In our regular series, we interview our members and partners at Sussex Innovation about their business, how they’ve been affected by the lockdown, and their plans for growth. Today Catalyst team member, Jago chats with Laura Barban from Brighton Chamber.

How long have you been with Brighton Chamber, and what’s your role?

I’ve actually been with the Brighton Chamber a year, I started in September 2019, coming from a financial services business where I was doing PR and Events. Then, I moved to the Chamber where I am the Events and Programming Manager.

My job is to curate and plan the annual events programme. It involves making sure we have a good variety of different events, spread out across the year and something exciting, fun and interesting for businesses to help them network, learn and grow their business. It has been a strange year to work in events, especially with lockdown in March, it’s been very exciting too. We have over 600 businesses, across all different sectors and all different sizes, who are members, and new businesses are starting to join as lockdown eases.

How has the Chamber been affected by lockdown?

Like many businesses, it’s been a really strange time for us. When lockdown initially happened, I was quite naïve in thinking we would all leave the office for three weeks and everything would be back to normal, which it hasn’t, however many weeks or months later.

The main thing that has changed for us is that we’ve gone completely virtual, from our team meetings with all of us working from home, to our entire events programme When Covid-19 hit we were really fortunate that, between us, we very quickly figured out how to use virtual platforms and how we could transfer what we do so well in person, online.

We’ve since hosted networking events, we’ve done behind the scenes tours of Ridgeview winery and a 3D printing workshop at Barclay’s Eagle Labs, as well as much larger panel events with Brighton business leaders. We’ve also done some learning events, on social media and how to speak well in a virtual workshop, because obviously that’s something we’re all doing now. That’s been one of the main things that we’ve been affected by.

We also introduced a number of new events during lockdown, responding to what members needed and were asking for. For example, we have introduced a range of Q&As and we’ve held large panel events on Zoom, bringing together city leaders to discuss the future recovery of Brighton and Hove.

What’s Brighton Basecamp all about?

For the past 7 years, Brighton Chamber has put on a big event each year called Brighton Summit.

It’s a huge event with over 400 people attending. You’ve got speakers, you’ve got networking, you’ve got workshops and to top it all off tasty food from local Brighton businesses. It’s just this crazy, full-on day for Brighton businesses to network, learn some new skills and hear from some really great people local to Brighton and also outside of Brighton.

For example, last year at the Summit, we had businesswoman and campaigner Gina Miller, editor of BBC News Kamal Ahmed and Hannah Dawson, founder of tech start-up Futrli. They were amazing speakers.

As we can’t run Brighton Summit this year, for obvious reasons, we knew we had to do something instead. Brighton Base Camp is a big virtual event, bringing together amazing speakers, fun and thought provoking workshops and plenty of opportunities to network. Brighton Base Camp will bring you inspiration, right into your home office! Obviously, you can’t have the delicious food. But you will have the amazing speakers, we’re going to have some exciting and fun workshops, and you will still get to network, which is great.

It’s a morning event. We’ve already announced a couple of speakers. We’re going to have Stephen Grant; the resident compere at the Komedia’s Krater Comedy Club who also writes for Mock The Week and Stand Up for the Week. He’s hilarious; I’ve been fortunate enough to see him a couple of times myself, at the Komedia. Next is Adam Joolia, who is the Chief Executive of the music organization AudioActive. AudioActive worked with Rizzle Kicks and Rag N’ Bone Man, Adam does a lot of great work in the community as well; he’s a really great guy.

We have a final keynote speaker, who is yet to be announced and I’m not able to say anything just yet, but it’ll be very exciting.

In addition to the great speakers we have lined up, attendees will get the chance to pick from a list of interactive and fun workshops. Those will be coming out shortly. And then, on top of that, we’re also doing some networking. We’re setting ourselves a lot of goals with this event, but it should be a great day.

The last thing we wanted was just to do a webinar where people are just going to be talked at and you’re sitting there thinking “I could watch this anytime”. We wanted to create something that’s going to be engaging and fun, that feels like the Summit, but unfortunately, for now, attendees will need to be in their own house or co-working space because we can’t all meet at the moment.

How has it been moving to a virtual event, as opposed to one that’s face-to-face?

I think for us, like many people, it’s been strange. Personally, I’m really craving seeing a 3D person. As a team, we’ve been going to some of the coworking spaces just so we can see each other face-to-face, because you do crave it. Obviously, remaining socially distanced, and all being very careful.

Going virtual has definitely had some benefits. We’ve been able to see members that we might not have seen as regularly, because they don’t have to travel. It means that if we want to, we can run two events in a day because we’re not travelling, which has been nice. But I’m really craving a real life, face-to-face event with our members and with the team. We’re closely monitoring the situation and are looking forward to getting people back together when it is safe to do so.

We’re fortunate that there’s so many great platforms like Zoom and Hopin and that they’re working so well.

The Catalyst Team, I know, are very excited to participate, how will they be supporting you?

We are very excited to have them involved! As I mentioned earlier, at Base Camp we’ll be having a number of workshops, so the Catalyst Team are going to be helping us with them. They’ll be the person in the event that’s the “go-to”, people will be able to ask them questions, they will be introducing the trainers and helping to facilitate the session. We are also running the event from Sussex Innovation for the day, which is amazing for us.

I could not have been more excited when Simon said that was possible because it means that we can actually work together as a team. With such a big event and so many moving parts it’s going to be really great to all be together, with the Catalyst Team, and run this event in the same room, rather than one of us in Albourne, one of us in Brighton and one of us in Hove.