Rail strikes have loomed large in my life this month. I’ve watched the boys on the TV with their bravado and bluster and brinkmanship politics with my head in my hands.

The buck-passing and blame game amplified through blanket media coverage focused on the politics, whilst the thousands of stories of how these strikes cause genuine distress go largely unheard.

So here’s mine.

We’ve spent the last few months organising a conference for a client bringing together trade associations from all over the country to discuss challenges, network and share experiences.

It was the first time this event had been held in 3 years, and there was a lot riding on it. This event would cement the financial turnaround of the Trade Association Forum following a pandemic that had severely impacted revenue streams and brought the organisation to its knees.

Back in December, the Board had entrusted Inflect to revitalise TAF, reinvent it and put it on a more stable footing. This event was a chance to prove ourselves.

Like everything we do, we were ambitious, maybe over-ambitious, we threw our heart and soul into it. 4 concurrent workstreams, 16 sessions, 2 plenaries 2 keynotes and a reception at the end of the day. Speakers agreed, sponsors wanted to come and tickets were selling steadily with three weeks to go, we had 180 registered and were on track to hit our 200 target.

When it was announced that the rail strikes would take place on the day of the event, we were devastated. The bookings stopped immediately, then the emails started coming, every day, emails from delegates, and speakers that were no longer coming. Day after day, after day.

Cancelling was not an option, go ahead we must. We rejigged, reorganised, and then did the same thing again a few days later.

It was soul destroying.

The event went ahead, not as planned, we lost more than 100 people due to the strikes, but we made the best of it. Those people that attended were really engaged and got a lot out of it, and I am proud of what we delivered despite the challenges.

However, we had to spend more money to mitigate the impact, on recording sessions, additional AV support, and we now have to organise a reception in September where we will (hopefully) bring all those who couldn’t get there, together to network.

It wasn’t what I wanted to deliver, it didn’t deliver the financial security that TAF needed and we had to put all the other work programmes on hold to manage the disruption. We don’t get paid for the extra work either as that’s not how our contract works.

So as we head towards the likelihood of more industrial action, we would all do well to remember that strikes aren’t just inconvenient, they don’t just impact one day’s work, you can’t just rearrange things that are months or even years in the planning.

It’s not some sort of popularity game to be played out in the media, or a test of loyalty to whichever political faction you belong to.

They have significant real-world impacts and need to be a genuine last resort, to be avoided if at all possible.