My life changed at an unconference and I hope yours does to

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by Dan Slee

I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without an unconference.

There wouldn’t be comms2point0.

There wouldn’t be this blog.

There wouldn’t be the things I do that I love on a day-to-day basis.

The starting pistol fired at an unconference in 2009. It’s all because of that.

Why did I go to that first one? Because it was in Birmingham not far from where I live and some people who I rated were going. I’m glad I did go. It was mind blowing. Ten people from that crowd of 120 went on to start their own company inspired in part by what they heard and said that day. I’m one of them. I’m still friends with people I met that day.

Why was it mind blowing? Because I realised that my voice could count.

But do you want to know something truly remarkable? Your voice counts too.

The beautiful thing about that first unconference is that job titles were left at the door and anyone could pitch for a session, make a point, talk to someone over a cup of coffee or leave a session early.

The beautiful thing about #commscampnorth is that these principles remain. Myself, Bridget, Eddie and Emma are clear on that.

The amazing thing about doing comms in the public sector is that it can change lives for the better.

At #commscampnorth, I’m looking forward to seeing some new ideas.

But I’m also looking forward to the reminder that people are not alone.

There is a tribe of people like you and me.

It’s alright.

It’s going to be alright.

In fact, it’s going to be bloody brilliant.

As the great Sheffield bard Jarvis Cocker once wrote: ‘Something changed…’

10 things I took away from an unconference

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by Bridget Aherne

This is not a drill – we are  24 hours away from #commscampnorth so get ready to get yourself to Sheffield for some lovely learning and networkin’.

We’ve got a bit into our Pulp theme, being in their home town and all that, and continuing with that: you’re not thinking of going all Ian Dalton on us and bailing out before things have even begun?

If so, let us try and convince you to channel your inner Jarvis Cocker, go the distance and make it on Friday.

We’ve got a vested interest in convincing you to come – we’re the organisers and we don’t want to be eating the sarnies we’ve bought in until June – but we’ve also got 10 genuine gems to share, if you’re wobbling right now and thinking of cancelling.

These are things that we got out of previous unconferences that have made us and the day job better…

  1. Free learning. As a public sector communicator, what other events will you attend this year at no cost?
  2. It’s rare thinking time away from the office that isn’t your holiday. Precious time to think, develop new ideas and not just do the job.
  3. A chance to work with others on the issues facing you in the day job right now because the sessions are agreed there and then.
  4. Therapy and solidarity. It’s a safe space to talk about new ideas or that problem that’s bugging you. Following on from reason three, if you can’t come up with the answer, other people will be living it too or can empathise.
  5. Cake.
  6. A raffle.
  7. Finding out something you didn’t know. A new skill, some insight into a social media channel you’ve not used before or tips for a good internal comms plan – all things we’ve taken away from other unconferences.
  8. Cake.
  9. Meet some amazing people. We’ve widened our professional networks and worked with many of these people since in many different guises. Better still, we’ve made some friends for life.
  10. Refocus, reenergise and fall back in love with your work. Being a public sector communicator is an amazing privilege but can also be incredibly hard work when you’re communicating cuts, difficult adult social care issues or serious incidents. Every unconference we’ve been to has helped us remember what’s good about our jobs and why we do them.

Hopefully, that gives you the Jarvis Cocker-like discipline to go all the way and make it on Friday and we’re looking forward to seeing you there*.

*On a serious note, if you can’t make it, please let us know as we have a long waitlist and want as many people as possible to be there on the day.

What it’s like to be a Commscamp volunteer

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Nearly 70 people offered to volunteer to help run this week’s CommsCamp North in Sheffield, a mighty fine number indeed, and a testament to the ethos of the event.

I loved my first CommsCamp in Birmingham. The arrival of the walking buses meant big influxes of happy people, all cheerfully signed in at the arrivals desk before they grabbed a cuppa and admired a cake table that would put a WI fete in the shade.

All of the above were run by volunteers, and for me, it’s a key part of the CommsCamp magic. It’s a reflection of the friendliness of the community that so many people are willing to pitch in, and I especially love that there is competition over who gets to wear a big foam finger to help people find the venue.

