Let’s organise a STEM Festival!

When I first came up with the idea for a STEM festival in 2016, I hoped, but never imagined that we would inspire so many people to action to make an event of this scale a reality. With the support of the wonderful Joff, Andy, and new recruit Liz, we have managed to pull off the second festival and made it even bigger and better than before!

We knew that if we could organise a quality, independent, and inclusive event the people of Peterborough would want to attend.

This was proven this year when we released the first 200 early-bird tickets by email and they were sold out within hours! We doubled the number of tickets available for 2017 and we were thrilled when they were all taken up, all 1100 tickets. At the initial count, we welcomed around 750 people through the doors in 2017, even on a wet cloudy day this was a great achievement.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the ‘Make some Slime’ table was the most popular. We had over 300 slime makers during the day. Phew.

750 people through the door
300 blobs of slime made
70 Aldi bananas consumed
50 Workshops and activities
30 Volunteers
26 Exhibitors
4 Exhausted Organisers!

I was also delighted to have Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace Day and inspiration for STEMFest attend for the day and meet some of our visitors. It was due to attending an ALD Live! event in London in 2015 that I came back to Peterborough totally buzzing with the (crazy) idea of organising our own little indie event. I talked to Andy and Joff, totally expecting (and perhaps hoping) that they would pooh-pooh the idea, but they got behind it and the rest, as they say, is history!

It was so lovely to be able to (proudly) show her all the amazing exhibits, play a duck challenge game and meet some of the friends and supporters who have helped us make the event a reality.

Last but not least, a huge thank you to our DPiP friends and supporters who continue to offer their time and expertise for free. Without their support we couldn’t have made this festival happen.

Did you know…

It is worth mentioning that DPiP and STEMFest is run entirely by volunteers. We work on these projects and events for free and in between our day jobs (you know, the ones that are required to pay the mortgage and feed the family). It’s a credit to the team that we have achieved so much in such a short space of time, and that there’s no intention of slowing down!

As I write this post, it is tinged with pride and sadness as I know this will most likely be the last time I am involved with STEMFest. I will be moving onto pastures new — pastures located 11,387 miles away to be exact. I am confident that I leave the STEMFest ship in the very capable hands of Joff, Andy, and Liz. Big plans for STEMFest 2018 are already underway, so brace yourselves Peterborough 🙂

I organised a STEM Festival and all I got for it was this T-shirt.

Goodbye and thank you for the memories, stay curious and awesome my friends!

Signing off for the last time as a STEMFest co-organiser,

Tia Lush
Founder of Peterborough STEM Festival
Co-organiser of Digital People in Peterborough (DPiP) and hoarder of too many brush pens.

How to organise a STEM festival and still remain sane

As a self proclaimed veteran (having organised one STEM festival for Peterborough), I thought it might be helpful to impart some useful tips to anyone looking to embark upon the same insane journey.

Before I start, I’d like to point out that this is not in any kind of logical order. It’s almost as if I am sat perched on the sofa with thoughts spilling out of my (cake deprived) mind. Maybe.

Here goes:

1. Choose co-organisers on your team who are generous, like-minded and level-headed. You’ll probably need to call on their ability and dedication to put up bunting and event decoration with you at 10pm the night before the big day.
2. Make sure one of your co-organisers is good with words. He’ll need these skills so that he can reply to the emails that make you want to curse like a fish-wife.
3. Surround yourself with awesome people who know what they are doing so that you inadvertently bask in the glow of their achievements and talent.
4. Recruit a team of dedicated and wonderful volunteers, supply them with a complicated spreadsheet so that it looks like you have put some thought into their roles and then step back and let them do their jobs on the day.
5. Use your influence on your school mum friends to get them to help you spread the word to their networks and then nag them into booking tickets on the pretense that they are ‘testing’ the booking system for you. Repeat this several times.
6. Use all your skills at begging for freebies and calling on people’s generous nature, because you will have zero budget to work with.
7. Wait for your friends to offer to help with a small task and then somehow escalate their role until they end up managing the front registration desk on the day.
8. Don’t organise another major digital event four days after the festival day because you’ll end up feeling knackered.
9. Be sure you are married to a supportive partner who is unfazed by your crazy schemes (this one should probably be the first thing on this list).
10. If anyone asks you when you will be organising the next STEM festival, don’t start sobbing and rocking on our heels, it makes people feel uncomfortable.

