Dear Summer House Friend
If you're reading this it's hopefully because you attended one of our previous Summer House events or pledged in the crowdfunding campaign last year.
Thanks for your help and patience over the past few months as I've been working to secure a place for The Summer House 2014. It's been a pleasure to receive emails from members of the community almost every day offering suggestions for venues or asking when tickets will be on sale. Before I share the ticket link with you I'd like to update you on the story so far!
What happened to the last two venues?
Sadly both the 2012 and 2013 Summer House venues have been sold. I had strongly hoped until as recently as March that there would be a chance to use last year's venue but the manager who rented it to us left this spring and the building's owners have told me that it is being completely redeveloped.
The search for a new venue
For the past few months I have been searching almost non-stop for a venue. Over a number of weekdays and weekends I've viewed dozens of properties from a target list of over 120. I've pulled in recommendations from friends, location finders, retreat hosts, wedding planners, LARPers and more, checking out an array of places from the sublime to the downright scary. If you ever want to be shared onto this list drop me a line!
Finding a place that can satisfy all the various aspects of The Summer House is not easy. We need a house or some other building to anchor things and to provide some common spaces for gathering and workshops. We need somewhere off the beaten track so that there's a sense of privacy. We need somewhere with a little bit of countryside for camping and room to host hot tubs and a sauna. We need somewhere that permits both workshops and a party. And of course we need somewhere that is okay with the more adult aspects of the event. Oh...and all this needs to be at a reasonable budget on one of the busiest weekends of the summer.
What I've learned
I've learned that we really lucked in during 2012 and 2013. I've learned that the deals I negotiated at those venues turned out to have been even more mates-ratesy than I'd ever imagine. What's more, I've learned that there's a huge divide between buildings that are temporarily let out as venue spaces for short-term cashflow (like the last two venues were) versus 365-days-a-year professional venue or retreat spaces. Whereas the former will rent to almost anyone, the latter category can take their pick of weddings or conferences and they give a lot more scrutiny to the kind of business they accept.
If there was a glut of great scene-friendly country houses in the UK I think we'd all know about them. I've visited most of the venues that have been used by parties on the scene over the past year and have had to reject them for one reason or another. I've had a couple of fantastic agree to host The Summer House this year, with a full description of what The Summer House is about, only to get cold feet late in the negotiation process. Others have flat-out turned it down despite being available. And one - that I was close to confirming with last week - messed me around on date and fee at the last minute. As I can't be anything but honest about some of the content of the event, it raises the challenges in venue-finding up to a new level.
This year's venue
After a lot of searching and discussions, I have this week agreed and completed negotiations with a new venue. This year's House is a grade two listed Georgian manor in Sussex. There's no lake but there is a swimming pool. If you went to the 2012 Summer House, it's a similar scale of building. The house and grounds are quite a bit smaller than last year's, meaning that we have to reduce the capacity down to a strict 200 guests.
But there's enough land to do all the bits we want, including camping, hot tubs, showers and sauna, and it's in marvellously tranquil surroundings with horses at the gate and birdsong all around. Plus guests can arrive on Thursday night and leave first thing on Monday morning.
Don't expect the kitsch Hollywood glamour of last year's venue: this year's House is much more about shabby chic. It's Instagram vintage charm rather than glossy digital sparkle. The interior is full of 1930s furniture and paintings and looks like it hasn't been refurbished in all that time! There are no rooms to rent out to guests this year, as none is quite fancy enough to sell, and I need to dedicate a decent amount of space to workshops and playrooms.
Rest assured that the owners are doing a fair bit of work to get the place up to my standards...and once the log fires are burning, candles are positioned and the lighting and decor is just right, the house will come alive. I suggest we work together to pick a dressup theme for the Saturday night party that evokes the faded 1930s grandeur and tumbledown stateliness of the place.
One advantage of this space is that it's run by people who understand the scene, who are connected to the world of festivals and who run their own parties. I've gone over every detail with them in writing and they are right behind every detail. (If you're getting a sense of what this house is, please keep it to yourself as it's important to all of us that the privacy of the venue is protected.)
The future of The Summer House
I am planning to run two events each year - The Summer House, in August each year, and The Winter House, which should fall around six months later in February of each year. The Winter House will be smaller in scale and based entirely indoors, whereas the Summer House is open to more guests with camping. I have started building more relationships with other independent event producers who do events on this scale, with a view to finding a suitable venue to which we can return year after year, without the stress and uncertainty of trying to find someone who will understand what we're all about.