I’ve volunteered for a few years, starting off as a tea-urn topper-upper* and lunchtime clearer-upper* before being given the keys to the on-the-day Twitter account – although I’ll always happily top an urn up. And while I’m a bit sad that I’ve never been entrusted with a big foam finger, I love being part of a great squad of people helping to make things go as smoothly and enjoyably as possible for everyone on the day.

Why do we volunteer? As a thank you, a give back. CommsCamp is the highlight of my communications year. The generosity of CommsCamp organisers and sponsors in putting on a free event makes attending so much more attainable, particularly in an era of slashed training budgets. Thank you to them all.

I’ve learned more from CommsCamp than many a megabucks training course, eaten better cake than I could ever buy and met the most fantastic people. I can’t wait to do it all over again.

*Official job titles. Honest.

Kelly Quigley-Hicks

Give it up for the volunteers

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So, here’s the thing. In every walk of life, volunteers make the world go round. Whether it’s for the WI, the scouts, sports clubs, Wikipedia – generally for something to succeed – it needs passionate, committed and dedicated folk to help it along.

It’s the exact same for Commscamp with the fantastic volunteers who give up their time to make it happen. And this year in 2018, in Sheffield on 27 April, we’ve seen it more so than ever before. So here’s a list of why this year’s Commscamp North volunteers are the very best.

  1. We asked for help and you responded in your droves – in fact nearly 70 people put their hand up to get involved. For an event that is for 160 people in total, that’s a mega high proportion of willing people who have offered to help. Sadly so many said they wanted to help out that we’ve had to turn a huge number away as there just weren’t the jobs to go round. It shows how willing to help the public sector comms community is.
  2. The flexibility of everyone who has said ‘yup I’m in.’ Everyone’s been happy to muck in and take on any of the jobs that need sorting, whether that’s been making tea, getting people to the venue or baking cakes.
  3. We’ve had not one but two people come forward to lead runs on the day. Not just any runs – a runch – that’s a run over lunch led by Jeni Harvey which is taking in the musical landmarks of Sheffield and a bunch – a run over breakfast led by Loz Harvey taking in the famous film locations of the city. Find out more here. While we know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, its shows just how passionate and willing people are. And no sadly there are no shower facilities on site – you’ll just have to use a wet wipe like you’re at a comms festival no less if you choose to take part.
  4. The cake table led by the queen of cake Kate Bentham from Shropshire Council is unlike anything you’ll have ever seen before. Think summer fete cake stall and then multiply it by 10 at least. The cake that wonderful people bake and bring along is just amazing. It also raises lots of money for a great cause. This year it’s the Sick Children’s Trust – an amazing Sheffield charity that provides free accommodation for families with children on intensive care wards at Sheffield Hospital.
  5. The way volunteers are happy to put themselves out there, learn new skills and meet new folk. It is so unlike any other gig in that way. Friendships and skills are forged for lifetimes. I myself have met so many lifelong friends through commscamp and I do think it’s pretty unique in that sense. We hope you’ll agree.

You can get all the skinny on commscamp north here.

If you were lucky enough to get a ticket and can’t make it, do let us know as we have a waiting list as long as your arm and don’t want people to miss out.

A role of honour of our lovely volunteers will be added shortly.

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Sheffield and why it’s ace

In their top ten Sheffield things to do, Lonely Planet have Kelham Island Museum, set on a man-made island in the city’s oldest industrial district, at the top of their list.

Because at Commscamp we love you very much, we’ve made sure that’s the amazing place where you’ll spend your day; but here are five of the other blinking amazing things you might want to do while you’re in the country’s fourth largest city.

ONE:  Rock and roll, baby. Rock and roll.

Home to the legendary, dark and dingy Leadmill, Sheffield is indisputably the home of British pop and rock.

Even as we type, the Guardian have had this to say: http://bit.ly/2DR9B4T

With The Human League in the 80’s, Pulp in the 90s, the Arctic Monkeys in to 00s (and now) ) (and that doesn’t begin to speak to the huge number of utterly cool, innovative outfits you haven’t thought about yet) arguing the city’s case for producing the best band of every era is easy. And there is always a gig. Or six.

