Rachel, our Director of Events, joined Golborne a year ago. She came to us following a career in events in the Unique Venues of London’s major museums including the V&A and the Design Museum. Here she talks about why she made the move to a planning agency, her favourite venues and events, and what she has learnt during the past six months.
Thursday 13 August 2020
In conversation with Rachel, Director of Events at Golborne
What made you transition from a Head of Events role within a venue to a planning agency and how have you adapted to this new role?
I had worked in London’s museums and galleries, including The Courtauld, V&A and the Design Museum, for 15 years. During that time, I learnt the ins and outs of running events in them, made some amazing friendships, married Luke and became a mum to two gorgeous girls, Fleur and Sienna.
My previous role as Head of Events at the Design Museum was a maternity cover. It was coming to an end, which allowed me to stop and think about what to do next. I knew that I loved planning and styling events, so moving to a London event planning agency that I had seen create some of the most incredible events at the V&A seemed like a natural next step.
The Director of Events job description was all of the best creative parts of previous roles combined with new things I’d always wanted to do, like leading pitch responses and being responsible for all of the financial elements. I met Natalia and Sophie to find out more and remember taking the tube home in a bubble of excitement, so I had to pinch myself when I was offered the role!
Natalia gave a really detailed handover, covering all the ways of working, meeting clients and learning about more of the venues, so when I took the reins it felt right. I already knew Golborne’s preferred suppliers which really helped as we work so closely with them – they are the people who bring our ideas to life and make the impossible happen.
What are your key learnings from working venue side for so many years?
I know the constraints and pressures that venue’s event teams are under when the venue’s primary purpose is something other than events. Venue teams may seem strict about the rules but being responsible for the safety of a listed building filled with irreplaceable items is a huge pressure. The venue’s event managers work closely with curators and conservators to set the rules and they are continuously checked and reviewed. It’s our job as event planners to understand the guidelines and how to work creatively within them.
I also know how important it is to engage with the venue, to treat it as you would if it were their home. Let them know whenever you’re there for meetings, go through all of the plans before confirming with suppliers and let them know when you don’t need dates held anymore!
How is a venue role different to a planner's role and what have you learnt from the Golborne team?
The venue role is about selling the space to clients, making sure the venue, staff, suppliers and guests are safe. You need to know the spaces inside out and be in the loop with exhibition plans and gallery changes.
I had a good overview of all of my events before but didn’t tend to be involved in as much of the detailed planning like I am at Golborne. I have loved working on events from that first conversation, through to creative mood boards, venue sourcing, and bringing everything together over months of meticulous planning.
When a couple are looking at venues for their wedding, what questions would you recommend that they ask the venue and what information should they be aware of before coming to a decision?
It’s really important to be clear about what the venue hire fee includes before confirming. Some include everything, others add on cleaning costs, electricity, security etc. The venue will be able to share approximate figures for catering, production, furniture, flowers and entertainment but be sure to do your own research early on too or hire a planner to do this for you.
The postponement and cancellation policies are more important now than ever, It can be a difficult read but you should go through these carefully together, thinking of worst case scenarios. Your deposit is likely to be non-refundable but if your wedding needs to be cancelled or postponed because of COVID 19, the venue should allow you to put the amount towards another date within a reasonable time frame.
I also like to know how the venue team works as they're all so different. Will the person showing you the spaces at your initial show round be your contact throughout and will they be there on your wedding day? This is less important if you're working with your own planner but makes a big difference if you're doing the planning yourselves.
What is your favourite wedding venue in London and why?
This is difficult as there are so many, I love all of the London venues I've ever worked in! We had two Golborne weddings booked at the V&A this summer which I was really excited about. They have both postponed to 2021 and I can’t wait to be back there again. If weather allows, I'm hoping we'll be able to hold their blessings in the John Madejski Garden, set up like the one below which I worked on with Event Concept and Veevers Carter a couple of years ago. For me it's one of the most beautiful, serene London settings to be married in.
Which venues are you most keen to work in that you haven’t yet?
I live just down the road from Hampton Court Palace so we’re there with the girls most weeks at the moment and I would love to create an event there. I was invited to a night of Jazz with Jools Holland there last summer. The event starting with drinks in the garden, then we explored the Palace and enjoyed dinner in the Great Hall before watching the concert as the sun set around us. It was such an incredible evening and I’d love to plan something there with Golborne!
Six months into a new role a global pandemic wiped out a whole year of events. How have you coped with this incredibly stressful and challenging time, what have you learnt from this experience?
It really has been and still is the most challenging time. It’s hit us all so hard and it’s been awful to feel out of control and not always be able to please everyone. I've been overwhelmed by the positivity and kindness of our clients and suppliers. It’s definitely strengthened a lot of relationships and reminded me of how important it is to work with suppliers and partners that you know and trust.
I am very lucky to work in an honest and supportive team with Natalia and Sophie. We are in touch with each other every day and we’ll be having some office days from September which will be amazing. I’ve really missed being in the office with them and being able to bounce ideas around.
On a personal level, I’ve been exercising and meditating more which has definitely helped. I’ve been doing lots of pottery with the girls and their friends too. I trained as a potter so it's been good to get the kiln going again and it's kept us all happy, creative and at home!
How do you see the events industry looking a year from now?
I wish I knew. I’m chatting with other planners, suppliers and clients all the time. There’s lots of talk about virtual events and hybrid events. Most of our corporate clients are holding back on any kind of events for now though. I think next year will be more about weddings and private parties, for smaller numbers than we’d normally see and streaming to guests who can’t be there in person. We’re watching and talking and coming up with creative ideas and options for when the restrictions are more confidently lifted.
Tell us about your favourite event you’ve created.
There are so many, but one of my earliest ones working at the V&A comes to mind. It wasn’t the biggest, but I loved the theme and creativity. It was an intimate event themed around the Ballgowns exhibition. Guests were given a tour of the exhibition and were then invited to the upper level of the Fashion Gallery. As they looked over the balcony, the lights lifted, music began, and professional dancers appeared below doing a specially choreographed dance for the evening. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. It was completely magical. The guests were then invited to join the dancers for individual lessons and dance themed cocktails and canapés.
I also love large set ups, feeling the energy and rush of activity as the venue clears of visitors and watching the suppliers move like worker bees to transform the space in just an hour is absolutely incredible and I love that these are the events Golborne specialise in!
I always find watching an event set up quite moving, all of the dreaming and planning coming together thanks to the dedication of so many talented people.
What do you think makes a successful event?
Understanding the brief at the start is vital. Knowing who’s making the decisions, who the event is for, their vision/style and what’s important to them. This can change throughout the planning process so communication, flexibility and patience are everything. Working with the right suppliers and listening to their experience is key, especially in the listed venues.
It’s all about having a great team around you and that’s what I love about being at Golborne. We are a very close team and we only work with suppliers who are willing to go the extra mile for us. Our suppliers work in partnership with us to deliver our vision, even with the most extraordinary requests that we sometimes have!