How to run a Housing Camp (or at least, how we did it….). Part One.

There’s clearly more than one way.  But we figured we’d put up a spot of background on what was involved in putting on the first #housingcamp.  It really wasn’t that onerous – we hope that others will be up for doing some on more specific topics and in their own parts of the country – and we’re deffo up for another national one next year.

I’ll break it down into three chunks.  That way the blog posts get written, instead of sitting in my ‘oh that’ll take ages’ box.  And it means Jon won’t give me grief 😉

Rope some friends in to help.   Many things in life is easier when you’re not on your own.  Playing football, kissing, running events…  Jon Foster and I did most of the pre-event organising around our day jobs at Thames Valley Housing Association. And then on the day itself, we had a fab gang of colleagues making up Team Housing Camp.  It was really useful to have so many hands to make light work of the various jobs (will cover those in another post later this week).

Find a venue.  This is the biggy.  A venue with WiFi, a big meeting space and then some smaller breakout spaces.   Preferably one that will allow you to self-cater – unless you’ve lots of ££ to spend (or they’re sponsoring)!  We used the office at Thames Valley, because we could.  And that made it easy – we knew the WiFi could take 100+ people all trying to access it at the same time.

Set a date.  We went with a Saturday, partially because that’s when the venue was available.  But also because we were following the UK GovCamp model – which is pretty much along the lines of  “be an activist”.  If it’s on a Saturday, you don’t need to ask your boss if you can attend.  You can just do it.  We had a few calls from people saying “but, but, but… you must have made a mistake – that’s a SATURDAY!?!”.  And to those folks we said “yeah, we know.  Its great if you can come, but we understand if you can’t”.  We recognised that if we flipped it round the other way, there would be people who still wouldn’t be able to make it because they had meetings, or a boss who “didn’t get it” etc.  It was a good reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  And that there is rarely a single “right answer” to anything.

Set up a website for the event.  Please do get in touch to talk about using www.housingcamp.org.  If you’re planning an event that’s in line with the un-conference or open-space principles, you’d be most welcome.  Use the site to tell people what you’ve got in mind, and the logistics.  Don’t overlook the logistics – folks need to know the details.  Date, time, place, travel/parking details, accessibility details – make it easy for them to find you.

Use an online ticketing tool to manage ticket allocations.  We used Eventbrite because we know it well, but other brands of ticketing tools are available.  We reckoned on issuing a max of 120 tickets for a 100 capacity venue, expecting an on the day fall-out taking use to around 70 or 80 actual people.  It’s a good idea to release tickets in tranches, so you can gauge the volume of interest, and mix of people coming.  We were keen to get a good mix of those working for housing providers, and those providing services to housing providers (it worked pretty well).  

A word on the ‘on-the-day drop-out’.  We recognised that people often value what they pay for, rather than what they get for free.  And that things come up that mean folks’ plans change.  Some people have the good courtesy to let you know before hand if they can’t come, others are just a no-show on the day.  The last group were frustrating, because we ended up over-catering (and I hate waste).  But its as well to plan for some to happen – its just how life is.  The UK GovCamp crew have a great remedy btw, and its one I might try next year.  They let everyone know that they’ll out the no-notice no-shows on social media 😉  They tell me it works really well and they have pretty much 100% attendance!  That’s really important for that event – now its a well-established point in the gov-tech calendar, its way oversubscribed, and they run a wait-list for those not lucky enough to get a ticket in the scheduled releases.

Sponsorship.  There are quite a few organisations out there who are keen to support such events, and build their understanding of the housing sector.  They kindly supported Housing Camp with some ££.  We deliberately kept the costs down so that we weren’t spending huge amounts of time hunting down and pitching the sponsorship “deal”.  Just ask them.  We kept it simple, so it was easy for folks to see the benefits and simply say yay or nay. 

Spreading the word.  No need for expensive advertising, good ‘ole twitter and social channels worked a treat for us.  We could only do this once the www.housingcamp.org site was up – as that was somewhere useful to point people.

I’l do a couple more posts on this theme – one on “before the event” and one on “on the day itself”.  But rest assured: we’re not professional event organisers, we’ve got ‘day-jobs’ in other disciplines, but it was pretty straightforward for us to do.  Mostly it was thinking ahead, and breaking big jobs down into little jobs and asking everyone to do a little bit.  We hope you enjoy the video, and are inspired to run one in your area.  Please do get in touch if we can help at all. 

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