those running slightly larger endeavours than my little sole-tradership.

Some work dried up, some took off

Across the country and around the world, this pandemic sadly destroyed livelihoods as well as lives. The creative professions weren’t exempt.

Many feel translation exposed itself as a privilege rather than a necessity, particularly those working on marketing texts. Companies began to seek cheaper alternatives, didn’t bother translating their marketing work or simply ceased marketing activities altogether.

But my editing work showed just how dependent on online businesses it is. Work there got very busy so. I missed some of my previously regular translation jobs, but I relished the chance to get stuck into content editing for a wider variety of clients. I’ve always appreciated the variety editing brings to my day; this shone a new light on its importance to my business.

Rates stayed the same

I can’t speak for others, but I had entered 2020 with the plan of reviewing my rates with clients. When everything began to slow down (and Italy was the first in Europe to suffer badly), the timing didn’t feel right and I contented myself with having work.

Extra-curricular activities

I often describe myself as solar-powered. At least once a year, I tend to shoot off to a warmer climate. The rest of the year I spend pining for hot summer days. Of all the downsides to the pandemic and various levels of lockdown, not being able to travel is a privileged problem to have, so I’ll limit my complaints. Anyway, it had a shining silver lining.

Summer in the north east of Scotland means super long days. The local scenery is not to be sniffed at. Travelling restrictions eased, but it remained difficult for my partner and I to travel the width and breadth of the UK to see family and friends, leaving us with far more time to spend locally than we had ever had before.

This led us to run, walk and cycle Aberdeenshire. Looking back on it, we can be grateful to have had that as a fallback.

A year we’ll never forget

For most people, the highs and lows of 2020 were so much higher and lower than of most years in the recent past – both on a personal and a professional level.

Here, I mostly focused on some of the high points. I certainly haven’t been a stranger to the lows, though, and I remain acutely aware of the struggles many have faced on all fronts.

I’m keen to hear more from anyone about their experience of 2020 and their hopes, expectations and even fears for 2021. Comment and share your experiences below or get in touch.