So, one of the things that differentiates an unconference from a traditional conference is that, ideally, it should be free to attend. We’ve had to charge our attendees a small registration fee, but hopefully by the end of the unconference they’ll all agree that we made it go a lot further than the usually-painful day registration fees you’ll often find yourselves paying for big conferences (even with a postgraduate discount). The registration fees are helping to top up the very generous funding we’ve received from both CAPOD and the School of History here at St Andrews.
Obviously, there’s a reason why big conferences have high registration fees, and that’s because they cost a lot to run. They often take place in hotels or dedicated conference centres that are set up to deal with very large numbers of attendees, they rely on caterers to make sure the forty thousand (or so!) are properly fed, and they feature keynotes from distinguished professors who need to be flown in and appropriately entertained.
So, I don’t think you could run a huge, multi-day, 1000+ attendees conference on the minimal-cost-to-participants model of an unconference. Our unconference is going to be small (indeed, smaller than intended due to unforseen circumstances winnowing our numbers down a bit) – thirteen people in all. We’ll be self-catering, which means that everyone gets a bed for no extra cost. This also means that we’ll be feeding everyone for three days on less per head than the cost of a very cheap conference dinner. I’m pretty excited about the food, actually – I think we’ve ended up with a pretty tasty menu and because we’ve ‘cut corners’ on not getting in external caterers, that means that conversely we’ve been able to afford good-quality ingredients. My to-do list for Tuesday includes going to both the butcher’s and the baker’s in my village (Crail, about ten miles away from St Andrews) and picking up locally-produced bread and haggis.
The base we’ve found for the unconference looks pretty great too. We’ll be sleeping, cooking, and innovating in a Georgian farmhouse just outside the village of Balmullo, about nine miles away from St Andrews. We did consider staying in university accommodation in town, but we decided we wanted somewhere that was a bit of a retreat from the ‘buzz’ (those who know the place – don’t laugh!) of town. We will hopefully be taking an evening foray into St Andrews, as it seemed a bit unfair on those who’ll be travelling quite some way not to show them the sights, but most of our time will be spent in Hayston House, and I hope it proves to be the kind of comfortable setting in which everyone can focus on getting deep into the nitty-gritty of discussing their ideas. The farmhouse looks like it has some great spaces – a massive kitchen, a couple of big living rooms, a big garden – in which to have those discussions, too.
I should probably stop there for the time being; I have to go print off timetables!