Gigs & Nightlife
The brother and sister team running epic events across Greater Manchester
How two siblings set up a thriving events company during COVID
When the pandemic pushed staff away from offices and back into their homes, the traditional line between ‘work’ and ‘family life’ began to blur. But for Neil Lofthouse and Steph Cooper, it was already like that.
In Autumn 2020, these two siblings decided to go into business together – launching an events brand called Square Fish that combined Neil’s hospitality sector experience with Steph’s management expertise.
It was an idea everyone could really root for: A brother and sister teaming up to help get Manchester’s events sector back on its feet after being bordered up for most of the year.
“It was a ‘now or never’ moment,” Neil remembers.
“Owning a family business had always been a dream and something we talked about for many years. When COVID hit, and with time on our hands, we decided to make the dream a reality.”
Those early days felt like a thrilling adventure. Neil and Steph got Square Fish off the ground in October 2020, and within a matter of weeks they had bagged their first client.
But then, things took a turn. COVID cases spiralled, another national lockdown was declared, and the events sector was suddenly, somehow, in deeper peril than before. Mass gatherings were forbidden, venues had to pull their curtains shut, and hundreds of thousands of industry personnel were left without work. Square Fish appeared to have been a cruel victim of circumstance: They’d only just gotten started, and already the company was facing an impossible hurdle.
On the surface, the obvious option was to throw in the towel. But Neil and Steph were actually in a more privileged position than most. After all, when your back is against the wall, the people you can rely on are family.
“Like any bro and sis, we can have our moments, but when it comes to business, it’s the best team you can have,” Neil clarifies.
“We support each other, have each other’s back, pick each other up when feeling low, and most of all, trust each other completely. No agenda, just love and support. That’s what makes Square Fish so special.”
Putting their heads together, the duo acted swiftly to switch up their business model, putting all the necessary plans in place to create a new concept that would support the provision of virtual entertainment. They called their creation Boxspoke – enabling companies to provide bespoke, branded engagement boxes that ranged from branded keepsakes and delicious gourmet treats to beverages, goodies and live interactive experiences.
Neil explains: “We wanted to find a way to keep pushing forward and adapt our offering so we all could come out of the other side.
“We soon found that lots of businesses still needed to focus on engagement, especially with staff and their clients. The way we communicated day to day suddenly changed overnight – and our new business model and service was there to support that.”
The whole thing was a rousing success. So much so, that when the world finally opened up again, Square Fish had built the reputation required to strike partnerships with big brands and create the kind of live events Manchester had been missing so much.
Today, Square Fish is working with worldwide promotion Bongo’s Bingo to bring its barnstorming events into workplaces, whilst also offering a wide range of events services such as venue finding, production, concept design, lineup curation, and general support and guidance for showrunners.
Work has been diverse – including a festival for taxi hire software provider Autocab (which Square Fish designed and created from scratch; supplying stages, sports pitches and key speakers) and an interactive chocolate workshop for employees of Infinity Finance.
Neil and Steph’s team also hosted a fun-filled and highly-memorable summer party for Lounge fashion earlier this year – arranging a champagne reception, live fire dancers, sax performances and a DJ set.
One year on from launch, Square Fish has expanded its staff roster and turned into one of the most dependable, ambitious and creative events companies across Greater Manchester.
Neil believes the supportive nature of the city has played a pivotal role in making Square Fish the firm it is today – and what it is going to become in future.
“Manchester is a city like no other, the industry and people that support it are incredible,” he states.
“Manchester offers it all, from fresh and creative concepts, incredible music, and club scene to a thriving event sector.
“We are constantly evolving and offering something new, attracting more and more businesses and events to the city – it’s all about the people for us, and we are a resilient bunch, especially with what we have had to overcome in the last two years.”
Throughout the past couple of difficult years, it’s often felt like one step forward, two steps back. This goes doubly for events and hospitality – a sector which is always first on the chopping block in the scenario of pandemic restrictions.
But Square Fish has already shown its capability to withstand and even thrive during the most testing environments. And Neil has plenty of hope for 2022.
“The future is bright, we are resilient, creative and support each other like no other city does,” he beams.
“With more and more events coming to Manchester and an increase in demand for live events, we will come back stronger.
“There is still a challenging road ahead, however I have no doubt we will overcome it!”
Find out more about the amazing events Square Fish is hosting via the official website.