On Wednesday WordPress Leeds will be having our first coffee morning called â€œCoffee and Cakeâ€ itâ€™s an informal gathering during the day open to anyone. While this is not unique Open Coffee has been around for years across the world it is rare for tech events to happen in the day time.
There is a good reason for there not being many midweek morning tech events, people are often working. Letâ€™s face it an event that 90% of the demographic canâ€™t go to is probably not going to have an amazing turn out. However there is another reason such events are rare; culture.
In the UK tech events are deeply engrained in pub culture, itâ€™s quite normal for user group meetups to be held in pubs and bars and Alcohol is the norm. And you know what, Iâ€™m bored with it.
Recently I rarely drink at tech events, with exception of occasional Christmas parties. This is not because Iâ€™ve become teetotal, it might have something to do with my age and the lack of desire for hangovers, it could be to do with often driving to events and as of recently with a little one I simply canâ€™t go home plastered. However the shift happened before that, I started to realise I was looking forward to going for drinks more then the event.
Thatâ€™s a horrible disservice to the organisers and speakers and consequently I missed a lot of opportunities.
Being sober at Tech events can however be depressing, as we drink we tend to become complete idiots (me included) and while everything while drunk seems like a great idea and should be taken in â€œthe spiritâ€ conversations can often be abusive, aggressive and if nothing else incoherent.
Itâ€™s really off putting and can easily become intimidating.
Add to that suitability of venues, Pubs are normally terrible places for talks, projectors normally setup for sporting events not slides, fighting over the music and the random drunk who wanders in confused. Itâ€™s not an atmosphere that works well, especially if you need to go to the toilet.
Beggars however canâ€™t be choosers but and often usergroups find themselves in pubs out of desperation, rooms are often free if you fill the pubs coffers where other venues charge.
A very very old Photo of WordPress Leeds Group August 2008 (Then called Northern Bloggers/WordPress North UK yeah we rocked the names) Photo Credit
WordPress Leeds use to have a very heavy Pub culture, with pre-drinking, alcohol at the event, and then onwards. People would book hotels as we would paint the town. I use to think we were doing great, but the group wasnâ€™t expanding it was the same faces. It came to ahead one month when we had a fantastic speaker, giving a great talk, a couple of folks had been drinking and started aggressively asking questions it quickly descended into a bear pit.
While it didnâ€™t get physical it was abusive. I was horrified, the speaker, my friend was there to offer his time and was treated with no respect.
There were a few people who apologised the next day but we actually stopped WordPress Leeds for several months. When we restarted we introduced a no alcohol policy at the event, and stopped the going to the pub as part of the event, though a few folks would still wander down afterwards. We lost most people who came but you know what it was the right call.
The part thatâ€™s most worrying, prior to that, I didnâ€™t see a problem and when I talk to people they donâ€™t see it as an issue I find that rather sad.
Itâ€™s also important to say, that at WordPress Leeds, the going to the pub is not part of the event, itâ€™s very much described as â€œa few of us will be going toâ€¦ Everyone is welcomeâ€. With the exception of any under 18 attendees.
Iâ€™m not suggesting everyone abandon user groups in a pub or bar, but if you organise a user group have a think of all the folks you are putting off.
- You might feel its a safe and welcoming environment but is it really?
- Who is responsible for the drunks, are you prepared to deal with aggression and potential violence?
- Do you want your first contact and networking opportunity to be you plastered?
WordPress Leeds April 2008, hosted by the wonderful The Test People
If you are in a pub out of necessity because you canâ€™t find somewhere, consider having another look, ask within the usergroup for space, look at co-working space, universities (especially CompSci or Media/Biz depts), Coffee Shops, if your town still has one Libraries (they nearly always have meeting space) or community centres.
As a larger community we need to look at user groups and ask what are they for, and do we succeed?
Iâ€™m not suggesting socialising shouldnâ€™t be part of events, quite the opposite but letâ€™s not be â€œthose peopleâ€, I never want someone to come to an event Iâ€™m involved with and say â€œI didnâ€™t feel welcomeâ€ or worse â€œI didnâ€™t feel safeâ€.
So back to Wednesday, WordPress Leeds coffee morning, itâ€™s at a Leeds city centre coffee shop La Bottega in Bond Court, from 10.30am. We donâ€™t expect a massive crowd, just a few of us chatting with no formal agenda. Everyone is welcome, and while we appreciate itâ€™s not a convenient time for many, itâ€™s pram friendly and the cakes are really good.
Iâ€™m hoping the coffee morning becomes a regular thing, a great way for people to get involved, in a very public and open way. For me itâ€™s success is when someone sitting on a different table, comes and joins the conversation.
The WordPress Leeds evening events will still be at the heart of WordPress Leeds but we are always looking at more ways to reach people and get folks involved with what is a great community.
We have come along way, we need to go a lot further.
Iâ€™m really proud of WordPress Leeds and am pleased that the main organising team recognises the need to be welcoming, and while we have not had the perfect track record Iâ€™m proud of the diversity of our speakers as well as our audience.
If you want to come along on Wednesday, you donâ€™t need a ticket just turn up at La Bottega (The Bond Court one, not the one in the Light) and look for the group of people on the long table we will be there from 10.30am for a few hours. If you are thinking about coming feel free to tweet us@wpleeds to give us a heads up.
Chatting to a few folks in the WordPress UK Community slack group, I thought I would clarify what my goal of this post was and I managed to sum it up as:
The pub should not be the event
Iâ€™m not suggesting donâ€™t go down to the pub after the event, just it shouldnâ€™t be the event. Also I wasnâ€™t suggesting swapping evening meetups for day events. Rather giving an example of where we were trying different things to reach new groups of folks.
Featured Image, Coffee Heart Photo Credits