These are the gigs we already know are happening while you’re here (but keep an eye out – there will be plenty more/

Date Venue Artist
26th April The Greystones Ian Siegel
Firbeck Village Hall Miranda Sykes
Picture House Social Swedish Death Candy
Café Totem Polo
27th April Yellow Arch The Dead South
The Greystones Michael Chapman
Plug Chairmen of the Board
Plug Jesus Jones
Corporation Weapon UK
28th April O2 Academy The Style Councillors
Maida Vale Elevation Avenue
O2 Academy Tokio Myers
The Greystones The Drystones
The Harley Trampolene
Regather Works Silver Darlings

 

TWO: Beer. And lots of it.

Last year, some very serious research showed Sheffield to be the real ale capital of the WHOLE WIDE WORLDhttp://bit.ly/1Nmb725

We also have other drinks. Like a million hip gins. And all the drinks too. None of your northern stereotypes round here, unless we’re using them. Okay?

Here are some world-class boozers right near the venue (itself at the heart of the eight hippest place in the whole country: http://bit.ly/2DT6pWx)

The Fat Cat – One of Sheffield’s finest pubs, the Fat Cat serves a wide range of real ales (some brewed on the premises) in a wonderfully unreconstructed interior.

The Kelham Island Tavern – near neighbours and fierce competitors of the Fat Cat, this is a glorious pub with carved wooden bar, tiled floors, leafy beer garden and renowned range of real ales.

The Gardeners Rest – on the banks of the Don, this community run pub prides itself on the high quality beer selection, the regular arts and musical events and on being more than a pub, “we’re a community hub”.

The Shakespeare – between Kelham Island and the City Centre, the Shakespeare was rescued and extensively refurbished and restored to its former glory as a Georgian Coaching Inn. Pub of The Year 2013

And INC – new, cool, urban and urbane; rooftop chic.

And here is Buzzfeed’s take on some random number more: http://bzfd.it/2EaA2pA

THREE:         Culture and stuff, innit?

Sheffield is described as the UK’s most geographically diverse city by Wikipedia, and the eclecticism of place seeps into the buildings that describe the city. A famed legacy of brutalism mixes with the ancient, and the sublime. While you’re with us you need to see:

The Millennium Gallery where the city’s cultural revival is embodied in four galleries under one roof. Inside, the Ruskin Gallery houses an eclectic collection of paintings, manuscripts and interesting objects.

The Winter Gardens. Pride of place in Sheffield’s city centre goes to this wonderfully ambitious public space with a soaring glass roof supported by graceful arches of laminated timber.

And if you are a sports fan, you can pay homage at the Crucible Theatre, a cornerstone of Sheffield Theatres  (the largest theatre complex outside London) and spiritual and actual home of world snooker.

And we have a LOT of cinemas. One of them is the Showroom, the largest independent cinema in England, set in a grand art-deco complex and screening a great mix of art-house, off-beat and not-quite-mainstream films.

FOUR:           Food

It’s a really big city and you don’t need us to tell you how to find food you like in a city this size, and there will be food at lunch during the event. But here are some city favourites:

Vero Gusto

Real Italian restaurant, from the Italian owners serving homemade Italian food to the genuine Italian coffee enjoyed by Italian customers reading Italian newspapers…

Marmaduke’s

This appealingly cramped and chaotic cafe, crammed with recycled furniture and fittings and run by a young and enthusiastic crew/

Street Food Chef

Down-to-earth Mexican canteen; freshly prepared, great-value meals, including nachos, burritos, tacos and quesadillas with a choice of chilli-laced meat or veggie.

Blue Moon Cafe

Sheffield institution offering tasty veggie and vegan creations, soups and other healthy dishes in a very pleasant atmosphere – perfect spot for Saturday afternoon.

Tamper

Cool Kiwi Cuisine with genuinely amazing coffee.