So, those are my top tips. Unfortunately, they don’t guarantee any success for organising a STEM festival, but I can guarantee that it will be a once in a lifetime experience, and you will make some amazing friends along the way.

Peterborough STEM Festival 2016

Why it’s important to support your independent local business

I have always been a believer in supporting local businesses and during the lead up to Christmas I made a conscious decision to shop local and indie whenever I could. Without our local trades and services we will end up with soulless, generic town and city centres.

It is with a sad heart that I greeted the news of the closure of one of Peterborough’s most loved independent retailers. Reba Boutique is owned by indie champion Rachel Parkin, one of the most dynamic and business savvy people I know. The closure was prompted by a number contributing factors, but the reason that struck most with me the most was the fact that it’s so tough for small independent businesses to survive today. It appears that not enough is being done by the Government and local authority to help support the smaller businesses. Lots of sound-bites and words, but just not enough action.

Since the announcement of the closure, the Reba team had been inundated with messages of support and sweet stories from people who have used or been a customer of Reba during its 19 years of trading. People have felt a real connection and fondness for this little boutique. What made it stand out from the crowd was the unique range of products and the amazing staff. I would challenge you to find the same level of relationship between a customer and a large high street chain.

Peterborough has lost a little gem and a little bit of its heart today. Goodbye Reba, it’s been fun knowing you.

P.S. The final trading day will be Saturday 11th January 2014. There are still some corking bargains to be had in the epic end of lease sale so be sure to pop in and show the girls some love.

You can read the official press release below.

reba_end-of-lease

End of an era

When I opened Reba way way back in 1994 As a young 24 year old I wanted to bring something different to the city. I fell in love with the building, its vaulted ceilings, stone walls and air of timelessness. My logic was, if you’re going to spend all day somewhere it should be somewhere beautiful. I’ve never regretted my choice.

Fast forward 19 years. While Reba has had many incarnations it has always offered something a bit different from the norm, either handmade, beautiful, quirky, or from a small label or company. I’m a firm believer in the “have nothing that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful” adage.

Sadly, it’s the end of our time here in Peterborough, a city that has for the most part been kind to us and supported us with enthusiasm. For many people reading this, this really won’t register as important in the grand scheme of life and of course it’s not really up there with finding a cure for incurable diseases or anything so noble, but it is, in my estimation at least, the end of an era, and not just for my little shop.

It’s an embittered and embattled time for small independent retailers, rents are way out of line with the footfall that’s a daily reality on our high street, business rates are unbelievably high and all this against the backdrop of the highest internet usage in Europe means that it’s no longer reasonable for us to continue in Peterborough.

On a personal note, this saddens me, not only for the good people who’ve lost jobs at Reba through no fault of their own, many of whom have worked for me and together for years, building great relationships with each other and our customers. But also for the city. Not because I think we are irreplaceable, but because what we need more of on our high streets are independent shops and businesses that bring character to an area. The thought of a city filled with clone stores interchangeable with any high street in the country is to me, simply not appealing but it is the future we are looking into.

I’ve always believed that a great business comes from the heart. Sure money in the till is the final demarcation of success, but doing something well and with passion, professionalism and enthusiasm should be applauded – I worry for fledgling businesses trying to start in the city…. Where would you open to try out your business idea? If we don’t have spaces for these new businesses where will our young entrepreneurs go? Without that entrepreneurial spirit what will be the cost to the city in lost ideas, talent & youth?

So what has happened for us to finally call it a day after 19 years….? Well, the change in demographic of the city has had a huge impact. The work on Cathedral Square, while necessary to upgrade the city, took a massive toll on shoppers habits and then the never ending increase in parking charges… But the final nail in the coffin was the opening of the Peter Brotherhood retail park. Why would a customer pay to come into town to shop when they can pretty much get what they need out of town with free parking to boot?!

We’ve long been told that we can have it all. We’re the internet age, we can shop online and then visit an indie store, Garden Park, farmers market or thriving market town. Except of course we can’t! Or at least if these other sales avenues are going to exist outside of the traditional high street then rents and rates have to change and fast! Today, not tomorrow, that kind of fast.

Many of you reading this will have seen our campaign to promote independent retail in Peterborough through the launch of the indie retail map and local indie retailers. When I started this campaign early in 2013, I already knew that we would have to close, but I promised myself that if I was going to leave then I would leave with my head held high knowing that I had done everything in my power to challenge attitudes both in consumer’s minds and within the ranks of the authorities responsible for making many of the decisions detailed above.

