Finding the right venue – ‘Fern Crazy’

By Dr Jude Piesse, lecturer in English at Liverpool John Moore University

Read Jude's great advice on working collaboratively with your venue to reach your local community and get some top tips for venue-hunting. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your event?

‘Fern Crazy’ recreated the Victorian fern craze at Sefton Park Palm House, drawing on my research in this field. Our children’s planting sessions created a permanent new fernery on site. Other highlights included a pop-up exhibition, storytelling, fern-themed crafts with designer Nghia Ton, and a rare book display. The event aimed to deepen and extend connections between city families and the Palm House and to bring to light forgotten aspects of cultural history. I was also keen to explore links between the fern craze and the environmental and practical challenges facing urban gardeners today.

Why was Sefton Park Palm House the right venue for your intended audience?

The target audience were families with pre-school and primary-school aged children. The Palm House is a much-loved Liverpool landmark and it is used for a wide range of community events and activities, including projects with schools and children’s groups. We were able to draw on many of these existing contacts and relationships for ‘Fern Crazy’. The Palm House’s glass construction and exotic plants make it a very exciting, sensory venue for young children to explore. Planting the fernery, led by Palm House gardener Colin Hughes, was a first gardening experience for some of the children involved.

‘Fern Crazy’ all set up ready for a day of fun at Sefton Park Palm House © ‘Fern Crazy’
‘Fern Crazy’ all set up ready for a day of fun at Sefton Park Palm House © ‘Fern Crazy’

How did you go about selecting your venue?

I live close to the Palm House and am a fairly regular visitor. As a Victorian glasshouse that originally housed seventy fern species, I was aware that the building spoke directly to the material culture, history, and aesthetics of the fern craze. I initially contacted the Palm House team by email to find out if they would be interested in developing an event together for Being Human. I then met with director Roy Boardman, Visitor Experience Manager Kate Martinez, and gardener Colin Hughes to discuss ideas and options before writing my funding application. The event that we created in partnership was very much tailored to the venue, and it evolved in ways that were specific to the setting.

Did you stay in touch with your venue throughout the organisation process and was this helpful?

I worked very closely with the Palm House staff from the planning stages through to the festival itself. We had several meetings and many email exchanges and telephone calls. In July, Kate, Colin, and I visited the Victorian fernery at Southport Botanic Gardens to learn more about fernery planting and design from members of their team. From September onwards, I was also in regular contact with designer Nghia Ton to discuss his contribution to the event. The Palm House helped to promote ‘Fern Crazy’ via their website, brochure, social media channels, and friends’ newsletter, for which I wrote a short article.

Attendees enjoying an activity session at Sefton Park Palm House © ‘Fern Crazy’
Attendees enjoying an activity session at Sefton Park Palm House © ‘Fern Crazy’

Were you happy with how the event went? What were the major successes?

I was very happy with how the event went and feel that the venue, and the expertise and experience of its staff, was central to its success. 250 people attended on the day and over 700 dropped in during the week that the pop-up exhibition remained on display. The fernery itself will be a lasting resource for the community. We hope that children who took part in the planting will come back to visit it over the years and that it will help to strengthen their relationship with the Palm House.

Do you have any top tips or lessons learned from working with your venue?

  • Make the venue integral to your event rather than an add-on.
  • Take the opportunity to forge new partnerships and relationships that could grow beyond the festival timeframe.
  • Consider what the venue’s team might be able to add to your own research. Could their knowledge and expertise help to take the event in new directions?
If you would like to learn more about how to find a suitable public engagement venue check out our toolkit on ‘Finding the right venue’.
This project was part of Being Human’s 2019 Small Award pathway. If you would like to be part of the festival please visit our ‘Get involved’ page.