Writers festival goes online

The Yarra Valley Writers Festival was set to take place in Warburton over the weekend. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Jed Lanyon

The state’s lockdown has been extended as Victoria continues to grapple with cases from the New South Wales outbreak.

For the fifth time in 18 months, Victoria entered a lockdown as students return to home learning and non-essential businesses were forced closed from midnight Thursday 15 July.

The announcement of the lockdown’s extension came on Monday 19 July, where Premier Daniel Andrews said, “This is by no means over, we are running alongside this virus but we are not yet in front of it.

“We’ve got a containment line, we’re making significant progress but it’s not out yet.”

The five day snap lockdown meant the cancellation of in-person events including the much anticipated Yarra Valley Writers Festival in Warburton.

With less than 24 hours until the beginning of events, the festival was forced to pivot to a digital program, which is now running over seven days for online viewers.

Speaking to Star Mail, event director Brook Powell described her weekend as “full on”.

“On Thursday when we were told we would be going back into lockdown, we had that information but had to wait until we found out how strict the lockdown was to figure out could we be filming from the theatre or would everyone be doing it from their lounge room,” she said.

Ms Powell said the festival’s planners initiated their “back of house plan” to ensure the festival could go ahead in some form. After relaying the grim news that in-person events would not be able to take place, attention was turned to filming and adding to the digital experience.

“We always had a virtual program in place as part of our Covid planning. We wanted to run a digital program concurrently to the real life events as part of our Covid strategy,” Ms Powell said.

“We said there would be a festival, so we delivered one.”

And despite the unfortunate timing of the latest lockdown, Ms Powell remained positive about the festival.

“It’s amazing to offer a platform to these writers and an audience. The readers need to feel connected to something. The messages we’ve received online and over Twitter have been extraordinary and overwhelmingly supportive.

“People are locked down at home and everything feels so unreliable in their worlds yet we can be the one reliable source of creative nourishment for them and I take that seriously.”

The Yarra Valley Writers Festival’s digital program will be running until Sunday 25 July. Ms Powell encourages people to reach out via social media and to purchase a virtual ticket to support the festival’s writers.

“Most people have been extraordinarily generous. This is not a transaction with a big business. That ticket pays to support a writer, it pays to support a cog in the wheel and it keeps the festival going.”

Branded Burgers and Bar co-owner Gina Braidner said she was “frustrated” by the latest lockdown, but acknowledged it was one “we needed to have”.

“I get anxiety over it. I can’t run a roster properly and can’t do any ordering or buying properly.”

Having dealt with five lockdowns now, Ms Braidner said her business is able to plan for the worst.

“The beauty is we’ve done it so many times before, so we’re ready for it and just need to turn it on, but it’s not good that our staff lose their hours.”

Ms Braidner said her focus turns to providing meaningful employment and serving the community during these difficult times.

“During these times, our priority is not to make money but to cover the cost to keep staff going and keep the community fed. As a business owner, we just realign our expectations.”

The state government announced cash grants will be available for some businesses impacted by the snap lockdown on Friday 16 July.

Automatic payments will be made to eligible businesses and sole traders across the state to minimise delays and swiftly get money into the pockets of businesses who need it most.

Up to 90,000 businesses that have and will receive payments through the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund and Business Costs Assistance Program relating to the May-June lockdown will receive the Victorian Government’s new support payments of $3,000 and $2,000 respectively.

Eligible businesses will include restaurants, cafes bars, event suppliers, tourism and accommodation providers and non-essential retailers.

Payments are due to commence over the course of next week – with total funding of $201.8 million.

The State Government has also reached an agreement with its Federal counterpart to fund income support payments from day one of the lockdown.

• Payments of $600 will be made to Victorians that lose 20 hours or more of work during the period of the lockdown

• Payments of $375 will be made to individuals that lose between 8-20 hours of work during the period of the lockdown

• There is no liquid assets test applied to receive these payments

All applications can be made through the Services Australia at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au

More information about businesses support is available at business.vic.gov.au