The furlough scheme, put in to place at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to help protect workers’ jobs, ends tomorrow.
As the country went into lockdown in March 2020, employers took advantage of the scheme, officially known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Over the past 18 months, furlough has supported more than 11 million workers.
Some workers were placed on furlough for a few weeks before returning to work. Others are are still on furlough, which ends this month.
And for some it was a positive, life-changing experience. Other people felt lost and couldn’t wait to get back to the work
As the scheme draws to a close, we spoke to:
- A nightclub manager who spent nearly a year-and-a-half on furlough
- A Forfar woman who said it felt like a never-ending holiday
- Two men who decided to walk away from the jobs they’d been furloughed from to go it alone
‘Furlough really hard to get through’
Nightclub manager Ruth Jones from Auchterhouse expected furlough to last a few weeks.
When she finally got back to work, she had been off for 17 months.
Running a business employing upwards of 70 people, initially she felt concern for both herself and her family as well as her staff.
I definitely experienced some lows.
For the first few weeks, furlough provided a sense of relief. After six weeks at home, Ruth felt more uncertain about her future.
She recalls: “I was writing down ideas of what I could do.
“There was always a constant thought of ‘will nightclubs reopen? Will the business that I work for survive?’
“It was hard. I told a lot of people about feeling low, and I’m someone who generally feels like I’m very in control of my mental health.
“I think it was a hard time for everybody, but I definitely experienced lows there.”
To do what she could to secure her own and her two children’s futures, she started her own business.
She started Twisted Sisters Drinks with her brother-in-law Stuart McPhee.
Developing the new business kept her busy and provided a sense of security.
She said: “I’m used to working in such a busy and social environment, once I got to that month-and-a-half mark it was quite a low point.”
The bottled cocktails and hard seltzers of Twisted Sister Drinks launched last month. The drinks are now in 18 stockists in the North East.
Ruth has taken on her first employee and is looking to expand across Scotland.
On top of that, the nightclub she works for, ATIK in Aberdeen, is open and thriving again.
Going from being on furlough to suddenly having two full-time jobs has been a big change for the Angus mum.
Having run the nightclub for eight years and worked in the company for 15, Ruth felt very set in her ways.
Furlough was really hard to get through, but there’s been so many positives.
Being on furlough allowed her to step back, gain a fresh perspective and start her business.
Ruth said: “I’ve always wanted to start my own brand, but never really had the time, which may have been an excuse, but this definitely gave me the time to sit back and do it.
“I definitely don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t had that year off.
“Furlough was really hard to get through, but there’s been so many positives that have come out of it.
“I wouldn’t like to go back to being in lockdown, but there has been a lot of positives to come out of it and obviously I have started my own business, which has been a huge success for me.”
‘It was like Christmas every day’
Tracy Dryburgh from Forfar spent five months on furlough. To her it felt like a holiday that kept getting longer and longer.
When lockdown began, she was working from home helping children with vision impairments for Guide Dogs.
She said: “Because we couldn’t travel and do any work with them, most of us on the team were furloughed.
“It changed to being in a virtual service, but there’s a lot of our work we just could not do over Zoom.
“That was predominantly why we were on furlough for so long, because we couldn’t do our job.”
To fill the days, Tracy discovered new footpaths around Forfar while listening to audio books.
In the sunny weather she sometimes walked for 18 miles from her doorstep and around Angus.
With the country in lockdown, she could go down roads without seeing a single car.
She said: “That was quite surreal actually.
“It made me realise the impact of lockdown.
“There were no cars on a major dual carriageway – it was like Christmas Day every day.”
While away from work, Tracy decided to take up a new skill, sewing.
She posted on Facebook to ask if anyone could lend her a sewing machine and her neighbour came to the rescue.
Knowing the basics of sewing, but not how to set up the sewing machine, she had a Zoom call with her mum in Aberdeenshire to get the machine ready.
Tracy added: “I think I taught her more about Zoom than she told me about sewing.”
She signed up for classes with Sew Confident Dundee and now she makes most of her own clothes.
Webster’s High School Parent Council in Kirriemuir started a group to sew scrubs for the local community.
Tracy set herself a goal of making 100 bags. By the end she had caught the sewing bug.
She is now back at work, but looks back on her time on furlough with fondness.
Every week she was sewing with new friends over the internet that she will be meeting in November.
“To have that link with people in the outside world during that really heavy period of lockdown and being on furlough was really good,” she said.
“I’m glad that sewing is something I’ve been able to do and to keep up.”
‘Workaholic’ Fife man struggled with furlough
Fraser Smith, from Newport, was working for Scottish Rugby Hospitality, helping with events and functions at BT Murrayfield.
Fraser said it was difficult initially.
He said: “I am quite a workaholic so initially it was hard to get out of wanting to be busy all the time.
“But it was quite nice because I hadn’t really paused for a long time.
“I don’t think, had I not been on furlough, I would’ve had time to put together as astute a business plan and that helped me get funding.”
During his time on furlough, former Madras College pupil decided to set up on his own.
He opened coffee shop EH9 Espresso on Dundee’s Perth Road in the summer.
It was a great opportunity for me to launch into the next chapter of my life.
“I had a long time to do my research and speak to other cafe owners, which was a bit of a blessing,” he said.
“I definitely felt well prepared. A lot of people in the hospitality industry were willing to lend me some experience and advice.
“Furlough also gave me a bit of financial freedom.”
Fraser said the furlough scheme had given him an opportunity he would have otherwise not had.
He said: “It was a great opportunity for me to launch into the next chapter of my life.
“I don’t want to count my chickens but it all seems to be going well.”
From months on furlough to going it alone
Adam Taylor was projects and operations manager with Sharp Business Systems when the pandemic hit.
He was one of thousands who was placed on furlough in the early days of the pandemic.
Adam found himself unable to work for seven months, but did not find the experience stressful.
He said: “I took it as a positive experience.
“It slowed life down, put things in perspective and I was able to see things through a different lens.
“Having the time for self-care – going running and for walks every day. It put me in a really good headspace.”
It was during this time he decided to set up his own firm.
Initially, he thought about setting up a cleaning company, but decided otherwise, and then looked into a furniture and design company.
The ability to get out running and walking improved his physical and mental health.
“People were losing jobs at that time, but also I had a good job.”
He attributes his time on furlough to the success of his business, Spaces Taylored.
Adam said: “Furlough has got us to where we are now.
“It was a defining point.
“In 10 years’ time when I look back at the creation of Spaces Taylored, furlough was the making of it.”