So how do I feel about the closure of Reba today? If I’m truly honest, I feel as if I’ve failed. Logically I understand that 19 years can’t really be construed as a failure, but that is most certainly what it feels like. I understand that the odds were against us from the start…. But it still hurts.

As a wholesaler too, this story of mine isn’t just “my story” it’s being played out on High Streets up and down the country – We are in a time of change and it’s my belief that when the dust settles we’ll end up with a deeply divided system. Indie shops will, for the most part migrate to affluent pockets, market towns, community driven areas and out of the way places that can support them without crazy rent demands. Whilst our cities will become soulless clone towns that are interchangeable with every other high street in the UK.

While I might sound like a embittered doom merchant, that’s really not my intention. I’d merely like to point out that this is happening in front of our eyes. The opening of yet another betting shop in Bridge Street must surely be a wakeup call?

My vision for the city is for an aspirational centre, not because I’m a galloping snob, but because apart from it being pleasanter socially for each of us to live in a city like that, it also makes sound economic sense. Companies looking to relocate and bring their workforce with them will be looking at the amenities on offer… A vibrant city centre is high on their agenda. This is and always has been about so much more than simply “shopping”

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not “Peterborough bashing” I’m just reporting on things from my own little corner of the world. Peterborough has been good to us and in return we’ve tried to give something back. My vision was and remains to something different, to celebrate individualism, to offer choice and variety and fun…. It was not about purely making money, lest anyone confuse the two.

Facing our 20th year of trading, taking the decision to exit our lease has been a difficult and emotional one for all of us concerned. We would like to thank our staff, our suppliers and of course we’d like to thank the people of Peterborough and the surrounding areas, who have supported us for the past 19 years. We’ve had a blast and we’re so grateful to have been part of your lives. We wish you the very best.

Finally, I’d like to thank the local media who have always been very supportive of us and the council who listened to us. If you’re out and about shopping, please support the other indie retailers in the city.

We would like the farewell for Reba to be a celebration of our 19 year history, so if you are in the city centre before the 5th January please stop by to check out the sale, say goodbye and sign our picture!

For fun:

19 facts about Reba :

1. We opened in September 1994 – the no 1 then was Wet Wet Wet’s Love is all around.

2. In 19 years we’ve only had 6 managers.

3. We’ve employed some of the Reba girls from the age of 16 through to becoming parents (& beyond)

4. We’ve had 6 Reba babies.

5. The Reba building is a scheduled ancient monument (for those of you who’ve wondered why we don’t do anything about the steps 😉

6. When we opened I was told we were crazy and no business survived there…. As a retail location it’s not an easy one that’s for sure.

7. The girls have always sworn that there’s a ghost…. They call him Alan! To lay to rest a Peterborough myth I’ve never encountered him.

8. The Hangman’s Gaol door that used to hang in the museum was given back to us and is our stockroom door – complete with gruesome markings 😉

9. We’ve had one robbery! Who breaks into a gaol!?!

10. We are precisely xx feet under street level

11. The building has been a men’s clothing store, a Christian bookshop & a pharmacy (to my knowledge)

12. In 1994 the minimum wage didn’t exist (but hourly rates were around £2.50) today it is £6.31(for over 21 year olds)

13. In 1994 there were no websites & internet usage had just begun. Faxes were the order of the day! Oh and no-one had a mobile phone – Let’s take a second to remember that 😉

14. Our top selling item when we opened was the inimitable incense stick! In 2013 it’s scarves !

15.When we opened we were called Balagan, this is a Hebrew word meaning chaos ! We changed it and rebranded in 2006 to separate ourselves from our wholesale design business.

16. Reba started from a Saturday market stall (next to WH Smiths) and yes it was cold in winter 🙂

17. We’ve had a few celebrities through our door, all of whom we never thought to photograph

18. Our jewellery designs have been featured in Grazia, Heat and a host of
other fashion magazines.

19. We wanted to end on a grand finale, but we can’t begin to count the number of people who’ve given or received a Reba gift over the past 19 years… It has to number thousands and thousands….. Thank you to every one of you. You have made the ride enjoyable! Sometimes slightly bonkers, but deeply enjoyable !

Goodbye from Rachel & the Reba girls

Differences between graphic and web design

Design is design right? Well yes, but there is difference between the two.

If I was made to choose, I would have to say that I would fall more into the web designer side of the fence. You have to have graphic design knowledge to be a web designer, but not necessarily the other way round. Even though I studied fine arts, I started my design career working on websites and interactive interfaces.

