5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies

5 questions to...

I recently had the great personal and professional pleasure to work with The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company currently working across London and in Bradford but constantly expanding their reach thanks to their determination to spread “art, love and magic” all over the world.

Ruling the roost, the Brick Box Ladies – a.k.a. co-directors Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman – preside over a small army of artists of all denominations and project managers – like myself – who work collaboratively to infuse under-used public spaces with a new lease of life. Their latest projects include the A13 Green in Canning Town (a village green complete with fairy-lit bandstand under a concrete flyover), the Light Fantastic in Thamesmead and the Electric Fireside in Little Germany, Bradford – and most recently the event I contributed to, the Big Draw by the River in Nine Elms. There are tons of photos and videos on their website (they’ve got their marketing priorities nailed down and always employ top-notch photographers and videographers) so I’ve pinched a few to include in between each question and show off their fantastic work.

 

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

1. Your next event is Light Night Canning Town on 29 November 2014. What’s a typical day right now?

Busy! We’re ramping up marketing and press, trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ve got such a fantastic programme we want to make sure lots of people come and enjoy it. We’re also making daily prayers for good weather!

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

2. You’ve been organising events for several years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

It’s been 4 and a half years as The Brick Box, far longer in different incarnations. It’s easier to work out budgets, have an idea of what an event might be like, and pack gaffer tape! What doesn’t get easier? Worrying that no one will come!

Half Moon Theatre's Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

Half Moon Theatre’s Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

3. Before, during or after an event – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Definitely during an event – it’s great to see people enjoying themselves and taking part in the things we hoped they would.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

4. What other event(s) would you love to attend as audience member?

Eleanor: Shambala Festival
Rosie: another Bruce Springsteen gig!

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

5. Who would be your dream artist(s) to collaborate with?

Eleanor – Grayson Perry and Mae West
Rosie – William Blake and my friend Lisa!

And finally, hot off the editing bench, here’s a little film of the Big Draw day by Tomo Brody.

Meanwhile

Spotlight

I’ve had a busy couple of months since my last post, with professional and personal projects taking over my blogging schedule. A few days ago, I spent the whole weekend on an open space by the Thames, near Vauxhall station, running an event commissioned by the Nine Elms development consortium and part of the Big Draw, the annual month-long celebration of drawing. I was acting as Project Manager for The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company that creates collective experiences in underused public spaces, from Brixton and Tooting to Canning Town and Bradford. Here are a few photos, and there’s now a video available at the end of the 5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies.

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Drew manhanding the giant Golden Slice that adorns the Toast Temple (photo by Jesus Ubera / The Brick Box)

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The Toast Temple in full swing  (photo by Matt Badenoch / The Brick Box)

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Young Brick Box recruits building a den with Our Hut (photo by Matt Badenoch / The Brick Box)

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Light Labyrinth at night, Nine Elms cranes  (photo by Fabienne Jung / The Brick Box)

 

While I was planning this event – from contracting artists to figuring out how on earth we’d get a portaloo on site – I moved out of the Highbury flat I had lived in since arriving in London 6 months ago to start a big adventure with my husband: we’ve taken over a pub in South West London, which we’ve now been running for a month. As of today, the website is still ‘coming soon’, but here are a few photos. I’ll be looking after the marketing and programming, and as we’ve got pop-up dinners, live music, films and parties in the pipeline, that’s enough to keep me busy outside the day job. There’ll be a monthly newsletter to keep locals in the loop, which you can sign up to here.

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Opening night – Anh, Shane and Strawberry Thief (photo by Scott Kershaw)

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Opening night – Me on mini-pies duty (photo by Scott Kershaw)

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Mantelpiece silhouettes (photo by Peter Martin)

All the tech I’ve ever used

Tools of the Trade

A few years ago, I created a workshop for Toronto Net Tuesday on event management and technology – trying to get nonprofit professionals who run occasional events – conferences, workshops, fundraisers ) but are not necessarily specialists to reflect on how technology can help them (and when it can’t) and how to go about selecting new tools. I conducted a survey with 50-odd events professionals beforehand, with a clear winning trend in the “most radical game-changer of the past 10 years” category: Internet everywhere, the Cloud and smartphones. However, the same respondents were pretty much all going back to pen and paper for “brainstorming, draft schedules, site sketches, meeting or interview notes, to-do lists & thank you notes.”

