WordCamp UK 2011 – wait, it’s where?

WordCamp UK 2010 was by all accounts a great success, and huge amounts of credit must go to the thankless organisers who put in so much time and effort. Having co-ordinated events previously I can’t tell you how much work goes into making something of this scale run smoothly.

That said, it wasn’t without controversy.

Early bird tickets for the event went on sale on 23rd June, and normal tickets were opened up on 5th July – just 6 days before the event on the 11th July. This was a complete disaster, with many people not being able to make the event because of this.

The largest issue with running an event in the UK (compounded by general tickets going on sale 6 days before the event) is that the UK covers 4 countries, one of which isn’t attached to the others by land and 3 of which have limited access to the other one. Specifically, using Public Transport to travel to England is extremely difficult if you happen to live in Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

That stems from the issue of train times, where trains stop crossing the English border some 3-4 hours before they stop running internally. So making Manchester at 6 days notice is infinitely more difficult for someone in Edinburgh than Newcastle (even though they are only an hour apart by train). It rules out travelling to the event on a Friday without taking time off work, and severely hinders the ability to stay for the entire of the Sunday sessions without taking time off work on Monday as well. There is also an additional cost incurred when crossing the border (a 15% surcharge – thanks to Maggie Thatcher). This issue is something that is unknown to many people in England – because they would rarely/never come up against it.

There was a discussion on this very subject on Dave Coveney’s website, which gives quite a bit of background.

After a weekend of brainstorming, I suggested a few rational courses of action:

  1. Ensure that tickets are on sale 3 months in advance, so that people can plan days off work and have access to cheaper tickets.
  2. Having events in the middle of England is fine (please don’t call it “the North” when it’s only 40% up the country) if given enough notice of ticket sales.
  3. Avoid events in cities at the extreme ends of the country (either far north or south).
  4. Consider running 2 events a year, one catering for the north and south of the country; at alternating 6 monthly intervals.

I felt very happy that the discussion, while heated at times, had ended in positive outcomes. I felt there was an understanding of the issues that people not living in central England faced, and I was confident that the WordCampUK organisers would attempt to manage the criteria based on the inputs from its attendees.

Today I received an email informing me of the decision to have the event in Portsmouth. PORTSMOUTH!!

See below image (with previous locations of WordCampUK indicated by grey arrows):

Wordcampuk 2011

W-T-F?

There is no way of attending the event if you live in Scotland without paying £300 in travel and ensuring that you are free all day Friday and Monday (it’s a 9.5 hour journey from Edinburgh; and 8 hours from Glasgow). Seriously a 9.5 hour journey by train!!! And before anyone mentions planes, feel free to search the times of flights – it is impossible to make the event without clearing 4 days from your calendar.

To everyone who though Miss Jane Wells was out of line in re-iterating the fear that people have regarding WordCamp UK being “WordCamp England”, please have a little understanding for what the rest of us have to go through. We absolutely understand the difficulty and the huge amount of hard work that goes into organising an event such as this, and one day we hope you’ll organise one north of Birmingham with more than 6 days notice to buy tickets and travel to the venue.

The long and the short of this is, unless the organisers make the tickets and accommodation information available on their website before the 8-week cut-off period for the doubling of the price of the train tickets; i simply can’t see any way that I and others in my position can attend. They have 13 weeks. Surely they can make it in 13 weeks…

I hope to see you all at WordCamp Uk 2012, though I’m concerned that I may have to get on a bus in January to make it.

Edit: 4th Feb 2011

I’ve had a few people email me, so I thought I’d give some clarification on some timings.

By Plane
  • Portsmouth does not have an airport, it was closed in 1973.
  • The closest airport to Portsmouth is Southampton airport.
  • By train, the journey time from Portsmouth Harbour station to Southampton Airport station is 1 hour 12 minutes, with 1 change.
  • The last flight to Scotland is at 8.15 pm.
  • The conference is 15 minutes from the train station.
  • 45 minute to check in, 75 minutes train travel, 15 minutes to train is 2 hours 15 minutes.
  • This does not take into account waiting for connections, nor the time taken to check in, nor time taken to go from the train to your check-in desk at Southampton.
  • Having completed this journey on 4 occasions for work (Portsmouth to Edinburgh), I would not allow less than 3 hours.

This means the latest someone from Scotland can leave is 4.30. As we can’t leave mid-session, that’s leaving at 4pm.

Additionally the cost of the flight from Southampton to Edinburgh (and Glasgow) is over £110 and there are currently less than 5 seats left for that weekend. The chances of being able to book a seat when the WP tickets go on sale are slim to none.

The same conditions are true for people in Northern Ireland, but the last flight there is 45 minutes earlier and currently at £130. So more expensive and having to leave an hour earlier.

  • In order to make Edinburgh you need to leave at 4pm
  • In order to make Glasgow you need to leave at 4pm
  • In order to make Belfast you need to leave at 3pm
  • In order to make Newcastle you need to leave at 1pm
  • (There is a flight to Newcastle at 4pm and 8pm, but the 8pm flight currently has 1 seat left)

As an additional note those flights land you in Scotland and Ireland too late to get internal travel to anywhere outside of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Belfast.

By Train
  • In order to make Edinburgh you need to leave at 12
  • In order to make Newcastle you need to leave at 3pm (and make 2 changes).
  • In order to make Leeds and York you need to leave at 4pm.
  • In order to make Glasgow you need to leave at 2pm.
  • In order to make Manchester you need to leave by 5pm
  • In order to make Liverpool you need to leave by 4pm.
  • (You can actually leave at 5pm if you’re going to Liverpool as long as you can handle making 5 changes – yes 5!)

To clarify, every single person using public transport and living north of Birmingham (covering 75% of the country) cannot stay until the end of the event if they wish to be home on the same day.

Most of these points are moot though, as the same issues exist in actually getting TO the event. Without travelling on either Friday or Monday day-time, is impossible for anyone not living in England to make more than 50% of the conference.

Hence why last year we spoke to Jane about the hypocrisy of calling it WordCampUK when only people in England can attend without taking days off work. (something we couldn’t do last year as the tickets went on sale 6 days before the event!!!)

All pigs are equal folks, some are just more equal than others.