So what are the differences and are they important? The simplified version would be that a graphic designer deals in physical printed media, while a web designer deals more with user-ability and how a site flows and works in terms of user interaction. It is very important to understand the differences when deciding on what type of designer you need for your project.

I find myself torn between the two disciplines at times, I love working on branding and logos as it’s normally for new businesses and individuals. I really enjoy being able to help clients define and develop their brand and identity. I suppose it’s like planting a seed and watching it grow, but without all the dirt and soil stuff. Equally, I also love working on designing websites especially when it comes to designing layouts for portals and working out how to display information that is creative yet effective. It’s akin to solving a puzzle that has more than one answer. Makes me use the logical side of my brain, which is always good.

When working on projects for printed media there are many things to bear in mind, not least of all how the design will work when it’s printed, the medium it will be printed on, the inks and colours used. There are so many things to take into consideration that if you don’t factor them in at the start, it could turn into a costly exercise for the client. That’s why it’s critical to always get a clear brief from the client, and then the job of a good designer is to guide the client while still meeting the objective of the overall brief.

Web design has even more things to consider. Leaving aside the aesthetics look and feel side of things, there are technical things to bear in mind, like, is the code as slick and ‘clean’ as it can be? Does it validate on W3C and behave the same on all browsers? (evil IE6 notwithstanding) and does the site flow logically or at least guide the user on the path you want them to take? How can you optimise the site so that the search engine robots can index your site?

I once worked alongside a project that was described as an online magazine. The clients asked a graphic design agency to design the website concept. The finished design was great, really elegant and classy and did not work as a web page whatsoever. The designers had designed a beautiful printed image, but had no idea of how the website would work or how the different elements like navigation would be incorporated. In the end I think it cost more time and money trying to (stubbornly) plug the design into a working website than it would have cost the client to get a website designer to design three versions of it.

I think graphic and website design require very different mindsets and skillsets.

If you are interested in my further ramblings, I have blogged some tips on web design DIY style previously which you may find of some interest.

Next post will be, the differences between web design and web development – will I have enough screen space for that?

For now here are some statistics regarding browsers which you might find interesting:

This report was generated 12/31/2009 based on the last 15,000 page views to each website tracked by W3Counter. W3Counter’s sample currently includes 32,094 websites. The browser market share graph includes data from all versions of the named browser families, not only the top 10 as listed below.

Craft fairs – hit and miss

I went to a craft fair today at the garden centre. It was marketed as a handmade only fair and I had high expectations, so much so that I went armed with some cash.

There was a selection of goods for sale and the majority was of homemade cards, jewellery (loose term), painted glass and wooden painted toys. Sadly I was not impressed with what was on offer and I was very disappointed in the quality of the goods on sale. A case of grannies sitting behind the tables with some decoupage cards, knitting. I have nothing against grannies, decoupage or knitting, just not all in the same context.

There is a place for these sorts of local home-grown events, but it makes it all that much harder to convince the public that handcrafted does not necessarily mean that you have to compromise on design, quality and workmanship, when this is the sort of event people are presented with and come to expect.

Am I being too harsh?

Eco chic

I am currently working with quite a few clients whose companies are based in the eco sustainability sector. I’ve been sourcing shots of wind turbines and solar panels, but nothing compares to this!

Image source: SRS Energy

How amazing would this be? ‘Mr. Crayons’ is always going on about getting a solar panel or doing something that would give us our own sustainable energy source. Not sure it would fit in a conservation area, but I love the idea of making something out of a material that is eco-friendly and yet looks so darn modern.

Clearly, you don’t have to be green to be green.

Using professional printers

I have always believed that to get professional results you should always use professional printers. I believe this even though we have a super-dooper laser colour printer that does really good quality work.

I have been requesting samples from printers for a few clients’ stationery requirements and have been impressed with some of the quality I have seen. My particular favourite at the moment, and something I have an eye on for my own stuff when it comes to updating, is Spot UV treatment on business cards, especially on dark colours. Lovely.

Today I get a knock on the door and it’s a DHL man with a package. I get very excited, sign on the handheld unit and he hands over a C4 envelope with ‘URGENT’ taped across it. At this point I am a little confused as the envelope feels a little light and not that impressive considering the delivery method and packaging.

