Indie Of The Month: Pop-Up Events
Written By Stella Nicholls
Photos by Bridget Batchelor
“Being ourselves is important. Not trying to replicate anybody else or putting on a persona. We’re not very good at pretending to be slick, but that’s what drives us.” Simon and Stuart, Pop-Up Events.
One of my fondest memories, as a child growing up in South Africa, was going to the ‘Drive-in’ to watch a movie. Mum and dad would drive our old car as close to the permanently fixed giant screen as possible, without causing neck strain. But not before we had scouted row after row of metal speakers-perched-on-poles, in the hope of finding one that was working clearly. Mission accomplished; dad would pop it onto the partially rolled down window, ready for the trailers to begin. A few cinema-type snacks later, and we were good to go; us kids in the back peering around the front seats of the car (and our parents’ heads). How exciting (as long as it didn’t rain and mist up the windscreen)!
I didn’t think anything similar existed here in the UK, so I was pleasantly surprised to meet Stuart Crook and Simon Benn, founders of Pop-Up Events. Their Open-Air Cinema screens have the advantage of being able to, well, ‘pop-up’ anywhere with bookings stretching from Cornwall to London! Of course, these days, you are more inclined to see families perched on picnic blankets than sitting in their cars, but the fun family together time remains the same.
Gone are the ‘few cinema-type snacks’ of my childhood (unless you want them, of course) as the whole outdoor experience is completed with a full-service mobile bar and a pop-up street kitchen too!
Aside from the inflatable cinema screen, the duo also offers, if music is more your thing, sound, a stage and lighting too, attracting many local bands to music festivals and the like. And with Stuart’s twenty-year musical background, (playing in several bands at various festivals) one might even call him a bit of an expert. Added to that, Simon’s lighting and cinematic experience and it would seem the perfect combination of ingredients to cook up a successful business. Talking of cooking, the pair have also advised me that they are involved in providing cooking demos at several food festivals, as well.
Stuart and Simon first met in Topsham, getting to know each other socially before working together to make various items like flavoured oils, dressings and chutneys, for retail. Combining their skills, they realised that they could do some good things together.
Early on in their friendship, Stuart and Simon realised that they shared a passion for helping others; for being the change they wished to see in the world. They have been raising funds for local charities such as Hospiscare, Force, Macmillan Cancer Support and South West Children’s Hospice for the last 5 years, raising over £14000. Simon says that the ethos behind many of their focused events is bringing people together to “do a bit of good”.
With Pop-Up Events being mostly seasonal, concentrated in the warmer months of summer, I wondered what they did in the quieter months. They explained that they have a few winter spurts where they arrange the turning on of Christmas Lights for different towns. They have, for the last few years, put up a forty-foot Christmas Tree in Topsham adorned with lights, which was a big fundraising event for Hospiscare. It included a local Primary School choir singing some carols and of course, the arrival of Santa.
I asked how involved they are in organising an event such as turning on the town lights, and they said, “Absolutely everything, from food to local musicians”, they will arrange it all.
More recently, the pair have also taken on The Woodland Café at Yurt Camp which has given them a fixed events space too. The site, I’m told, allows them to offer things like a zip wire experience, assault course, cooking lessons and musical workshops, amongst other things. Sounds like a real hive of activity!
Simon and Stuart are also passionate about providing stage space, or ‘platforms to flourish’ for up and coming talent, as well as having set up the Youth in Arts initiative. This provides a place where emerging talent such as young musicians or young dance troupes and the like, have an opportunity to perform and it aims to spark an interest in the Arts. With children as young as six taking to the stage with a guitar Simon says it’s amazing how good some young people are, but they tend not to get the opportunity to have the professional performance space. He said,
“You can see the boost that it gives them, they are taking it from a hobby to something that they are passionate about – the opportunity to be on stage with a proper sound system, sound engineers helping them and chatting to them, you can really see the difference.”
I wondered how much planning went into putting on an event and was surprised to learn how much organisation is running in the background, from clearing a lot of the ‘red tape’ with local authorities to making sure licenses are in place. For an event that is running in April, they need to be planning from September, the previous year!
With any new business comes the challenge of getting your name out there, and the guys said that they try and overcome that by picking sites where they already have some connections. Simon joked, at this point (referring to how many places that Stuart had travelled to and lived in) saying they had gathered a ‘pop-up army’ in most places to call on to help distribute advertising posters. “Everywhere we go, I say, ‘Oh I used to live down there!’” Stuart laughed.
Pop-Up Events is so diverse in their offerings, from food festivals to music festivals, that people sometimes get a little confused, asking, “But can you do this?” to which they reply, “Yes we can do anything, pretty much, from hospitality to entertainment -not a problem”. Simon says,
“That’s what keeps us interested and motivated, you could never put us into a box.”
They remain organic and are growing all the time, which is a fascinating, if slightly nerve-racking, way to do business! But they love it, saying,
“If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it, you have to be passionate about what you do!”
Stuart and Simon use local suppliers for the food and drinks that they provide, wanting to lower their carbon footprint and also to connect with suppliers who share the same ethos and care. They also know where all their meat comes from to make sure that the animals are ethically cared for. A couple of years ago, after a two-day music event, they were shocked at the amount of plastic and general waste they had produced and were disgusted by it. Within 24 hours they went completely plastic free, changing their policy – so they now produce no waste, nothing to landfill, everything’s compostable. Just shows what you can do when you set your mind to it!
For the year ahead, the guys have many food festivals and weddings booked, they remain fluid in the activities that they offer and are delighted to provide fun for everyone, especially when it comes to making memories for families!
If you would like to get in touch with Pop-Up Events, pop onto the website.