My work before Covid-19

When Covid-19 hit I had been working as a door supervisor (read: bouncer) for almost a year to the day. The job provided about 60% of my income, with the rest coming from odd jobs I worked everything from admin support to site labouring, removals, and gardening. Some weeks I could work as little as 15 hours, others as much as 70 hours. I was self employed, so I had no holiday or sick pay entitlement: if I didn’t work I didn’t get paid. As difficult as that can sometimes be, I still preferred it to being on a PAYE contract1 or working a 9 to 5.

Door supervisors tend to work for security companies that offer their services to multiple venues across a city. The other door supervisors who worked alongside me were in a similar position. We are all self-employed and many work a variety of different jobs throughout the week. For example, one I know is a wealthy tradesman who works the door for a bit of extra cash, another is a migrant postman working to keep a roof over his family’s head. Rates of pay are agreed individually between the security company and the door supervisor rather than their being a standard rate for the job. Security is provided at blue chip venues, hotels, posher bars and clubs, and high class corporate events. Some staff are GMB members, but I couldn’t say exactly what percentage. The workforce is diverse in terms of ethnicity and nationality, but I could count the number of women who worked alongside me on one hand.

Job loss

On Wednesday 18th March my boss told me via WhatsApp that my door supervision shifts had been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

I worked at a bar and the last couple of weekends had been surprisingly busy. The bar staff get a bonus £60 if they manage to sell over a specific amount on any one night, and they had made it both times. So it wasn’t a decision taken because the owners were making losses. Presumably the government’s offer of a business rates holiday and loans must have given them the confidence that they could close and not face a crippling financial hit.

So, I was one of probably hundreds of thousands of security and bar staff that found themselves suddenly unemployed. When we were working, I imagine that more or less all of us were on insecure contracts or bogus self-employment.

Luckily, I still had an account open with Universal Credit.2 January and February are always fallow periods for work so I had signed on back in December. The payments over the winter had helped supplement my income from door work, and I had been able to convince my work coach that after March I would be back on my feet with a minimum 40 hours work a week. I was all ready for them to close my account down by the time Corona hit Britain, and I thank God they hadn’t got round to it. If they had, I’d have found myself in a queue of 500,000 people. An announcement was sent out to existing Universal Credit claimants explaining that they were going to prioritise getting new applications onto the system and forget about us for a bit.

ASDA (19th/20th March)

Despite being told by Universal Credit that they wouldn’t be chasing me up to look for jobs, I chose to go out and look for work. Universal Credit payments just about covered the rent, bills, council tax, and food, but didn’t leave any money to pay off overdrafts, debts, or for any emergencies. I saw a few posts on Facebook that said Asda were doing a massive recruitment drive to keep up with new demand. These posts seemed to be made from the personal accounts of Asda HR managers at stores across the country, finding their way into local gossip and buy/sell groups on Facebook. I went along to my local Asda and was directed to the customer help desk. I was quickly joined by three young men, all who were looking for work. We were all told to come back the next day.

I returned the next day to the customer service desk. There were already around ten people waiting. We were led upstairs to the staff area. On the way I got chatting to an older woman who had just been laid off from her job at Debenhams. I met two other door supervisors who had been banking on working big events over the summer which would have earnt them nearly half of their yearly wage. Some I spoke to had been bar staff at venues that had closed down.

There were almost a hundred potential new recruits crammed into the staff kitchen. The majority of them looked under 25. While we waited for our induction we had to give the Asda employees our passports to be scanned and fill out a couple of forms. Social distancing or any additional hygiene measures were not being observed and passports and forms were handed between dozens of people. I had to wait two hours until my group of fifteen were piled into an even smaller room to undergo our Asda induction.

We were met by a David Brent like caricature of a manager3 who explained to us why we were there. ‘’Asda’’, he said, ‘’has been broken’’. The problem was not that there was not enough stuff being made: the producers had managed to keep up with increased demand. The issue was getting the commodities from the lorries into the cages and then onto the shelves. It was a logistics problem, not a manufacturing one. We were given the standard work spiel about good practice, how to efficiently stack shelves, the companies ‘values’ and so on. When the induction had finished I made my way towards the nearest Wetherspoons for what would turn out to be my final burger for some months.

While waiting to hear back from Asda I was contacted by one of my other employers who needed a second man for some removal jobs. He had predicted (correctly) that there would be a mad rush of removals at the beginning of lockdown and then a quiet period throughout lockdown.

