The Monastery, Manchester
Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th October, 2014
The Birth of an Event
The Birth of a Mind, Body and Spirit Show
We would like to share the extraordinary series of events which took place in acquiring this venue.
I am sure many of you visit Mind, Body and Spirit shows. Perhaps you attend a small event in a local hall or community centre, or maybe you go to the large, three to five day events like Mind, Body & Spirit London in the Royal Horticultural Halls, or Quest in Devon. The generic term 'Mind, Body Spirit' loosely covers all of these and everything in between!
I wonder however, if you have ever stopped to consider what goes on behind the scenes or indeed, how one of these events, large or small, comes into being in the first place. What follows here is the story of the birth of just one, a new, but very special Mind, Body & Spirit Event!
The journey started with a phone call. An exhibitor who has been attending our shows for about seven years and who has become a friend too during that time rang me early one morning. "Have you heard the news?" he asked. "What news?" I replied. "The Mind, Body & Spirit Northern show in G-Mex Manchester isn't going to run this year!"
This is perhaps the largest show in the North, so such an announcement was a huge surprise and would leave quite a gap in the diaries of many exhibitors. "There you go," he continued, "this is your chance to move West."
Most of our shows are in the East Midlands, and at one time I had been considering moving across country a little. I didn't want to tread on the toes of any other promoter however, so had been hanging back on the decision. Even though I had been thinking along these lines, there was no way could I contemplate a show like the cancelled one.
I run twelve shows a year, medium to large events of between seventy five and a hundred and forty stands. My thoughts were that this simply did not leave time or finances to mount something the size and cost of the Manchester show and said so, but the first seed had been sown.
This seed was germinated over the following weeks as first one then another of my regular exhibitors approached me about doing a show to fill this gap. The list was growing, but each got the same response, I didn't want to run a show of that size and cost. I also didn't want to run one which would require such high stand fees that it would exclude many of the very exhibitors who had contributed to our success over the years and who are an integral part of our events.
The thought did keep popping up, but I kept pushing it down again, that was however, until one exhibitor countered my usual response with, "Yes, but what about doing one somewhere else in Manchester?" Far easier said than done! The hardest part of a promoter's job, well, one of the hardest parts, is actually finding a suitable venue. I for instance, have a checklist of things a venue has to incorporate before I will consider it. I view dozens of establishments to find the few that will work for me. I am sure this list of varies between promoters, but all will no doubt have their own special requirements that they view as essential to them. The plot thickens however, in that this particular exhibitor had somewhere in mind, a place she called Gorton Monastery. I had never heard of it, but promised I would look into it.
I must admit, I held out little hope of it being suitable, or indeed, accepting us. I still have vivid memories of being drummed out of the YMCA a couple of years ago! For two years I happily booked a room in a YMCA for running workshops for some of the exhibitors. This was a double edged arrangement, their facilities were good and reasonably priced, and I thought by paying the hire fee I was helping them financially too. The Director was quite happy and all was well, until that is, I decided to advertise one of the workshops in the local paper to increase the numbers. Oh boy, what a mistake that was. It was a Psychic Awareness workshop, and the poor Director was inundated with calls from the local clergy telling him he must cancel my booking. The vicar from the church the YMCA was most dependent on actually threatened to withdraw financial support if the Director did not cancel us.
Poor man, he was most apologetic, his secretary was most indignant too, as she was a regular visitor to our shows, but he really had no choice and so we hold the dubious honour of being drummed out of the YMCA!
Anyway, I digress; the point was, with that experience under my belt I couldn't believe a Monastery would want us? Oh well, I could at least look into it I supposed. Personally, I had no real wish to add a new show in the current climate, but as so many had asked and a venue suggested, the least I could do was investigate wasn't it?
So I looked. A quick 'Google' produced amazing, breathtaking photos of a deconsecrated Franciscan Monastery, about five to ten minutes out of the Manchester city centre! This huge, gothic building sits in the middle of a residential area, complete with its own car parking! Surely this couldn't be true, there must be a catch. Maybe the pictures were deceptive and the space was not as large as it appeared, and surely they wouldn't want our type of event? Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and so I sent an introductory e-mail enquiring if a Mind, Body and Spirit event was something they would consider.
I just love synchronicity which allows you to see when spirit are pulling strings to bring something about. I always believe this is what is happening whenever I encounter a series of meaningful coincidences, and this series entered its second phase with my e-mail dropping into the in-box of Alison Liston, Spiritual Director at the Monastery.