I open it up to find a couple of business cards a letterhead and a flyer. It is a sample from a printers I contacted. I look at the letterhead and think that it’s my eyes as the logo and blue printing looks a little blurred. I show ‘Mr. Crayons’ who promptly whips out his photographer’s negatives viewer and confirm that it’s the shoddy printing quality. One look at the business cards confirms that this is not the type of company I want to refer my clients to or have anything to do with. The inks look dull, the card stock looks cheap and the overall presentation is poor. A total let down and considering the expensive of the courier, seems like a waste of money and resources.

Just goes to prove that it really does make sense to check out the quality of the press, paper stock and printers before using a company for your printing jobs.

Validating websites

validator0

Designing websites is like painting a picture, you need to use the right tools and in the right sequence or it’s just a big old mess. If you don’t prime your canvas, no-one will really know, but your colours won’t be as true and vivid as they could be. The same can be said of your code.

I would hope that people check their designs on different browsers and platforms to ensure that the site looks and behaves as it should. I am not a fan of MS Internet Explorer (by any stretch of the imagination), but I acknowledge that there are still people out there who use it and so I make sure my designs work within all the IE quirks. It would be so much easier if we all used the same browser! Anyway I digress, the final step in the web design process should always be to validate the code.

Don’t get me wrong, the amount of times I have sobbed into my hot chocolate when seeing the amount of errors after running the code through the validator is too numerous to count. It’s a scary but neccessary task to do, as not only is it always a good thing to know that you are doing things the ‘right’ way, but it also makes you more aware of ‘sloppy’ coding and hopefully avoid writing it in the future.

There is a great sense of achievement when you get that green ‘validated’ message appearing on your screen and it makes it all worth while. When I can hand over the code to the client and tell them that it has all been validated, just makes it all that much better.

That’s why…

If you are feeling brave or confident, why not run your site through the validator and see for yourself? Click on the I heart validator icon above!

Gremlins and gitches

Last night I had to transfer some of my websites from my current webserver to a new one as a precaution. The whole exercise was painful as I have quite a few sites to manage. The ordeal made me realise how much we rely on technology and how little we plan for when things go wrong with the technology.

‘Mr. Crayons’ is a server specialist, and is always drilling into me about making sure I have adequate backups of my work. I now make it a habit of running a backup on my computer before going to bed, but I can’t remember the last time I ran a backup of my websites or blogs!

I recently had a client contact me asking if I had a copy of the site I designed for him because his hosting company had pulled the plug on his account and may have deleted all his sites! Needless to say he was in a bit of a panic about the whole situation.

I always assume that my Hosting provider will have backups of my sites too, but yesterday has proven that you can never have too many backups or copies. So, if you are reading this and can’t remember the last time you ran a backup of your work on your computer, website or blog posts, I urge you to do so now!

It’s amazing the stuff we store about ourselves and our work, photos, articles and the thought of losing all that is just not worth contemplating.

Critiquing web site designs

I am often asked to critique web site designs DIY-style. Sometimes the only thing I can say that is positive about a design is that I like the use of a particular colour. I always try to be fair but honest.

I really think that there should be no excuses for having an ugly looking website, when you can easily buy a template for around $50 (although I clearly don’t advocate this method!).

Obviously there are create your own site using a ‘template based’ website and services, where you pay a monthly fee, but I have yet to see a nice looking website from this sort of service. It is sometimes a case of giving people false confidence.

I really admire people who really want to give it a go and I aways encourage it when I can. However, I am a firm believer in “know your strengths and weaknesses”. For example, I will leave the accountant to deal with my accounts and hope that he leaves the designing to the designers.

If I could offer any advice, it would be the following:

1. Keep it consistent. There is nothing worse than having the content and layout jump around the screen to put people off.
2. Make sure any images or pictures you use are of the same dimensions throughout.
3. Don’t use more than 3 styles of fonts and then only sparingly.
4. Never use red and blue coloured fonts (it may have worked in the early 1990s but not now)
5. Don’t overload the screen with information. White space is good, gives the eyes a rest and the chance for your content to shine through.
6. Keep all headings, titles and body text consistent (that ‘c’ word again).
7. Stay away from ‘comic sans’ font it’s not nice or funny.
8. Make sure that your navigation is simple and clear for the user to understand.
9. Don’t have a ‘splash’ page on a HTML site, it is just pointless. They were designed for Flash sites back in the early days when people were on dial-up and had wait for the page to load.
10. Keep it consistent (see a theme here?).

If all else fails there are more than enough good websites out there to take inspiration from, and then if that doesn’t work, you can contact someone like me and I’ll do it for you for a modest fee + chocolate buttons.