On ThemeConf

ThemeConf is a conference I’m co-organising next month in Keswick, Lake District. Keswick is about 2 hours from Manchester and 3 1/2 from London. In this post, I though I’d write about why we are putting on this and what it is.

It began with a meal

In December, we had a meal for those of us Automatticians that lived in the UK. This was a really nice meal organised by Jack Lenox in Keswick. This actually was the first time for me visiting the Lake District. Winter brought fog, rain and a bit of a nip in the air, but I was astounded by what beauty I saw.

Over dinner – I forget how – the topic of Jack wanting to put a web event on in the Lake District came up. We all agreed it was beautiful and there was a lack of anything there. I also brought up how I wanted to do a conference around themes. Food came, drinks flowed and more conversations occurred. Somewhere a seed had been planted and after Christmas this began to become something we could consider doing.

After a little time, we approached the amazing HR team at Automattic and within what seemed like a blink of a very fast eye had a significant sponsorship, support and blessing to do this. Words along the lines of “well we’re doing this then” were uttered. It was now time to actually put a plan into action. We began to work out the ins and outs of ThemeConf.

Not for profit

One major thread throughout this was that the conference would be not for profit. None of us organisers are taking any profit from this. This would also be an independent conference. Automattic were gracious enough to come in and put faith in us to be a main sponsor, but it’s our event. Any profits made would either go into the next year or more likely go into the local area. All talks will be offered for free as videos after the event. We also plan on streaming the event – this is our biggest cost so far.

Over the time we have also been lucky enough to get the support of some amazing sponsors, enabling us to reduce ticket prices and even have an after party. I’d like to also personally thank SiteGroundHuman MadeMake Do and Big Bite Creative.

Why themes and why not just WordPress?

There have been appearing conferences that focused on particular areas in WordPress more and more. I’m a themer and for me, I wanted somewhere themers could go and belong. We often are a mixture of designer and developer. Themers tend to each sit in different places on that sliding scale. A conference for themers would have both parts to it. It would also be a conference for front end developers and designers, those making custom sites and not just those selling or creating stand alone themes.

It seemed logical it wouldn’t be just for WordPress too. Themeing goes beyond just one platform. We tried to reach out to others. The idea was ThemeConf would appeal to not just those from WordPress. WordPress is our community, but we’re all in the open source world.

Focusing on the future

We decided to pick a topic for the conference. This wasn’t a rigid one, more one that has shaped what talks we’ve worked with speakers on. It’s also shaped our branding and site design. A big thank you goes to Takashi Irie who did our logo. The topic was ‘Future’. There is a lot going on in the front end world, the future is exciting and it really feels like we’re on the cusp of something. We wanted to reflect that in the conference.

The first attempt

Clues in the sub heading really, yes we had to put off the first dates for ThemeConf. We announced our dates the same time as WordCamp Europe and they were within a week of each other. This was unfortunate and meant people could not come to both. It also meant as both Jack and myself were going and speaking – it just was not going to work.

Calling off the event and setting new dates was hard. It wasn’t something we did lightly. We had to in the end do what was best for the event though and us. By setting the dates later we could do the event and us justice.

The second attempt

Once we’d made the decision, we needed to set the new dates. This was hard to work out the best time. In the end we had to go for a shorter gap than we wanted. September was the best option to do this year and we wanted to at least deliver this year. With that we have settled on 3-4th September and added a workshop on the 2nd. The workshop is important as gives people something a bit more than just talks to attend. It’s on ‘Building Themes with JavaScript and REST APIs’ lead by Jack. I’m personally excited to go myself to that workshop!

An affordable conference

One of the big things we wanted to do was make this a positive event for Keswick and those in the Lake District. We are holding it in a cinema that has been renovated by the community, in an area that has not had a web conference. As we have gained more sponsors we have been able to reduce the ticket price and at £49 for the talks and £99 for the talks and workshop, made this an extremely affordable conference not just for locals but for anyone.

Different speakers and voices

We are lucky enough to have a wide range of speakers and talks. We’ve got people talking about UX, workflows, Angular, performance, pattern libraries and much more. Our speakers are also from across the world, some from American, Europe and some locals.

Once the event is over I want to write a bit more about how we tried to get the line up. We had some challenges in getting speakers and I think it’s good to share those. My focus right now is on delivering the conference, so this post is more an introduction into why we are doing it.

All the thanks

Before wrapping up, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone that has supported us in creating ThemeConf. It’s not been easy to do. Creating a brand new conference, having to postpone it and trying to create a diverse line up of speakers isn’t easy. We had nothing to promote, all our speakers and sponsors are taking a gamble on us and we are so grateful for that. We have people donating time to take photographs during the event, Tim Nash and Ola Laczek – you both are amazing.

Anyone that has Tweeted, Re-Tweeted and pinged us to offer support – thanks as every one helps people know about ThemeConf. There will be many thanks and posts in the future, but it’s worth saying a bit now.

So it begins… nearly

ThemeConf is now a few weeks away. Things are really starting to ramp up preparation wise. Travel is booked, hotel rooms are being filled and we are watching ticket counters like excited, expectant hawks. If you’ve not got a ticket yet, we have a special offer on until Monday using the discount code ‘awesometalks‘. This gets you another 25% off the ticket price for the talks and also talks and workshop. Just visit themeconf.com and you can use that discount code.

I’m excited to create this event and plan on doing some more posts once the event has happened. Our goal with ThemeConf is to be transparent about everything. We intend to keep that and post even our finances after the event. Hope to see people there!

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