By Eamonn Patton
(this is extracted from a longer article covering several areas of the convention)
Impacting on the effectiveness of Ops was the organisational structure of the convention. Forgive me for stating (or repeating - you've probably heard this a dozen times) the obvious, but a more flexible means should be found for dealing with the Site. The requirement that all site communications went through a small number of individuals meant that they rapidly became swamped. This was a problem mainly on the first and second days, after that most problems had been solved. I'm not sure what the solution(s) should be.
There are two conflicting requirements. One is the need to ensure the Site receives a consistent approach from the convention. This implies a very small number of responsible people. The other requirement is for a rapid interface with the Site. This requires a larger number of people.
Given that the number of people on the Site's side was also finite, I'm not quite sure that increasing the number of people on our side would necessarily help. We (site and convention) both had heirarchical management structures (to a greater or lesser extent) and we (convent ion) insisted that all meaningful communication took place via the top of the heirarchies. The need for the communication was generated much lower down the heirarchy (fan room/kidcon/book room etc).
This happened because we did not trust the site. (I'm not saying that we were right or wrong to trust the site - for all I know they are rapacious sharks - merely observing that the lack of trust came, I think, from the lack of predictability of incurred cost.
Next time could we arrange some kind of "all in" deal whereby the site is more willing to undertake ad hoc work in return for us paying a bit more. What I'm talking about here is sharing the risk involved in the unpredictable nature of the demands generated by a convention. Perhaps the site will be unwilling to do this simply because they are used to commercial organisations and expect to stick them for every penny.
By Fiona Anderson
For much of the lead-up to the convention Mark Meenan was working alone on Site Liaison. This meant that there was no-one else who knew anything like as much as he did about the agreements he had negotiated with the SECC and the hotels. It also meant that he was overworked for many months continuously prior to the convention, with no team to help him. Should anyone do this again, I think it essential to ensure they have a team of people available, not just one person. The fact of having only one person was not Intersection's original plan either, but many of the people involved in the early stages moved away from Glasgow due to Real Life reasons, and could not then be replaced. Site was not the only loser from this, but it was the most significant loser, and Mark has to be congratulated for doing the excellent job he did do under those particularly difficult circumstances.
I had very little involvement with the Site prior to the convention, except for putting in orders for the various areas (furniture, power sockets, phones, watercoolers, refreshments, catering stands, security guards), and for ensuring that Ops procedures were in accordance with the SECC regulations - of which there were so many that merely reading them through took 2 hours, before setting about working with them.
All of these things individually cost far more than I would have expected, and had to come out of already tight budgets. Virtually everything that wasn't bare floor had to be paid for - including installing power sockets and charging for electricity use. Even the catering stands on which the SECC were making a profit, we had to pay to have installed (I believe around GBP 700 each).
Many people have criticised the Fan Room and Hall 3 set-ups, which were essentially 4 walls built into a square to make rooms. The problem with this was that they had no roofs, and therefore there was no sound insulation, leading to panellists having to strain their voices, and then to hurried hiring (which was not so easy because of the Edinburgh Festival being on at the same time) and installation of PA systems that then competed with each other etc. There was however no way we could have afforded to pay for roofs on any of these, as we would also have had to pay for the installation of roof sprinkler systems, which would apparently have bumped the cost up by GBP 15000 each. However Vince has said that the new building work being done by the SECC will mean that they will eventually have purpose built rooms available right beside the main complex.
Despite my lack of knowledge of the Site deals however, I spent most of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday sorting out problems with the SECC for people who had accosted me in Hall 4 and who were concerned that whatever they had asked for hadn't happened. Since most of the things I was asked about were fairly standard stuff, and some of them came directly under my brief anyway, this was not as difficult as I had feared. I was fortunate that no-one asked for anything particularly impossible…and the convention as a whole was very fortunate that so many people in the different areas turned up early to the SECC to help with set-up, which would otherwise have been a nightmare. Particular thanks need to go to Wilf James who spent three days full time in Hall 2 checking in deliveries from lorries and sorting them into an organised warehousing system, for the areas to collect from there, so that it was a lot less hassle than it might have been. But many other people, who I didn't necessarily know the names of (as well as many I did) put in a great deal of effort to make Set Up happen relatively smoothly.
Talking of trust, as Eamonn does, the problem was we had no idea how the SECC viewed us, whether they viewed us as clients to be fleeced or whether they would stick rigidly to contracts, or whether they would be flexible in their understanding of deals or what. And many of us who had been to ConFiction had remembered the dire warnings issued there about how asking for even simple things from a conference centre could end up costing the convention serious money.
At all times during my dealings with the SECC staff they were unfailingly courteous and helpful, but I have no idea of the money side of things. The only clue I have on that comes from the fact that at the end of the con they gave us a refund on all the unused/ unopened stocks in the Gopher Hole, which they need not have done.
Less people stayed on to help with Tear Down than were there for Set Up, so everything had to be far more of a rush job. Our people on site for both Set Up and Tear Down were required to wear badges so the SECC staff (and ourselves!) would know they were indeed supposed to be there. This was because with a staff of around 750 there were very many people that did not know each other by sight, even among the regular con-goers, and there was so much coming and going as to deliveries by commercial firms, dealers, and fans, that it was difficult to keep track of everyone and everything. We were extremely lucky that (as far as I know) we only had one theft (of a video recorder) during the entire convention.
We also had a deadline in our contract for when we had to be out of certain Halls and offices (likewise during Set Up), which added to the pressure for speedy dismantling, packing, and loading of vans at the end. We also had to unexpectedly hire an extra van at the last moment, and had other unexpected transport difficulties, which were solved by people stepping in to help, but no-one should count on that happening next time. Hiring one van for the duration of the con, rather than just delivery and pick-up was a good move, but perhaps one should also look at local van hire firms with a view to short-not ice local hires like this being possible.
But there absolutely needs to be a team to deal with Site next time, not just one person - what would have happened if he'd been run over by a bus?
And talking of buses, that was another first for us - that because the rail link between Glasgow Central and the SECC was out due to flooding, we had to organise a bus service, which went round a circuit between the SECC and the major hotels, and I believe they charged a flat rate fare for this. One of the advantages of the SECC is that rail link, so this was a major blow. Though it seemed to work on the day, it was yet another thing that had to be dealt with in Glasgow when we were so short of people already in Glasgow…
By Tony Carey
This is an extract from an article which originally appeared in AMI Magazine, which concerns the eating habits of delegates and trends in mass catering:
In August the SECC played host to the International Science Fiction Conference, but did the 5000 Sci-fi buffs (many dressed as aliens) demand space-age food or themed meals? Not at lunchtime anyway. It seems that most space travellers will boldly go to the ends of the universe only if they can get a burger and chips when they get there. Incidentally, a word of advice to any venue hoping to attract a science fiction event…stock up on the confectionery. Aliens are all chocaholics and will clean you out of Mars bars, Star bars, and Galaxy before you can say Captain Kirk.
But perhaps the Sci-fi addicts are a portent for the future, after all. Many events are now opting for high quality simple food that can be served and eaten quickly by large numbers.