With our annual Conference fast approaching we’ve invited Jan Jones along to tell us about the hard work that goes on behind the scenes that makes our weekend so enjoyable.
Welcome Jan. How do you source venues and how far ahead do you have to book?
We like to venue hop around the country to keep travelling distances fair for our different regional members. We start by identifying a couple of regions that we'd like to look at next, then we go to the Academic Venue Show in May to talk to the University Conference departments in the relevant areas. If we find any places suitable to our requirements, we go on a site visit to see what they are like in the flesh (so to speak). It would be impossible to commit to a site without actually having been there - sometimes several times - to walk the routes, check out the facilities, meet the conference liaison team, taste the food etc. We do the best we can to keep the conference affordable for our members, many of whom do not make a vast amount from their writing. I wouldn't dream of asking them to commit a substantial sum of money to a venue where I hadn't personally checked that everything was as good as it could be.
How many helpers do you have leading up to the event?
Previously, Roger Sanderson and I have done everything. We still visit the venues, liaise with the conference departments there and look after the delegate management. Jenny Barden now organises the programme and coordinates the whole conference and Elaine Everest will deal with the industry appointments.
Do speakers volunteer or do you have to approach them?
A mixture of both. In general they volunteer. Often they are asked.
We've had some fab goody bags in the past. How do you source the content?
We don't! Apart from asking any publishers taking part in the conference if they have any books to spare, we put out a general call - and are then inundated with material. A very satisfactory arrangement. I bring the items up in my car and then the Friday morning of the conference is spent dragooning everyone within range into a vast assembly line filling the bags.
Are you any good at delegating or do you take too much upon yourself?
I'm hopeless. Jenny Barden is far better.
Food is an important part of any conference. How do you deal with that aspect? We loved the choice for the Gala Dinner last year.
We try the food on the site visits, discuss menus with the conference department (if possible - sometimes the only options are "chef's choice"), and choose the gala dinner menu from what is offered to us.
After initial planning when does it become a full on job?
It is an ongoing process - sometimes an hour or two a day, sometimes an intense burst of activity for a week or two. It gets very fraught at the end of May when the conference packs are being assembled, and then afterwards when people's choices of sessions come in. Certainly in the two or three weeks before the conference itself I don't get any writing of my own done.
Do you book a holiday after the conference to recover?
No. I write.
If anyone wishes to volunteer either before the event or during the weekend of the conference can they contact you?
Where are we in 2015?
Next year's conference takes place at Queen Mary, University of London, on the Mile End Road in London. It is a compact site alongside the Regent's Canal, two stops down the Central Line from Liverpool Street Station. The dates are 10th-12th July 2015.
Thank you, Jan.
Find details here on how to book your place on this year’s conference at Harper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire. 11th – 13th July.
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