The Grind

If you are short on time and just visiting us for the day, you could grab a coffee at café, located a stone’s throw from Kelham Island or head to

Urban Quarter where you could try the some absolutely amazing burgers.

We will be hosting a curry the night before the event too, at Seven Spices Balti house. Tickets are available on eventbrite if you want to join us.

FIVE: Just being outside

Sheffield is the only place on earth where you can walk up hill for twenty minutes, turn around and walk in exactly the opposite direction and still be walking up hill. Hills? We’ve got ‘em.

And we’ve got four million trees, dozens of green spaces, a magnificent urban place-scape and a massive chunk of the Peak District. A third of this city is a national park. Oh, yes.

So here’s a comprehensive guide to the Outdoor City: http://theoutdoorcity.co.uk/

And for those of you with a penchant for that sort of thing, the indomitable Sheffield Council Comms Team and friends will be leading both an early, and a lunchtime Runch (Sheffield Comms Team speak for a run at lunchtime) for those fit or mad enough to want a run through some of the best urban stuff we’ve got – a really great way to see the city and get ready for breakfast too. There will be one dedicated to sites of interest for rock and pop fans and one for fans of cinema. Thanks to our ace volunteers for making this happen.

You can sign up to the breakfast run here. Meet at the train station at 7.30am.

You can sign up to the lunch run which takes in all the film sites of Sheffield. Thanks to the fab folk who are putting these on for us.

Welcome to Sheffield. You probably won’t want to leave.

Written by Eddie Coates-Madden, head of comms at Sheffield City Council so he knows his shizzle

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you’ll need to bake if you’re coming to #commscampnorth

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by Kate Bentham, commscampnorth cake monitor

I’ve done my research and it turns out that there’s loads more to Sheffield than steel, hills, and Def Leppard. It’s now also hosting the famous Comms Camp Cake Table as it continues its tour of the world, taking cake to the masses, giving people what they want, powering comms on baked goods alone.

I’ve been lucky enough to be the Official Cake Table Monitor since the first CommsCamp in Birmingham in 2013 and for those who don’t know the situation with the cake table let me fill you in on a few pointers.

  • The cake table only works because of the lovely people who bake cakes and bring them along for others to share. If you can, please bake a cake. It doesn’t have to be a showstopper. A batch of fairy cakes, a traybake or anything else that travels well will be much appreciated.
  • If you do bake you will be entered into the CommsCamp Star Baker competition. It’s a fiercely fought contest with prizes for the winner and 3 runners up.
  • If you’re not a cake baker, don’t worry, there’s no shame in bringing along a shop bought cake, we appreciate all cake – although please don’t try and pass it off as one you’ve made. You may think that adding a bit of decoration, or taking it out of the packet and putting it into a tin will fool some but we’ll find out. We’re cake professionals.
  • We also need cake eaters, and not only because it’s amazing how conversations and networking improve with a bit of lemon drizzle, but because we’re after your money. In return for a slice of yummy cake we ask those that can to donate to charity. Since CommsCamp started in 2013 our lovely attendees have raise over £1000 for local charities. Proof, if proof were needed, that comms people are kind, generous and massive fans of cake.
  • This year all money raised from the cake table will go directly to The Sick Children’s Trust – Treetop House which provides free accommodation for families with children on intensive care wards at Sheffield Hospital. This charity runs entirely on donations so please look out for the donation bucket on the cake table and give generously. Just think how much you’d pay for a slice in one of those fancy coffee shops, and give it to this amazing cause instead.
  • At CommsCampNorth it’s OK to eat cake for all your main meals and any snacks in between. You’ll like it. It’s like when you get to eat chocolate for breakfast on Christmas morning. Perfectly normal.
  • As an experienced cake eater, my cake table survival tips are ease any cake guilt by visiting the gym the day before or take part in the CommsCamp Runch, wear baggy or elasticated clothes to allow for tummy growth, and bring the big coins to donate to The Sick Children’s Trust.
  • And remember, scientists have proven that all cake calories consumed during a CommsCamp don’t count. Bonus.

So, happy baking, happy eating, happy CommsCampNorth. See you with your baked goods at the cake table on April 27.