To prove the point, I’ve listed below all the tech and low-tech I’ve used on a recent event – a 2-day, 100-delegate industry conference that I planned and delivered for the Jazz Promotion Network. I was hot-desking in a co-working space, working remotely with colleagues in charge of programming. I’ve identified with a * apps or software that are free to use or that I already owned.

What I used on my own

  • WordPress.org for conference details and updates
  • Eventbrite to track registrations and sales (service charge) * (except service charge on paying tickets)
  • MailChimp (setting up templates, creating segments, lots of tracking) * free up to 2,000 subscribers
  • Twitter (I use TweetDeck for my own account, but I find that I don’t like so much to mix it with another account that I temporarily look after) *
  • Microsoft Office 365 (mainly Excel to manage the registration master then Word to format the handouts to print) *
  • Gmail (I synched my .org.uk professional address for the conference with a new Gmail account, so I could set up all the systems I’m used to – labels, Priority Inbox, and the much-maligned Streak that lets me know when people read an email) *
  • Google Analytics to measure my campaign results *
  • Google Forms for an online registration form and an upcoming feedback form – for the purpose of a small event, I find it infinitely easier to use than Survey Monkey *
  • Yast (to track my project hours) *
  • Facebook – not at all for the event (I didn’t have the capacity to manage both a Twitter and a Facebook account) but for social distraction as I was working on my own. I especially enjoy everything greyhound-related and the Donkey Sanctuary Facebook feed. *

 

What I didn’t use myself

  • InDesign to create the delegate badges template – it looks so simple when a professional graphic designer whips up a layout in a few minutes, but it’s still a mystery to me.

 

What I used with the rest of the team 

  • Google Docs for collaborative documents (such as drafting a press release) *
  • Dropbox for reference documents *
  • Skype (much more often that “normal” phone calls) *

 

What was decidedly more arts & crafts than digital

  • Guillotine and scissors to cut the paper badges *
  • Laminator to make nice solid badges (double-sided to avoid the inevitable twist to the dark side) *
  • Punch-hole – again for the badges * (all supplies and machines kindly provided by London Jazz Festival and Manchester Jazz Festival)

 

What called for pen-and-paper

  • To-do lists updated daily on a new page of my notebook
  • Notes taken in meetings or during phone / Skype conversations
  • Scribbles (also during phone calls)
  • Quick drafts (usually continued in Google Docs)
  • Sketches of layouts and floor plans

 

On the day

  • The conference venue had free wifi, which is always handy, but rather strangely very bad phone reception, which could have been more inconvenient if the event hadn’t been so self-contained.
  • I had an internal wireless phone so I could pretend to radio the venue’s operations team
  • And we had to endure typical teething problems with Powerpoint that were easily fixed with a bit of Microsoft-whispering magic

 

Conclusion:

I still remember being bewildered by MailChimp back in 2009 – and now I find it perfectly normal to set up my own templates, integrate with Twitter and generally speaking use most features available in an intuitive manner, without wasting any time (except when I tried to merge two accounts – unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be possible). I use far less pen-and-paper compared to only a couple of years ago, and I got completely used to working in a remote manner (although I need to be part of a social space, like a café or a co-working space, at least some of of the time).

For comparison, in 2006/7 I was working on another, larger conference, using a very clunky CRM software (Act!) and an unreliable company server, making file sharing a high-risk exercise. From 2007 to 2009, I coordinated the Manchester Jazz Festival with a pay-as-you-go mobile phone that was always running out of credit in the middle of a crisis call and with access to emails only in the physical office – about 30 minutes’ walk from the festival site. The festival operations relied vitaly on a 5-drawer filing cabinet that contained all the necessary information – contracts, schedules… I also think that I was sending newsletters via Outlook, so it probably wasn’t very pretty.

We have come a very long way!

 

While I have used more tech than the above in my life – such as volunteer management software, which I seem to love to talk about – I have borrowed the title for this rather prosaic post from a touring Mammalian Diving Reflexs production called “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had” recently presented at Luminato Festival 2014.