1 May 2018

Walk the Plank conference 2018

'Disrupting the ordinary'

Every two years we like to bring together our core team, freelancers and other people that we have made connections with to explore where we’re at, where we want to go and how we want to get there.

It’s a chance not just to take stock and share information but for everyone to have their own say on a range of burning issues that matter to them.  The difference with this year’s conference, held on April 24, was that it was hosted for the first time in our new Cobden Works home. At our last conference in 2016 we were still just looking at site plans.

This year’s theme ‘Disrupting the ordinary’ was inspired by the lines from a poem composed by award-winning poet Louise Wallwein to mark the opening of Cobden Works back in November 2017.  Our aim was to use the collective minds and experience of our delegates to explore a range of related themes that helped us look forward as we embark on our new Arts Council England NPO reporting period from 2018 – 2022.

Kick starting the day was Shona McCarthy, CEO of Edinburgh Fringe, and chair of Walk the Plank’s board, who gave some personal insights into her role at the Fringe and her previous role as CEO of the Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture where she worked with us on Return of Colmcille back in 2013.

The theme of disruption and audacity continued with Dr Morag Rose of the unapologetically subversive Manchester-based Loiterers Resistance Movement who did a pretty impressive job at persuading us on the importance of walking and mapping out urban geographies to understand their evolution and, in many cases, furtive dissolution.

A mid morning workshop event inspired by one of the team’s recent engagement in the TANDEM Europe cultural exchange and innovation project saw each of us reconsider our ‘universe of work’ and the connections we make with our colleagues, collaborators and external partners. This was an illuminating compare and contrast exercise that helped us map out our diverse working relationships and some of the polarities we experience in our day to day work.

As we’re quite a disparate collective of people, including both full time and freelance staff, the day included presentations from the heads of all our main departments, looking back and looking forward to our strategic plans for the next 4 year NPO period.  From business planning and our future artistic vision to learning/training, marcomms and our pyrotechnic division, the conference provided an important platform to showcase recent developments and future plans.

Alison Surtees from the media and entertainment union BECTU joined us after lunch to talk about a new mental health first aid kit training module that she is now championing for people working in the creative industries – a development that clearly reflects the emotional challenges and pressures inherent in the creative industries sector.  Meanwhile, Shona’s afternoon address gave us the opportunity to hear about new partnership innovations at the Edinburgh Fringe and the development of their Blueprint milestones document mapping out their future goals and ambitions.

Open space sessions in the afternoon provided a vocal and energised forum for delegates to explore self-elected issues for discussion.  Topics ranged from how we talk about the value of our work in non monetary terms, how we optimise the nearby River Irwell to create a new festival, and how/and why our work should continue to be disruptive.

Like all good conferences, the day wrapped up with drinks and handmade pizzas fired in our newly commissioned alfresco pizza oven.

Our thanks to everyone who made the conference happen, and to everyone who attended and played an active role in contributing to presentations and the afternoon’s thought-provoking open space discussion forums.

“What was great about this year’s conference was that it all took place in Walk the Plank’s shiny new home – the perfect showcase to see how our fascinating company has evolved from a touring theatre ship to a leading trailblazer in outdoor arts, and now operating from its new disruptive base in the heart of Salford.”

Cath Ralph, Exec Director.