Kate Bentham, or Cake Bentham as I was once introduced as, Official Cake Monitor (best job in the world).

 

 

 

 

How to create a more creative approach

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by Jonathan Cross, Touch Design

Is creativity a gift that some people have and some people don’t? Are some people ‘naturally creative’ or are you someone ‘who does not have a creative bone in their body?’ The simple answer is that we are all creative. And we are as creative as we allow ourselves to be.

We were recently given a brief by East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) who wanted to show the benefits of working at EMAS to student paramedics due to graduate. One of the biggest issues facing the NHS, locally and nationally, is the ability to recruit and retain staff. We played around with images and then we played around with words… ‘EMAS is an amazing place to work’ became ‘EMAS is amazing’ which became ‘EMAZING’. Often there is enough complexity in organisational structure and mission that our job is sometimes just to make things simple. #EMAZING is spreading around the organisation, invoking real pride in the job and inspiring colleagues to spread the word.

Is this itself inspiring creative or is it simply just us doing our job. The job that we’re paid to do. What is ‘being creative’? Is it a trait that is assigned to some, and not allowed for others? Do we all have the permission to be creative?

Creative sometimes means taking a step back from the norm. There are many tasks in our everyday working lives that we have done countless times before. It is easy to replicate what we did the previous time. It saves time, money and effort. But taking a creative approach can reinvigorate a piece of work, add a new dimension, and spark a light on a new way of working.

One thing we’re sometimes asked is ‘how can I be more creative?’ or ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ We can provide some hints and tips but there’s no one answer. You have to give yourself permission to be creative. You have to find the time to be creative. And you have to believe you have the ability to be creative. Given time and an open mind, ideas will flow. And where there are enough ideas, there will be a good idea.

Here are some thoughts to help you with your creative thinking:

  • The creative process is aided by a good brief – if you are the client, try to provide as much relevant background information as possible.

 

  • Consider the ‘framing’ of the issue – thinking about the issue as a problem to be solved may be one way. But all issues can be considered in different lights. Is there another way of looking at your problem?

 

  • Come at the issue from a different angle – place your issue in another context – what would happen if you wildly exaggerated it, what would a child think of your issue, how would it work in the countryside, what if it was coloured orange, could you build a Lego model of it? None of these approaches are likely to produce the campaign you need but they will help you gain different perspectives.

 

  • Play with an issue – and have fun. Here at Touch we like to have fun with our work. A brief came in yesterday for a falls awareness campaign and there’s now a doodle of a banana skin on the desk pad. That’s too throwaway for a serious campaign – the campaign needs not only to be fun but functional and suitable for the audience – however, it gives us a starting point. And who knows where that will take us to? At the last point that banana sketch had been safely disposed of in the bin and transformed into ‘Steady Eddie’ – the wise cartoon man who knows all about how to prevent slips and trips…

 

  • Close the door and open another – there’s only so long you can play around with a certain idea. At some point you’ve got to close the door on that idea, walk down the hallway, and open another door, to another idea. Open and close enough doors and you will discover a room of surprises.

 

  • Take different approaches, put yourself in a new context – sometimes the best idea will come when you least expect it – when you’re in the shower or walking to work, from out of the blue inspiration will strike. If you’re still waiting for inspiration, put some dedicated time and effort into it. A cake will only come out of the oven if you put the right ingredients in the tin. Creativity sometimes needs a recipe.

 

  • You may not have the solution – sometimes despite the best efforts and the most dedicated thought, you may not find the answer you want. That happens, it’s just the way things are. However, you are not alone. Ask the person across the desk. Phone a friend. Ask a stranger. Form a focus group. Listen carefully. The answer is out there.

 

  • Still stuck? Leave the office, get some fresh air, come back, then give us a call. We’d love to talk through your ideas. Something #EMAZING may well result.

 

This post was written by Jonathan Cross of Touch Design as part of their support for #commscampnorth. They are good people. Very good people. Seek them out at the event where they are looking to pitch a session on creative play. Or via @teamtouchdesign on Twitter.

Unconferences for public sector comms people