Alex Thomson reflects on the decision to delay the voluntary sector's premier event until next year
It’s hard to believe that just a year ago thousands of us came together at the SEC in Glasgow for The Gathering. We didn’t have any physical distancing in place, we didn’t wear masks, use hand sanitiser or discuss in any great depth coronavirus.
Who would have thought back then that the very hall we hosted our exhibition and marketplace in would become the Louisa Jordan hospital to deal with what has become a global pandemic?
So much has changed in all our lives over the past year. I didn’t think back then in February 2020 that The Gathering would be the last in-person event I would organise and that every event I would do over the course of the next year would be online using Zoom.
It’s been a huge learning curve for me and the team at SCVO, adapting and moving our in-person training courses to an online format, hosting various Zoom webinars and completely transforming our Scottish Charity Awards celebrations to an online production.
There are of course huge advantages to moving events online. Our Scottish Charity Awards audience went from 500 people to nearly 5,000 viewers. Our training programme has seen new learners from across the UK participate, and it’s easier to attract experts to participate at our webinars and keep our costs down.
Having said all that, moving The Gathering to an online format is not straightforward. The beauty and essence of The Gathering is its energy, it’s our sector coming together to learn, to showcase, to connect with each other and leave us feeling inspired. I’ve yet to see an online platform that can replicate everything we do at The Gathering and do it successfully.
How can you recreate that valuable conversation you have in a coffee queue at The Gathering? Or taking forward that idea you discussed with someone sitting at an event? And finding that missing piece to form a new partnership within the exhibition hall?
And more importantly, where have we all went this year to stock up on pens, post-it notes, stress balls and freebies from our exhibitors?!
It’s been strange not organising this year’s Gathering. I’ve missed working with hundreds of exhibitors creating our vibrant marketplace, I’ve missed working with all our event hosts planning that perfect programme of learning and development opportunities, I’ve missed working with the various contractors, partners and sponsors that make the event happen. But most of all I have missed all the buzz and excitement that The Gathering brings.
So what does the future hold for The Gathering?
I did start thinking about the obvious here – hand sanitising stations, physical distancing, a huge new feature within the exhibition hall for all those dogs we’ve gotten during lockdown… (which would also double up nicely as my organisers office!).
But, the future of The Gathering, like all Gatherings, is not just what we at SCVO do to make it successful. The Gathering is the voluntary sector’s event and its success every year is a combination of all our efforts.
So, we have a year to think about what we can do, what we would like to see and hear and how to shape our next Gathering. In the meantime feel free to send us your thoughts and ideas – I look forward to seeing you all in person next year.
Alex Thomson is events and training manager at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)