"Un-Conference". This year, Birth and Beyond embraces the "Un-Conference" and you. We have lots of room to embrace everyone. We hope you are planning to share space with us on October 20-22. We can't wait!
Things will look a little different this year! We are so excited to share with you all of our plans
Deciding to do a big conference in 2016 created a lot of inner-drama. Perhaps drama isn't all that accurate of a description for conference organization - outside of all the drama that plays out in your head over the decisions and deadlines. A successful event has layered complexities that when perfectly orchestrated make beautiful music. However, it is immensely stressful to be certain your plan is melodic. The "what if's" play heavily in your mind.
Those of you who have been to our London conference know that it is something different. We believe in the "Room For Everyone" approach to planning and truly mean that - there is room for you here, regardless of what you may "represent". In fact, you are free to come as you are and represent just you, yourself as a human being - and we will embrace the heck out of that.
The Birth and Beyond Conference is a learning space. We want you to leave with new skills to take back to the populations of people you are working with and helping. However, just as importantly our conference is a sharing space. A community space where we will "go there". Almost always. We have workshops and speakers that are here to shake up stagnant ideas that have rooted in your head - perhaps these have held you back. Sometimes leaving a little rattled on the inside is even more beneficial than learning new ways to latch a struggling newborn to the breast. At the very least, we believe that our lived experience is worthy of storytelling - for others to learn from and for us to collectively support each other.
Cost. This is always such a huge factor. One of the many things that sets us apart from other learning spaces is our deep rooted belief that we all have value. When our passion is tied to our livelihood it is so easy for us all to undervalue ourselves. Historically, this is even more so for professions that are primarily filled by women. We've never been comfortable with the typical conference dynamics - nearly full circle. We've felt it very important to fairly compensate our speakers. Even in the year(s) where the conference failed to meet our financial projections. Even in those year(s), the conference value for us went far beyond monetary. Each year, I believe we witnessed art. Each conference I have had so many moments of feeling like we are all an important part of an empowering movement. A movement of inclusive care. For all.
So with that, one of the biggest barriers in decision making for us is the tremendous cost of hosting this event. Holding that space and stress for months on end was often what left us tired and wondering why on earth we would consider doing this again. Then the conference happens, we witness art and think "oh yeah! this is why". Many of us here who are reading this can relate to not being able to stop something we are compelled to do.
This year we've made some changes. Really "radical" changes. Changes we need you to understand and embrace and realize that they're not the parts of past conferences that made them special anyway. We have dropped the fancy venue. We're taking over the lower level of Centennial Hall in London. It is a HUGE space that we are able to take over and divide into sections. There are many benefits to this location - it is a roomy area that we are able to shift to accommodate our needs - while being clean, safe and centrally located in London. There are several hotels within walking distance. It overlooks beautiful Victoria Park - a great place to clear your mind. It has 15 or more restaurants all within a quick walk, with many budget friendly options. Also, the venue allows us and you to bring in your own food. You can go out to grab lunch or brown bag it.
The other massive pro - this location cuts our expenses. Very much. Which allows us much less risk but also makes this conference much more accessible for members of our community that in past events could not afford to be here. Much, much more accessible. Have I mentioned MUCH more accessible?
So, if you've been to a past conference - it's true, some of our comforts won't be in place this year. Perhaps the acoustics won't be as crisp as before (the hall assures us otherwise). There won't be gleaming silver carafes of coffee, and expensive conference carbs laid in baskets at break time. We will have some refreshments - water, fruit, some snacks and perhaps tea. While there are chairs, they're basic chairs - so we will set up a lounge area close to our vendors that will allow a space for feeding babies, or rest for a aching pregnant pelvis. We are embracing the space and working to adapt it to our needs, but I got to tell you after searching many other locations, I stepped into this space, smiled and said "We're home. This is it. It is perfect". As I believe it will be.
We hope that with the benefit of a lesser conference fee (much lesser) you will be open to embracing these changes with the understanding that although our last venue had delicious brownies and padded chairs - the brownies were not the take away from the conference.
Lastly, I'd like to share some of the planning we've done this year. You will see some of your favourite speakers returning with fresh talks. However, we have many new and bold speakers who are sure to have your interest peaked. Our focus group has really been favouring "Lived Experience" this year, and I think you'll see many workshops that will interest you and make you uncomfortable in a way that can only mean growth. Personally and professionally. How we stay well in the work we do, how we can best support the diverse groups of people we are in contact with. Unpacking what we ourselves are bringing to a situation and how that can effect others. Also of course, we have included many practical workshops to help you hone in your skills.
The part I am most looking forward to is your involvement prior to the event. Our focus group is working on some provocative workshops that will give you an opportunity to ask questions and help form discussions. These workshops will simply allow us to share space and experience with our mentors, and allow our speakers to talk informally. Anyone that has had the pleasure of hearing the stories of elders in the community know that the information we glean from these conversations can profoundly shift our own belief systems.