BarCamp Brighton4

D511-059I’m finding this a really difficult post to write. But I hope those involved will take it as an honest account of my experiences rather than any sort of flame. It’s certainly not intended as such.

I have just been to BarCampBrighton4, and I have to say I found some aspects of it quite disappointing. I know I’m not the only one, and so that is why I’m sticking my head above the parapet with this post.

Having been on the organising committee for BarCampLondon6 and now 7, I know how much hard work is involved in running a BarCamp. And I can appreciate how dispiriting it can be to have people complaining about things when you have put so much effort into getting the thing off the ground. I do not wish to detract in any way from the achievements of the Brighton organisers, not least because of the necessity for a last-minute change of venue – a BarCamp organiser’s worst nightmare!

D511-021 But I’m afraid it’s the venue which really did take the shine off things for me this time around. As a daytime session space, I thought it worked pretty well with areas spread across three floors. Some adjacent pitches were a little noisy and hard to hear the speakers, but there’s not a lot you can do about that. Where it really fell down was as an overnight venue. With no permanent lights or toilets, I personally didn’t feel it was a suitable overnight space. And I’m not just being picky, there are plenty of practicalities to take into account.

At one point in the afternoon, I was seriously considering going home early. And that’s never happened to me at a BarCamp before. I really really did not feel comfortable about staying in that building for the night. Fortunately, @vickyjo came to the rescue and very kindly agreed to our late-afternoon appeal to let myself, @tnash and @carolynlyn have some floor space at her flat, even though she was already accommodating @NeilCrosby and @alistair. So huge thanks to her for putting up with us at the last minute!

As a veteran of numerous overnight BarCamps, I’m not averse to sleeping on the floor. But it was very noticeable how many BarCamp regulars did not stay at the venue but made alternative arrangements. I wonder how many of those who I heard saying the venue was “awesome” actually had to stay there overnight themselves? Quite a few did not, but went home to the comfort of their own beds and flushing loos. And some other regulars who did stay over told me the next day that I was very wise to have gone elsewhere!

Suits You Sir!I think the main point I’m making about the venue is that the lack of basic facilities weren’t made obvious to campers before they arrived. The 3rd Sept blog post certainly made no mention of the situation with lights and portaloos. If it had (or even earlier would have been preferable), it would have been much easier for us to make up our own minds and then make alternative arrangements in good time if we felt so inclined.

Having said all that, there were plenty of good things happening during the event, and I particularly enjoyed sessions by @tobestobs (CSS3 Browser Support), @edent (Star Wars Wedding on a Budget) and the one on High Altitude Balloons – which seemed to give rather a lot of those listening some worrying ideas!!

I liked the idea of using recycled bags as schwagbags – which lead to some rather amusing images of geeks wandering around with the most inappropriate hand luggage! [see Cristiano right] And the technology swaps table also attracted some interest throughout the event. I hope there wasn’t too much old tat left at the end which the organisers had to dispose of!
[Alistair checks out a "Crap Soldering Iron" below].

Put Down That "Crap Soldering Iron"!After last-minute sponsors came forward, the event was also fully catered and the food was plentiful and pretty tasty. I confess I wasn’t around for the pizza on Saturday evening, so I can’t comment on that. There was an urn to make tea and coffee and self-service cold drinks. Even a couple of days before the event it was looking like we might have to buy our own lunches – which actually would not have worried me too much. But it was nice not to have to do that.

There was a good mix of old and new faces in attendance. I hope the newbies enjoyed their first BarCamp experience. And I heard lots of the regulars did enjoy themselves and had a great time. Would I go to another one at this venue? Probably, but I would make sure I had alternative accommodation arranged well in advance!

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9 Responses to BarCamp Brighton4

  1. Tim Nash says:

    yep feel pretty much the same, became apparent when I was walking around in socks after soaking my shoes at the beach that the ground floor was totally unsuitable for sleeping on due to the nails and studs which were cutting my feet! The talks and people were as expected great but I never really felt comfortable, I never felt I could just grab a seat and have a chat with people which was a shame.

  2. Hi Caz,

    As one of the organisers of BarCampBrighton4 I think your post is a pretty reasonable assessment of the downsides of the site, especially given as a non-Brightonian, that you had nowhere to escape to until @vickyjo came to your aid.

    I think I could have made the exact situation more apparent before the event (ie. portaloos and no bathrooms), but in my defence, there was so much to sort out in such a short space of time that posting to the blog came a big second to trying to get everything ready for the day.