Unbeknown to me, she and others from the Monastery had been regular visitors to the event at Manchester Central (G-Mex) and had already heard it was not running in 2009. The Monastery, now an events venue after a £6.5m restoration, had considered running its own event to step into the gap created. They had looked into it and quickly decided they would be better served getting a promoter to run one there, rather than trying to dip their toe into an unknown sea of difficulties. With this in mind, the Spiritual Director was looking on the web at promoters and had our website open on her computer as my e-mail fell into her in-box.
She replied almost immediately. I thought things looked promising as her e-mail began with "How exciting!" Didn't sound like a rejection was to follow! We spoke on the phone and quickly formed a rapport. Clearly we both had similar goals and views, but what about dates this late into the event year? Most professional promoters try hard not to clash with the dates of others in their area or other major promoters, and October is one of the busiest months of the year for events generally. Could a date could be found that didn't infringe on another major show? I went away to talk to some of our largest exhibitors who know when all the shows are and to check the dates of promoters I regularly work hand in hand with, to find a suitable week if such a thing existed.
One by one they came back to me and against all odds, the weekend of 17th & 18 October began to emerge as a week when nobody appeared to have anything. This in its own right was a miracle at that time of year, but would it be free at the Monastery?
Alison rang me back. "I have checked dates" she said, "we have just one week in October without anything, I do hope it is of use!"
You guessed it, the one week the Monastery had free was the same week as the exhibitors and my research had indicated was a free week in most diaries! This is where the icy tingles started running up my spine, maybe this was a show that was arranging me, rather than me arranging it!
So, hurdle one was over, the Monastery would indeed welcome us. Hurdle two was also crossed as they had a date that suited my exhibitors. Next, I supposed, I better look at the place! An appointment was made and I took the trip to Manchester for a first viewing. I was met by Heather Agan at the Monastery who showed me around. Wow! There is nothing else to say, but wow! She took me along the cloisters, an enclosed area with the most wonderful feel to it, which conjured up thoughts of monks walking up and down them, probably praying with rosaries or chanting. There go those icy fingers again! At the end of the cloisters we turned into what she called the 'Main Space'. I am sure I gaped and that my jaw actually dropped! This was really where they were going to let me mount a show? The large space was complete with pillars, stone carvings, alters and stained glass windows. It was like standing in a large, light, airy church, but warm!
I was sold! My check list of essentials was forgotten; whatever the problems I would overcome them. If there was ever a place to do a mind, body and spirit event, this had to be it! The feeling of peace and wellbeing was already there, it emanated from the very fabric of the building. We try and create this as we build and arrange a show, but here it was in abundance before I started.
Recovering myself, I remembered to check the practicalities, yes it had free parking and overflow parking and even had on-street parking close by if both these filled up. Yes, it had two rooms we could use for our programme of free talks; they were not as large as we usually liked, but the fact that one was the private chapel more than made up for that. Additionally there was a suite of rooms called the 'Archangel Rooms' (can you believe it), where further, longer workshops could be offered. Yes, it had a cafe and could cater for the large numbers we expected would attend. Yes, there were ample power supply sockets, and all the other boxes gradually got ticked too!
OK, now I am not only seeing the vague guiding hand of spirit, I am seeing a big green flashing neon arrow! The only stumbling block would be the price I was guessing. There was an 'ouch' moment both when I found out the cost and more importantly, when I found out the advertising costs in Manchester papers. Some serious budgeting and planning was called for.
Three days of work produced a floor plan for the stands that the Monastery approved and the cost of stands was set. Booking packs were produced and sent out to our exhibitors, and I sat back with crossed fingers; this was the most I had ever had to charge for a stand, would they book?
I need not have worried! Here I am with three months to go and only 4 stands left in the entire show! Exhibitors like me, just fell in love with the place. I have lost count of the number that have said they don't care what it costs, they just want to be a part of it.
So, we have a show! The first twenty thousand flyers are in circulation and the hard work now starts, ordering printing, sorting out talk and workshop schedules, producing show guides, and most importantly, marketing the show. The challenge is how to let the public know that if they only go to one Mind, Body and Spirit event in the whole of 2009, this has to be the one. It is not just what it is, but where it is that is going to make it an experience to remember for visitor, exhibitor and promoter alike!
Even from this first set of flyers we know of people from as far away as Somerset and Edinburgh that are making the trip and staying over to visit on both days, so it looks as if the public are viewing this as I do, an amazing experience for the having!
Please also read our experiences after the first show in 'A Show to Remember'.