I read somewhere that the pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote working, which is true to say of UK captioning. Real-time caption software was already widely used before the 2020 pandemic started, but as soon as different online platforms for video meetings became commonplace in daily use around July and August 2020, it really came into its own, with outputting to those platforms and for stand-alone text and captions.
So we all carried on captioning and streaming for some time to come, with breakfast, lunch and evening meal all with the same people in the same kitchen! But we had no complaints as we had work and a good job, which was now even more in demand, and if we were lucky our families were safe and healthy. On the whole, it’s been quite manic working from home in 2020-2022 for all UK STT (speech to text) reporters, with as much work as we can manage. After a long period of home-working, I started to miss the general buzz of visiting London, Cambridge and other cities and I enjoy teamwork and working with others.
Back to workplace
In August 2021, after two vaccines, I gingerly stepped back into the workplace. My first return job was with a group of techies in Aylesbury to cover the Paralympics Torch Ceremony – this was handy as the event was outside in a three-sided tent so we had ventilation. It was great fun and it felt as if I had not been away for 18 months or so. I arrived hours early to set up even though I had practised at home the day before. Grabbing lunch at the M25 motorway service station though was not something I had missed!
Below is a picture of my workplace in the Olympics.
The real-time captions were done so that the main screen would be fully accessible. We used the commonly used yellow font on a black background.
Captioning a staff conference
Next followed a conference job which was fairly local. I had a chat with my co-worker the day before to find out when they were arriving so we could have a leisurely lunch together rather than stress and set up late. We also talked about the agenda and expectations. This made the event, a staff conference, quite seamless and really enjoyable. Just the buzz of colleagues and a change of scenery – a hotel in the countryside – made it worth the while. Lunch at this event was good – think specialist hand-made burgers and not a “motorway stop lunch”. Stopping at motorways is unfortunately typical in the freelance captioning world, as travelling outside London generally means taking the motorways and the occasional long day means you have to be organised to sort a packed lunch, so a free lunch at the job is a treat!
Nothing had really changed for a conference other than the odd person walking around in a mask, which would have been seen only in China pre 2020. Now in 2022 that all restrictions have been taken away in the UK, it is only a preference to wear a mask on site. I didn’t, but it’s an option I would consider if the room was really small or if my co-worker had a bad cough.
Suiting up again
More recently, I have worked in London in July 2022 for a couple of speeches at charity events. The charity books me directly and often the speeches are only 15 minutes, but most of my day is taken up with prep and travel. I have noticed that my suits are out of date – everyone in London now appears very casual wearing trainers! At this event in a local university, it was great to chat in the break with the two BSL registered NRCPD interpreters. We mainly talked about video meetings and all their norms. This would include dogs and children on screen, and doorbells going off at inopportune moments! Occasionally someone important or integral to the meeting might yawn on screen, forgetting their camera is on, et cetera.
Overall, it’s been really great to work with people in regular meetings again. I don’t think I’ll ever catch a plane for captioning again as online platforms are so advanced, but for some jobs and experiences nothing beats being in person. Being in person for me provides more of a connection with the work – for example, I am able to quickly find out information in the breaks. I can set up with the technical staff the day before and not be reliant on the internet. In addition, free pens and humour are to be found along the way.
Amanda Bavin is a freelance captioner/stenographer working in the UK direct to major UK corporations. Her specialisms include being easy to work with(!), providing SRT (subtitle rip files) post-production files and finding qualified STTRs for her clients in her absence.