Right now I have two (other) rather fabulous venues pencilled in for August 2015, one for August 2016 and a few leads for February 2015. As there's every likelihood that these opportunities might fall away, please do continue to suggest venues to me. As I'm now working over a year ahead, I have a lot of confidence that I'll be able to secure something truly magnificent for a future event.
I have to warn you, however, that the prices are unlikely to go down from this point. While The Summer House is still cheaper than most retreat weekends (and I think fairly competitive with some other independently run small events), we can't achieve the economies of scale of a big festival....and yet we have many of the same expenses, notably a big piece of land or a big building. I have several ideas of ways to open up the list of possible venues still further, but all of these ideas will result in a ticket fee at about the level I'm setting it at this year. The motive isn't profit: the motive is doing it right, in a way that will work for our community and will be sustainable.
Prices this year
In aggregate, prices have risen quite a lot compared to last year. Those of you who paid in the last-minute ticket sale last year won't notice too much of a difference, but compared to the crowdfunding rate it is certainly more.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Smaller capacity means fewer guests to share the costs
- No bedrooms to sell to guests to subsidise other costs
- Doubling of venue hire fee (and it's still the cheapest I've found anywhere!)
- Same level of other expenses
- We underbudgeted many things last year and now I know what they really cost
You'll find more details on the ticketing levels here, but in short I'm introducing a tiered ticket system (as is popular at Burner events), plus there is a 50% deposit system for those who can't pay all at once. As before there is the cheaper ticket for those on low incomes and a volunteer option for those who wish to work with us during the week.
One of the big things we got wrong last year was food. Some of you who ate the banqueting meal found the service to be slow and the quantities to be too small (even if the quality of it was high). Our crew pretty much starved as we significanly underbudgeted the crew food. And those of you who were relying on the food trucks were disappointed at a relatively limited range.
Addressing food this year is one of my key challenges and I am dedicated to putting that right. The dinner offering (menu TBC) will be simpler but more plentiful, and served in such a way that no-one is left waiting. Breakfasts will have much more in the way of continental options - cereals, pastries, toast, yogurt, fruit, juice, coffee etc - that you can serve yourself and enjoy right away without waiting.
Unfortunately I can't drop the price of food as we're going from a venue with a top-notch professional kitchen to somewhere that we have to supplement by bringing in catering facilities. But I am offering a discount to people who dine more than once, which hopefully will encourage people to book in, and the plan is to try and seat more people simultaneously, which should provide another great opportunity for people to meet each other.
Accommodation and transport
The new venue is 2.5 miles from the nearest National Rail station, which itself is 1.25 to 1.5 hours from London by train. There isn't a taxi rank at the station, so we'll be running a shuttle to and from the house which you can book in advance. (You could probably also walk or cycle from the station with relative ease).
I've checked all the bed and breakfast, hotel and self-catering accommodation within three to four miles of the property and it's all sold out. If you want to book somewhere further afield please contact me and I'll tell you the general area.
But we'll have the showers like last year so I encourage everyone to camp! Plus the fine folk at Blue Bell Tents will be providing their canvas bell tents for glamping. Remember that these sold out last year so please book early. For any guests who want to go for a super-luxury option there are two stunning safari tents, complete with wooden flooring, furniture, a real bed, a chest of drawers and more.
If you're a performer, volunteer or contributor
If you were involved last year, or if you'd like to be involved this year, don't worry as I haven't yet got round to contacting everyone! Feel free to fill out the volunteer form or simply to contact me if you have something to offer. (Given the very limited capacity, though, we won't be giving free tickets out unless what you have to offer is really special!)
I'll be getting photos, PDF photo book and lost property to you soon
I know this is ridiculous but hopefully you can see why I've had no free time for months...but for the next couple of months I'll be very Summer House focused and can respond to all the requests from last year! Once again, sorry!
Please tell me what I've missed here and on the website!
I've been updating the website in rather a hurry so there's bound to be tons of stuff that has not been updated since last year. If you see stuff that doesn't make sense please let me know! Also if you have any questions not dealt with above, please drop me a line and I'll solve it.
Now....please buy your tickets!
Treatments and sessions booking (massage etc) still to come