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Working on a budget - 'Facing History'

By Dr Emily Cock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Cardiff University

Read Emily's top tips for delivering an event on a budget and how to focus your funds on the important aspects.

Can you tell us a little bit about your event?

‘Facing History’ created imaginative portraits for a set of people who do not have them: individuals transported to New South Wales by the British penal system in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These portraits were based on weekly newspaper advertisements for runaway convicts, which provide a unique register of physical descriptions and show the unexpectedly diverse mixture of people living in the Australian colonies.

I commissioned a Cardiff artist, Rosemary Baker, to create five pen portraits which attendees could browse at the event and discuss the research behind them with me. Attendees also had the chance to draw convict portraits themselves based on the runaway advertisements.

‘Facing History’ showcased at the Being Human festival launch © Being Human festival
‘Facing History’ showcased at the Being Human festival launch © Being Human festival

Did you have any big ticket items in your budget? Why was it important to include these?

The biggest budget item was paying the local artist to produce five pen and ink portraits. I chose a cross-section of representative figures (a mixture of men and women, a child, a BAME convict, visible disability, a Welsh convict, etc.) and wrote biographies based on historical records. These portraits were invaluable springboards for discussion and interest, and the artist helped promote the event in her local networks.

In order to reach beyond the usual Cardiff public history crowd, and to promote the event as a relaxed, drop in, have a drink and learn something affair, it was necessary to hire a venue off campus. The café venue assisted with advertising and removed the need for catering, and because it was an open public café I did manage to engage some people who hadn’t come to the event specifically, so that paid off!

An unanticipated cost (for someone new to public events in Wales) was Welsh translation of advertising and information materials. So watch out for that.

Were you creative in saving money?

The art materials were kept simple and cost-effective: coloured pencils, glue, basic clipboard easels, etc. These were donated after the event to a local children’s charity. Signs stayed A4 to be printed and laminated at work (and fit on the table), and the portraits were cheaper A5 and I displayed them in simple Ikea frames.

Other elements were crafty raids on my home cupboards, such as jars collaged with newspaper scraps for pencil holders, hand-cut printed advertisements (a slow job), and the cloth bag from my Scrabble set turned inside-out and dabbed with eucalyptus oil for the advertisement lucky dip. Advertising was time-consuming but free: sticking up A4 posters and distributing Being Human booklets across Cardiff (including chatting to business owners/staff), Twitter/Facebook/my blog, and the School/University publicity outputs.

I was also lucky to have a paid undergraduate student working with me on the related research project over the summer who was happy to help on the night, with her payment coming out of that budget. She brought friends to the event, and promoted it in undergraduate student associations.

Portraits drawn by attendees at the ‘Facing History’ event © Emily Cock.
Portraits drawn by attendees at the ‘Facing History’ event © Emily Cock

Were there any challenges throughout the process? How did you overcome them?

Because the event integrated disability history in particular, I initially worked with the local café Aubergine, which is a community-engaged enterprise specifically run by autistic managers in order to empower autistic people through accessible environments and innovative working practices. The event budget thus included money for consultation with them over event accessibility. The café was forced to relocate unexpectedly, and after giving them as long as possible we eventually agreed they would not reopen in time for the event. So I had to find a new family-friendly, affordable and wheelchair accessible venue at late notice. The resulting venue was flexible in reducing the hire cost to within budget for non-exclusive use of the space (so it pays to ask!). Other venues were politely but directly informed if their bid was unsuccessful because of a lack of wheelchair accessibility, and a resulting success has been at least one venue remedying this.

Do you have any budget-based top tips you would give to someone organising a future Being Human event?

  • It will take a lot of time to do everything yourself. Plan accordingly.
  • Be open about budget restrictions with venues, etc. The café reduced their hire fee, and the artist was up-front about what could be delivered at what prices.
  • Talk about the event planning with friends and family and listen for ideas—it’s free public consultation, and they will probably be glad to be involved in your research for once!

If you would like to learn more about putting together a public engagement event check out our toolkit on ‘Working on a budget’.

This project was part of Being Human’s 2019 Small Award pathway.