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Hijinks Ensue

ConRunner 1 report

This weekend I was at ConRunner, the first in a series of biannual UK conventions for convention organisers. Of the various cons I've been to this is the one that gained me the most funny looks and bemused comments when I tried to explain it to my family and coworkers. Basically the idea was to hold a local equivalent of the long-running SMOFcon. One of the main topics of discussion was the possibility of a future UK or Netherlands Worldcon bid for 2014 or 2015.

It was held in the Britannia Hotel, Wolverhampton. This was an interesting old building with very convoluted corridors that meandered left and right, up and down, eventually doubling back on themselves and depositing you somewhere unexpected. It actually reminded me a bit of the hotel in Deep Secret. Personally I enjoy finding my way around hotels with quirky layouts, though I accept they aren't good for people with mobility problems or a poor sense of direction! It used to be the original Victorian railway hotel. The railway station has since moved a bit further away but it is still only a few minutes walk. The hotel doesn't have a car park of its own - you have to pay £6 a day to park in the station car park. I found the place easily first time by not paying much attention to the posted directions and just following the road signs for the station. Interestingly it has more than fifty chimneys on the roof - I guess at one time there was a fireplace in every guest bedroom. The staff seemed very friendly and helpful and the food was OK. The bedrooms were practical rather than luxurious, reasonably sized, and surprisingly cheap. I would recommend it for other very small cons (probably a maximum of about 100 members).

Most people arrived on Friday evening. Registration and the con bar were open but there was no official programming until Saturday morning, so we just sat around chatting until late. Perhaps next time there could be some very light programming to help break the ice, eg. a session of campfire tales about funny/weird/disastrous things that have happened at past cons (experienced conrunners have lots of these to tell, and newbie conrunners love to hear them).

Saturday morning I went out for a walk along a short stretch of the canal with watervole and somebody from a company that owns a number of conference venues, who had come along to the con to get a better idea of what conrunners are looking for in a venue. The first programme item I went to was Liaising the Devilled Eggs, about the job of hotel liaison and about hotel contracts. The point was made that although it's important to get everything down in writing, it's even more important to maintain a good working relationship with the hotel staff because if they are on your side they will bend over backwards to help when there are problems, whereas if they take a dislike to you they can make things very difficult regardless of the contract. Next I took minutes for the (possibly final) Orbital committee meeting, where a plan was agreed on how best to distribute the surplus funds. After that I went to an item about electronic vs paper distribution of progress reports and other con information.

Lunch was a buffet meal paid for by the con. Afterwards I saw three presentations from potential UK Worldcon venues. My first impressions were that the London venue is plenty big enough but may well prove too expensive; the Liverpool venue looks very interesting; and the Glasgow venue (previously used for the 1995 and 2005 Worldcons) we know can do the job but won't have improved much by 2014/2015 apart from some new hotels in the area and a big new auditorium which probably wouldn't be of much use to us. The next panel item I went to was one that I suggested: Reporting the News, about at-con newsletters; organising the production teams, technology required, non-paper alternatives, etc. Next came What to do About Tech, where Sparks talked about the benefits of simplifying and reducing tech requirements as much as possible. The final panel item of the day was Cooking the Books about finance and budgeting a con - some interesting stuff about what to do when your con gets big enough to need to be VAT registered.

I went off and found something for dinner, then went down to the public bar where we persuaded the staff to put Doctor Who on the projector screen, which was fun. RTD is really chewing up the universe he spent the last few series building. Later everyone divided into three teams to play an RPG about conrunning called If I Ran the Zoo Con. It was a nice idea, but unfortunately the game has some pretty major problems - it's very outdated and US-centric, the scenarios presented have very limited options and often key points of information needed to make a decision are not provided, it hovers uncomfortably somewhere between silly and serious, and it's much too long to run through a complete game in the hour allocated for it. There was a bit of discussion about rewriting it. The evening concluded with a party celebrating the 30th anniversary of Vince Docherty's introduction to SF conventions.

Sunday morning's first panel item was Logic or Logistics, about transporting stuff to and from conventions, focussing mainly on Sparks's experience with running logistics for Interaction. After that was an item about producing post-con souvenir books (johnrw is currently working on the Orbital one). Next came The Venue Quest, where auntiealice got everyone in the room to suggest one item they would want to have at an ideal con venue to demonstrate that people often have mutually exclusive requirements (my suggestion was free car-parking).

