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Jay Flynn – Men of the Year

Masculinity

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An interview with Jay Flynn from Jay's Virtual Pub Quiz about his incredible year in which he raised many hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity.

Hi Jay, we’re making you one of our Men of the Year for the incredible work you’ve been doing. Can you take us through it for those who don’t know?

Yeah it’s been a bit of a crazy year for me. Back in March when they said the pubs were going to close I wanted to do something for my friends. Having run a pub with quiz nights every Thursday night, it was hard when it got taken away from me so I wanted to do something for my friends and quiz teams in my local community. So I set an event up on Facebook – but it was made public by mistake because I didn’t really know how to set an event up! Somehow it went viral and by the time it came around to the date I’d set for the first quiz, on 26th March, there was over half a million people interested in it.

It’s since gone from strength to strength – we’ve broken one Guinness World Record for the most amount of people watching a quiz live stream on YouTube with 182,000 people. We’ve got a provisional second world record just waiting to be confirmed which would be for the longest marathon as a quiz master: I set that record at just over 35 hours of continual quizzing. But the most important thing is we have created an incredible community on social media. Not just of like minded people who love a pub quiz but also people who have been isolating and shielding who have had nothing to look forward to over the last few months. They’ve had something they can get involved in twice a week.

Alongside that we’ve also raised just short of £800,000 for various charities.

At what stage did you think this is so big that I have some responsibility and need to do something with it?

Two moments. The first was when I had the studio set up for Facebook and Youtube, just before the first quiz started. I looked at Youtube and it said there are over 5000 people waiting for the live stream to start. And I thought, ‘ok this is a bit bigger than I thought it was going to be.’ You see my reaction on that first video where I saw the numbers jumping up and jumping up. 30,000 watching, 50,000, now 90,000 watching and that was without me looking at the numbers on Facebook – we think about 300,000 people watched over the combined two.

The second one was on that quiz when I said, ‘We don’t know how long we’re going to be locked down for, but if you want this to continue, I’ve just set up a Facebook link so join us and let us know if you want it.’ And we had over 160,000 people join in a heartbeat.

It made me realise this isn’t going to be a one-off flash in the pan this is going to go on for quite some time. A lot of people messaged me and said you have such a big platform you have the opportunity to do something good. I hadn’t thought about that, I hadn’t set it up to be a charity venture it was just supposed to be for the local community.

When I set up that first charity, the NHS charity it felt like a natural choice. That first quiz when we featured it we raised just short of £100,000 in one night for them, I thought there’s a lot of good we can do here. Not just for the NHS but other great charities.

What has it done in terms of community building and do you think that can continue beyond this point?

Yeah I think the community we have got is incredible, the way they talk to each other. Its like with a local community where you have different types of people and they’ll get together and talk. I love the fact we have that from something I created they’re inspiring and helping each other. So many people have messaged saying it’s been so good for their mental health because they’re part of something. The numbers will never be the same as they were at the beginning but we’ve still got the best part of 40 or 50,000 people watching on a Thursday night and 20,000 people watching on a Saturday night.

I couldn’t now in the new year say, ‘The vaccine is here, thanks very much and shut the curtains.’ I want to keep this going as long as possible because there are people who can’t go out, there are people who cant go to the pub or are isolated in some way. They’re relying on us now we’ve created this platform and there’s no way I could leave.

How have things changed for you personally? Do you get recognised?

Its very weird – I got recognised very early on by a scared lady in Tescos in the first few weeks. I was just pushing my trolley and I heard, ‘I love your quizzes!’ She disappeared down an aisle then popped back in and we had a conversation. I’m not out and about much but I always tell people to say hello. What people see on the quizzes is me in real life, it’s not an act.

The weirdest thing for me that’s changed is I’m recording with a couple of celebrities over the coming weeks and I was having to give directions to a very famous comedian. He said, ‘It’s your quiz, how would you like me to ask the questions?’ I’m thinking what has changed in my life where I’m suddenly giving directions to someone on BBC One.

Things like this don’t happen to someone like me but evidently for some reason they now have.

You also had a book out which talked about your experiences of being homeless when you were younger. How did you find the reception to that?

The quiz book went down really well – it was kept in the spirit of the quiz, with a few mistakes in there, a bit like movie easter eggs. But in terms of the foreword and the introduction which talked about my homelessness – well it was something I hadn’t really talked about. I got lots of supportive messages, and the mantra I’m using is: don’t get yourself in that situation I was in, just ask for help. Do something I didn’t do, which is put your hand up and say I’m struggling, my mental health is really bad and I need help. That’s the message I’m trying to get across to as many people as I can now. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to go through the two years that I went through.

How did your experience change you?

I mean I was a completely different person in my mid-twenties before I ended up on the streets. When you spend two years not talking to anyone, not having any conversations, all you’re left with is your own thoughts.

When [homeless charity] The Connection at St Martin’s brought me in I was basically a skeleton, a shell, there was no brain there was no drive no focus, I was just a complete and utter shell.

Through their support they rebuilt me and with their support I reinvented myself. I became someone that I always should have been. I was more confident, more driven, I knew what kind of things I wanted to do and I was more level headed so I didn’t go jumping in feet first. But I was also more humble with it as well which meant I could ask for help if I needed it.

I have a good circle of friends now, that I now know if I was struggling I could pick up the phone and ask for a chat. I never had that before.

Are you optimistic about 2021?

I’m really positive. We’re planning our 12 month anniversary at the end of march. And coming from a pub trade background we’re going to be doing everything we can to help that. One of the things I’ve said is the Thursday nights will always be there. No matter what there’ll always be a live quiz on Youtube on a Thursday night. It’s not about how many people watch, it’s about helping those that are watching.

We’re looking at a tour to different venues and looking at how we can support different venues by utilising the following we have and present a quiz to bring some of those people in. But it’s very tricky to plan anything at the moment. I hope we’re a bit more settled next year and we can plan ways to go and meet some of the people who have supported these quizzes for these last few months.

What have you personally learnt this year?

I’ve learnt that there is a big, big sense of community out in this country still. I think going into 2020, people had lost their sense of what a community meant. Whether that’s knocking on your neighbours and seeing if they were ok or checking in on friends you haven’t seen for a few months. There is a community there and there is hope for us.

I think a lot of people were starting to think we were drifting into a country and world of every man for himself. But from what I’ve picked up, people out there still want a community. And I think what’ll come out of this are more community centres popping up for people to get together, and I really hope the local pubs will start thriving again because everyone will want to support. It really is heartwarming to know we still have a community out there.

Well thanks for all your work and its great to be able to recognise you with our award…

It’s an honour to be called a Man of the Year. I don’t think I’ve ever been called a man of the day never mind a man of the year, so thank you very much!

Rob Biddulph

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