Many of the bigger removals companies had already shut up shop, leading to customers frantically phoning around trying to find someone to move their stuff. There were some people who needed to move as a matter of urgency. Losing a job, escaping from an abusive partner, or having signed all the papers to move into a new house and only to be dropped at the last minute by their removal company. These were arduous ten to twelve hour days, moving two houses a day. At this point I had no idea if I’d be offered any more work, or get any benefits, and so I was taking every hour I could.

Going out to work, especially in the early days of Covid-19, caused some tensions at home. My housemates were in a position where they could work from home. They were understandably very worried about me going out, potentially contracting the virus, and then bringing it back into the house. Eventually we agreed that it was my right to go out and work.

Security Work

I got a call early on a Saturday morning asking me to go into Asda for an induction. I was already on my way to a removal job and asked them if I could come in the next day. They said they’d be in contact but I never heard back from them. I wasn’t too worried as I’d already been in contact with one of my doorman colleagues about some potential security work at a small supermarket.

A few days later he got in touch again about starting work there. It’s a bit of an unusual place: an ethical cooperative, rather than a Tesco express. But the job wouldn’t be that unusual, just working on the doors a couple of days a week to keep numbers of customers in the shop at a certain level, enforce social distancing measures, and ensure that customers took baskets and used hand sanitizer. The wages were good (better than I would have earned at the bar) and the staff were incredibly sweet and caring. This was hands down the kindest and most good natured workforce I’ve ever worked with. Hippies are alright really.

The vast majority of customers were also pleasant and compliant. Although some clearly didn’t like being told what to do. There were a few ejections and banning orders for customers being rude, abusive, threatening and not following the rules - but these were few and far between.

Probably the most interesting type of customer I came across were the “conspiraloons.” I’ve always been fascinated by conspiracy theories and so was more amenable than most to listening to them rant on. One woman told me that the whole Covid-19 thing had been planned decades in advance by The Pilgrims Society (who include everyone from the Royal Family to Henry Kissinger). Another anti-vaxxer wanted to give me a DVD and started talking about the Zeitgeist films. The conversation ended with us agreeing that it’s probably a good idea to nationalise pharmaceuticals and the banks. We had to ban one woman who consistently caused issues in the shop. She returned the next day to chastise me for denying her right to buy organic food. Another lady with anti-5G leaflets was incandescent with rage at the use of my number clicker (although, to be fair, she wasn’t sure what it was at first). These are just a handful of cases. At least once a shift there would be a customer who mentioned some sort of conspiracy to me.


While I was only working two or three days a week doing security at the supermarket, the rest of my time was spent labouring on a small building job. Removals had dried up by this point. There isn’t too much to say on this point. My work continued as normal and as I was only working with one other person social distancing wasn’t too much of a problem. The only issue was getting access to building materials. Covid-19 had severely disrupted supply chains and merchants were operating on reduced hours, so some materials took a lot longer to come in and others weren’t available at all.

Boris Bucks

I was delighted to hear the announcement of a people’s bailout package for self-employed people from “Red Rishi Sunak”4 (dubbed either the “Sunak Package” or simply “Boris Bucks”5). As my earnings had technically been disrupted by Covid-19, I was eligible for the grant. The actual process of applying for the grant took less than five minutes and within a few days I had a huge chunk of money in my bank account.

The payout was calculated from 80% of my earnings for the last three years. As I had earnt a fair amount between 2016-19 (more than I’m on at the moment), I was quids in. For those of us who could continue to work cash-in-hand throughout Covid-19 (or who could find alternative employment, but still prove that their normal business work had been disrupted by the crisis) we could do very well financially. My heart went out to all those self-employed people on normal incomes who had quite rightly diddled their taxes and couldn’t work throughout lockdown, therefore getting a fraction of what they actually needed. But for me, the pandemic was practically a business opportunity.

Covid-19, Combat Sports, and BLM

When I’m not working, I train at a local combat sports gym. It’s a multidisciplinary place that specialises in striking. All sorts train there: everyone from beginners to older guys trying to stay in shape, top quality professional fighters, and more. It’s a diverse place, too. In a pretty white city, I train alongside a fair few Muslim guys and immigrants from everywhere, from Europe to Iran, Bangladesh and Tajikistan.