    As a seasoned BarCamp organiser, I’m sure you know that finding an overnight venue is always the first and most difficult aspect to putting on a weekend, and to find out that we’d lost ours with barely more than a month to go was a big blow.

    Brighton has a thriving digital media industry, but it’s tough to compete with London for venues given that we don’t have companies with buildings the size of Yahoo, BT, Google, GCap and the Guardian. Madgex did a brilliant job with BarCampBrighton1 *and* have been the only company to offer their premises as a venue. We’d actually love for Brighton’s bigger residents to get involved, but its a tough sell, so given the opportunity to use a second venue at such sort notice, I think we were really lucky.

    There were definitely other issues with the event; we had a much higher level of cancellations in the last week than normal (however all those tickets got taken up again – we had 160 tickets booked when I closed Eventwax on September 4th) although none of the people canceling mentioned it, perhaps the venue was part of it.

    I don’t think we’ll be running the weekend after dConstruct again; the combination of normal drop-outs for a free-event combined with the hangover casualties, completely outweighs the benefits. It also means there’s a load of waste; we ordered 150 small pizzas for our 160 attendees, but come the evening on the Saturday I think it was more like 75-80 attendees.

    Due to the (very welcome!) last-minute lunch sponsors, we had a lunch budget on each day for 118 people, which felt much more correct – all the sandwiches got eaten – but when I was ordering the evening food, I was worried about not feeding everyone, hence the 150 pizzas.

    Part of my retrospective for this BarCamp will be to as open as possible about the costs involved, and to try and help other organisers work around the issues that we had. A personal big failure was not getting sorted on the recycling front; specially given our raison d’être.

    Hopefully we’ll see you at the next Brighton event, and we might even have some proper toilets by then :)

  3. Oli says:

    I was one of the people who said the venue was awesome. I slept on the floor upstairs with just a sleeping bag, and slept right through until morning. The blog did warn to bring along something comfortable to sleep on, with a description of what the floors were like.

  4. Caz says:

    @Jay – Thanks for your comment. I do appreciate that you had a tough job to come up with another venue at such short notice. Interesting also your comments about dConstruct weekend – it seems like sound reasoning to move away from that if you’re not really getting much benefit. And hopefully changing the date might mean you can book somewhere like the Uni more easily.

    @Oli – It wasn’t the sleeping on the floor which particularly worried me (I’ve done that loads of times at BarCamps), it was the lack of toilet facilities during the night and not being able to have a wash somewhere in the morning!

  5. tobs says:

    Wow, to read that my session was one of your highlights of the barcamp just made my day =)

  6. Paul Silver says:

    Happily none of the stuff that was left in the tech swap will go to waste, Build Brighton have taken it and will reuse/recycle any usable bits and break the non-working stuff down for parts.

  7. Personally, I absolutely loved the venue.

    After the soullessness of the uni buildings last year (and the crap uni food), it was a breath of fresh air to be a) back in the city centre and b) in such an inspiring place (because of both the derelictness and the art everywhere)

    That said, I too am a local resident and so slunk off home to sleep. I imagine I’d feel differently if I had to struggle with my contact lenses in a dark portaloo!

    @Jay: I agree about not doing this after dConstruct – in theory it’s appealing cos lots of people are in town anyway, but in practice I too think it leads to more no-shows. It might also be worth considering charging a booking fee of, say, 10 quid, that gets refunded once you turn up. I’ve seen that used for another unconference, and it should certainly deter people from just grabbing tickets on spec.

    -Tristan.

    P.S. That was my Crap Soldering Iron, a Maplin cheapo special. I hope it went to a good home.

  8. Zeenoside says:

    I slept at the venue with just a sleeping bag and it was fine. To be honest the toilet facilities didn’t bother me in the least bit. I asked a lady in the morning with wet hair (I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. From Yahoo though I think. Rode in on the bike) “ooh where did you stay” to which she replied “No just used to portaloos” Which I think sums up peoples attitudes nicely.

    If you’re not bothered by minor things like that, then you just get on with it and don’t make a fuss.

    The venue was amazing, I am well and truly in love with that building. As was said, shame the spaces were a bit noisy but what can you do about that. I had a great weekend and thank all the organisers for their effort in getting it setup.

    I do feel a bit guilty about slinking off early and not helping to tidy up, the light on my bike’s a bit knackered and had to be home before dark (3hr ride).

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