Why I love Commscamp – the Punk Rock comms conference.

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I first went to Commscamp in 2015.

At the time I was a Marketing Manager in the NHS, with a need for inspiration and a thirst for new ideas.

I got both in absolute spades, and have made it my Number One go-to event of the working year ever since.

I love the informal “unconference” way of learning, and it has been incredibly enriching to me in so many ways.

If it’s your first time at Commscamp, here’s what you can expect, if your experience is anything like mine:

  1. It’s the punk rock comms conference

The comms counter-culture is real, and it’s never louder and prouder than at Commscamp.

We don’t have the money, time or inclination to fly to Dubai for a 3-day linen-suited conflab. So us comms people in the public, third and charity sectors have come together to do it for ourselves.

We don’t need motivational keynote speakers – we’re motivated anyway.

We want to get down to it and put our skills and energy to use to help make our communities’ lives better.

You don’t get a certificate or a professional accreditation for coming to Commscamp. But what you do get is way more important than that: a sense of people helping each other out, a sense that people out there in totally different parts of the country are looking out for each other, and a sense that, yes, you can make a difference too.

We don’t need permission or a big budget for that. All we need is like-minded people, a big room in a post-industrial part of a big city, and the willingness to help each other out.

That’s why it’s the punk rock comms conference.

  1. You’ll learn. You’ll learn lots.

I can honestly say that I’ve learned more from Commscamps that I’ve ever learned in more formal work-based training.

Back in 2015 there was a massive problem at the NHS organisation I was at around staff morale and internal comms.

I tagged along to a session about internal comms, learned the “Engage for Success” framework, suggested implementing it back at work, added a touch of creativity, and our staff engagement scores increased massively year-on-year (resulting in a HSJ award for staff engagement). If I trace the key moment in that improvement journey, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was that session at Commscamp in 2015.

  1. Others will learn from you too

But here’s the thing: you’ll turn up at Commscamp thinking you know less than everyone else, and it’ll turn out that you’re actually a fountain of insight yourself! Who knew?!

This is absolutely something that is amazing about this get together. Everyone has something valuable to contribute.

Though everyone has a unique set of circumstances, they also have common challenges: reduced budgets, the deadlines, the “can’t you just put it on Twitter” mentality of our colleagues.

But with those experiences comes learning from others in similar situations. If you’ve done comms in the public or third sector you will have interesting perspectives that will be useful for others to hear about: how you approached a particular challenge, how your commissioning process works, that time you had that game changing brainwave in the middle of the night.

These are invaluable experiences for others. So as much as you’ll learn loads from others; you’ll be surprised, and delighted, how much they learn from you too.

  1. There is NO hierarchy

There are no bosses, and no juniors at Commscamp. Everyone is equal, and everyone’s experience is valuable.

I’ve been in sessions where Heads and Directors of Comms have been listening open-mouthed as junior social media execs blind them with science on Google Analytics, DIY video, and Snapchat (OK the Snapchat one was all the way back in 2016).

Equally I’ve been in sessions where NHS people have helped solve Housing Comms issues; where Local Gov people have made Central Gov people think very differently about an issue; and where a graphic designer has helped to move a Head of PR into a different mindset.

It’s a great leveller for everyone.

  1. Everyone is bloody lovely

This can’t be overstated.

Just by being involved in Commscamp, I’ve made contacts and friendships that I never would’ve had otherwise; and that have been transformational for my career.

There’s a real sense of community among the organisers, the volunteers, the sponsors and the participants. And once you’ve been to more than one Commscamp, you’ll never feel alone at a Comms2.0, NHS or Local Gov event ever again.

Not only that, but your Twitter feed will be fresher and nicer than it’s ever been.

It’s a community of people that are committed to improving the life chances of the people we serve; and who really believe in the power of comms to bring that about. We’re like-minded people, with similar passions and similar experiences; but each with a unique perspectives.

There are no egos or big heads. Everyone genuinely loves what they do, and wants to help each other do it better.

And everyone loves sharing cake. That too.

Sound good? Of course it does.

See you in Birmingham.

Ben Capper

Marketing Consultant. Grey Fox Communications and Marketing Ltd.

Picture by Nigel Bishop.

 

 

 

#commscamp ticket release info

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We’ve been on the road to Sheffield so far this year… and now we’re coming home.

The 6th annual commscamp will be held at The Bond Company in Birmingham on July 12.

We loved it in Sheffield for #commscampnorth but there is nothing like the magic of the original event.

For those that don’t know, this is an unconference for public sector comms people. It happens because of volunteers and lovely sponsors. The aim is to do, share and help each other do things better.

There will be THREE chances to get a ticket. They will be released from a link to a secret eventbrite page posted ON THIS PAGE as well as on our Twitter @commscamp.

6.6.18 at 10am

11.6.18 at noon

13.6.18 at 9pm

Good luck!

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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Unconferences for public sector comms people