I’m only an amateur. Training helps me stay fit and it can be useful for work. Lots of doormen train down at combat sports clubs. It’s how I got my job; the head coach knew the manager of the security company I work for and got me the job.

All combat sports clubs are struggling to stay open at the moment. One local club had to close its doors after the landlord doubled the rent, despite the club being unable to trade due to lockdown measures. The sense from trainers and gym owners is that the “UK’s combat sports and fitness industries are being left to die.’’ As the pandemic has gone on, their confidence in the government’s ability to support gyms is waning. If gyms like mine did go to the wall, it would be a real social problem. Our gym offers free kids classes to many. I know of others that do this too. They bring arsehole kids down to size and teach mutual respect. It’s an important place for the community.

I sometimes talk politics with the people down there. Most people’s points of reference are all over the place. The best analogy I have for it is like Joe Rogan, and how he picks things up from everywhere with no coherent framework to tie it together. Just a hodgepodge of ideas from fifty different sources, some left wing, some right wing, some outright loony. Everyone shares a base line of anti-racism, though. It might come from the diversity of the gym. We’re all training for fights and working alongside each other every day. There is a great camaraderie at the club. There has to be when you are punching each other in the face three times a week.

On June 14th, there was a big BLM (Black Lives Matter) demo in town. The crowd was very young, with an average age of about 20 - making me feel weirdly old. When I looked around I could see lots of people from the gym. Whilst I was there a part of the crowd broke off and started going on a mooch looking for “the EDL.”. They were all young kids, but they still knew what the EDL (English Defence League) was - even though it’s not been a functional street organisation for years and years. I think in this case it was acting as a cypher for young black and asian youth to describe any organised racists. On the day, though, they did not find anyone to have a pop at.

I think the general common sense amongst the people I train with is that kind of broad, socially liberal: “we’re all the human race” type thing. They saw BLM as a protest for equality rather than as a protest against any particular system or opponent. In America they’re fighting cops, but here most participants are just being generally anti-racist. Not that that’s a bad thing. It was impressive to see how proud everyone was of the necessary anti-racism and egalitarianism of a combat sports gym. Ethnic and racial differences disappear when you get into the ring. You can’t be racist to your training partners, it doesn’t work that way.


The first two months of Covid-19 felt like a new reality. The streets were dead and the buses were empty. Even though it was only a few months ago, while writing this it’s hard for me to properly remember the dreamlike state I was in. It was a real interregnum for most people, but I was still out working as normal. I don’t think mine was a typical experience of your average worker throughout the Covid-19 period. People in low income PAYE work with family to look after have been completely fucked, but I got away pretty unscathed.

I feel lucky to have actually done well out of this period. This is down to me being a single young man and having a variety of different jobs, many which pay cash in hand and which are considered essential employment.

Over the last month I’ve noticed a big pushback from self-employed people, and people employed at the margins of the economy, against “going cashless.” The crisis seems to have pushed many to embrace some pretty looney ideas. People have a sense that they are getting fucked over. They are being told what to do by the new petty enforcers of social distancing rules like me, they are losing their jobs and businesses are closing. There is a correlation between people opposing the move to a cashless society and the people embracing conspiracy theories around Covid-19. These ideas provide some sort of explanation and rationalisation as to why this is happening. The people around me at work are grasping for something to explain their lives, and the answers they are finding usually have something to do with 5G.

If there has been any light throughout this period it has been in the BLM movement. It suddenly stirred people from a state of passivity and inactivity into engaging in real political action. It tied in wider layers of society than any movement I had ever seen before in my political lifetime. No other politics ever ended up as a topic of discussion down at the gym.

Now, night time venues are opening up again I’m going back on the door. I’m looking forward to seeing my colleagues and the customers. I’m uncertain as to how long my employment will last, however. A second lockdown or an outbreak of Covid-19 could leave me jobless again very quickly. Luckily the money I’ve saved over the period will provide me with some safety net if this should happen, but it is never nice to not have even some job security.

  1. PAYE stands for Pay As You Earn, an employee contract in which tax is deducted automatically. 

  2. Universal Credit is a state benefit payment in the UK, which includes unemployment and other benefits. 

  3. David Brent is a fictional character in the BBC television mockumentary The Office. 

  4. Rishi Sunak is a British politician who was Chancellor of the Exchequer during Covid-19. 

  5. After Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister at the time. 


Nick Francis

Nick works as a door supervisor.