Conference: A Newbie and Passless Guide
The last weekend of September 2021 brought my very first experience of attending the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Heading anywhere new can be a rather overwhelming experience and for this fledgling member of the Labour Party overwhelmed was an understatement. I was attending the conference alone and with no pass, so information was thin on the ground. Here is everything that I learnt from that experience. The basics Any information you find about the conference will contain references to “the conference area”. However, this may as well have been a magical mystery location like “Narnia” due to the lack of information anywhere on what exactly the conference area entailed. Luckily, this conference newbie had the sisterhood to fall back on, and one (rather embarrassing) what’sapp exchange later I was put in the know. I ask the stupid questions so you don’t have to, you’re welcome. So, “the conference area” refers to the Brighton Centre and Hilton Brighton Metropole. Those should be the only venues which require a pass. There are a plethora of other venues and fringe events available for you to enjoy and there are certainly enough for you to feel like you have had a full experience.
Arriving by train means that you are about 10ish minutes walk to the seafront where most of the action is happening. It’s pretty much just a straight shot down the high street (downhill!). So if, like me, you are directionally challenged the main thing to do is head down the highstreet towards the sea. The main conference venues and many fringe venues are then along that road on the seafront. Purchase of ice cream or stick of rock en route essential. The main road along the seafront will be busy and crowded. If crowds are not your jam, I recommend crossing the road and walking along the beach. It will be a bit quieter and provide a more holiday feel. Note to self, do not get distracted by 2p machines in the arcades! Accommodation books up quickly and can be expensive so if this is something you need I suggest booking it as early as you can. If you are going with a group consider an air bnb as it can be more cost effective. Other hacks/tips Get the app - It’s free to download and contains all the essential details on what’s happening over the conference. A general rule of thumb is any event held in the conference area (see above) is a no go if you are passless. There is a separate section on the app containing a schedule of all the fringe events and their locations including information on accessibility. From there, you can easily sort through what you can attend and even build your own schedule of events using a feature called “my agenda.” (Overtones of world domination encouraged!) Say hello! - part of the joy of conference is meeting new people. It’s a fantastic opportunity to hear about the movement in other parts of the country, bond with like minded people and learn from each other. Covid hasn’t given us much opportunity to connect with people in 3D so I relished this during my time at conference. Be brave. - If the event you are at invites questions, ask one! Use the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issues you care about. It goes without saying that your questions should be relevant to the session. If you don’t manage that opportunity try approaching the speaker or panalist you wanted to talk to. The worst that can happen is they say no. If they can’t chat right at that moment make sure you have some way of contacting them in the future, which leads me on to my next point! Take some business cards. - Conference is a perfect opportunity to get your network face on. I have got into the habit of bringing my business cards with me wherever I go because you never know when opportunity might strike. For example, like the above scenario of trying to have a chat with someone at conference who might not have time right at that moement. Make sure you leave with their contact details and give them yours. Have a pen handy so you can jot down the context you met in. That bit of advice was given to me by Christine Megson and has turned out to be extremely useful! Go online. - If you are unable to attend the conference there are a few webinars and events held online. I went to some webinars by the main Labour Party as the conference continued during the week. Also available were … [I’ll try and find any other online events to do with conf if I can’t then I’ll ditch] Ask questions. - One thing I have learnt during my first year as a member of the Labour Party is that they love an acronym! CLP, BLP, NEC the list goes on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify the jargon. If anything, it can be a useful reminder to be inclusive for any outward facing campaigns or communications. If we as a movement want to connect with our wider communities, remembering that not everyone understands what various acronyms or any other jargon will help us do that. Give yourself some space. - It can be easy to spend your time at conference running around like a headless chicken trying to get to absolutely everything, talk to everyone and make the most of every opportunity. Relax. Breathe. Take your time. A big highlight for me from my first conference was having a lovely chat with a friend from my FWN mentoring cohort. We sat in a random vegan cafe (because #Brighton) away from all the hustle and bustle and put the world to rights. Covid and distance had meant that we had yet to spend much quality time together and for me, it was one of the best ways I could’ve spent my time. Getting some space might look differently to you, shout out to all my introvert friends! So however you can recharge your batteries, go for it and tell any feelings of FOMO to do one. This is your conference so you can make it look however you want.