After lunch I sat through a presentation about three possible Worldcon sites in the Netherlands, before it was time for the final item of the con: discussing the possibility of bidding to host the 2014 or 2015 Worldcon in either the UK or the Netherlands. There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm but everything is very preliminary - there is no bid committee and the idea may yet come to nothing if none of the possible venues prove financially viable. The first steps are to sort out a way for interested parties to discuss venues (as I write a Google Group has been set up), and to arrange reconnaissance visits to some or all of the six potential sites that have been discussed.

Overall it was a good con, quite small and relaxed, with a good atmosphere and many interesting topics of discussion. It was nice to meet up with friends old and new. Kudos to Steve Cooper for organising it pretty much single-handedly. I have already joined ConRunner 2, which is apparently going to be held in January 2010 at a hotel somewhere like Manchester or Sheffield.


re: Glasgow venue. Might change a fair bit as Commonwealth games are 2014.

But as I am hoping to be living somewhere else by then, I won't shout too loud for it :-)
The games are one of the main points against it in fact if we go for the 2014 Bid which most people seem to want to.

For several reasons I'd like to see it in London, The main reason being it never has been and I believe the Time is right - and it would be nice to announce a London World Con Bid at a London Easter con. Which oddly enough is when it would happen if we go for 2014 rather than 2015
I don't really get why 2014 is better than 2015.. they're both just years? Any significant anniversaries for either?
There were various complicated arguments involved and it could go either way. The Netherlands people want 2015 because it's the 50th anniversary of their SF society and the last time they hosted the Worldcon was in 1990 on their 25th anniversary. One advantage of 2014 IIRC was that it might mean bidding in Chicago rather than Texas.
In 2015 it will be 50 years since the last London Worldcon. There's never been one in Liverpool.
A Liverpool Worldcon would be... interesting, given the issues we've had with the Adelphi over the years. I know that the new centre isn't in the middle of the city centre but there might well still be one or two similar security issues.

Security would be my big concern for any Liverpool worldcon. Which is a shame, as otherwise it's a great idea.
I think the SECC representatives said the only changes they had planned for the site were some more hotels and a giant flying-saucer style auditorium. I'm guessing the new auditorium will be more expensive to hire than the Armadillo (AKA the Clyde Auditorium), which we already know is big enough for our main evening events. There might be some smaller function rooms in it that we could use but they couldn't give us any details because the place is still being designed.
Time skips around a bit. Canal walk on Monday, then first programme item?

How did things go with the venue rep?
Oops, that should have been Saturday obviously.

She seemed friendly and open-minded. Although not exactly a fan, she did admit to reading some Arthur C Clarke. I didn't get a chance to talk to her at the end of the con to find out if she'd got what she wanted out of it. Judith might have her contact details.
I already have them, thanks. She contacted me beforehand, too.
I fancy going to the Return of the Ring con you talked about. Is it possible to join yet?
I was going to say that I'm pretty sure there's been a London Worldcon back in the early days of Worldconning, but Alex has already done that. Good to see I'm right ;-)

Naturally I'd love to see a London Worldcon as that would save me a fortune in travel costs (no chance of going overseas for a con for me.)Fingers crossed.

PS a conrunner con seems like a good idea to me ~ sharing ideas and experiences over a weekend has to be better than emails and quick meetings between a few of the committee members, (although it must seem abit geeky from the outside lol)

The higher hotel room rates in London might add up to more than the cost of return rail fare to Liverpool or Glasgow.
Well, depends how I'd work it out ...if I went to just two days of the Worldcon like I did at the last one, then thats what, maybe £40 membership a day, and therefore I could just travel into London without staying there! That'd be what, £14 for a dasy travel card. That's just over £100 :-)

I must admit though, that if it was viable I'd like to go to Liverpool ...I haven't been there for years.
Where were the Netherlands sites?

The Dutch have a verb (borrelen) meaning 'to have a drink after a conference'. What more do you want? Herrings?
I was kind-of hoping for Rotterdam, as it is a city I would like to explore more (I've only visited for a day).

It shouldn't take a worldcon to get me back to Rotterdam! But it may well do.