A group of people sitting and standing in front of a blue building. It is a sunny day. On the blue building there is a fried egg artwork. The people are all smiling happily. It is a diverse group of people, from different ethnic backgrounds and of different genders and ages.
Unlimited Team all gathered together physically and virtually in Blackpool

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside: Unlimited goes to Blackpool

Earlier this month, the Unlimited team made their way to Blackpool for three days beside the sea staying in a Bed and Breakfast. For many of the team it was a chance to meet for the first time (whilst staying socially distanced), work collectively on tasks, and map out the next 12 months of Unlimited. Ellie Liddell-Crewe tells us more…

Two people are sitting outside on a sunny day engaged in conversation. They are both sitting on chairs, and both have long hair, one blonde and one brown.
Unlimited team members Isabella and Rachel talking in the Art B&B garden

The destination

Why Blackpool I hear you ask? The Unlimited team are geographically dispersed across the UK, with team members in Edinburgh, Essex, Yorkshire, and scattered throughout London, Blackpool was a great middle ground option for us all to be able to travel to. We were hosted by the fantastic team at the Art B&B Blackpool – an independent boutique art hotel and venue on the seafront. Best of all, it isn’t technically a hotel. It is what’s known as a CIC (community interest company), this means that any profits from the company benefit the community rather than shareholders and goes back into art and community projects. Each room at the hotel is designed by an artist, including two rooms created by Unlimited Artists; Christopher Samuels-The Welcome InnKristina Veasey’s- My Dirty Secret family room, and a piece for the meeting room space created by Romily Alice Walden. You can read more about each artist and their room on our blog and for all other artists you can visit the Art B&B’s website.

Rachel, our new Artist Support team member, describes Romily Alice Walden’s work: ‘it strikes you as soon as you walk in the door with its jagged peaks and stunning bluish fluorescent gaze. It’s the first thing that we all talked about as soon as we were gathered, each of us sharing what impression it had initially given us when we first set eyes on it.’

Christopher Samuel –  The Welcome Inn

An excerpt taken from the hotel’s website describes The Welcome Inn room as ‘much an experience as a hotel room. Christopher Samuel has transformed a standard hotel room into a fully immersive event that gives the visitor a taste of what it is like to face access barriers.’ Unlimited Programme Coordinator Harry stayed in the room and describes the experience as follows:

‘The Welcome Inn is so well executed. It sort of unravels as you spend more time there. There are the initial things you notice, like the bed, the bathroom door, the light switches. But the more time you spend, the more frustrating, annoying, and disabling it becomes. Christopher’s attention to detail reveals itself as you try to use the room. You want to sit at the desk but realise the stool is the same height. The hand soap, situated above the toilet, always ends up on the toilet. Manoeuvring around the room is difficult. The lighting and shelves barely function. It was funny at first, but it didn’t last. It’s a fiendish demonstration of the social model.’

Who wasn’t able to embrace the seaside air?

Sadly, Unlimited trainee April was unable to make the trip due to being in self isolation. Rather than miss out completely on each day we re-jigged the timetable and went for a blended approach, allowing April the chance to get involved in each element of the schedule remotely. April explains what it was like to take part in an away day whilst very much not being away:

‘Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join the rest of the team in Blackpool. However, I still got to join in remotely for many of the activities and discussions! Although it was sad that I couldn’t be there in person with everyone and meet some of the new team members, it was great to be able to participate online, whether that was having 1-on-1 conversations on Zoom, taking part in live chats in a big group discussion via Slack, or being part of the group photo while someone held the laptop. Seeing everyone in the same space, I could feel everyone’s energy collectively even through a screen.

On the flip side, while I enjoy group interactions, they can also be very draining for me, and I imagine that I would need more socialising breaks if I was in Blackpool compared to working remotely. At the end of the day, I’m happy I got to be part of this work trip and that the team made me feel involved and present, despite being across the other end of the screen.’

The pros and cons of being together in real life

At the end of our couple of days together we did a quick reflection on pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Meeting new team members for the first time, solidifying the team, and having a greater sense of community, communication, and vibes
  • Getting an insight into people’s personalities in a way that you can’t get through a computer screen
  • Getting to do tasks more creatively than we would usually
  • Speeding up processes – either getting into the nitty gritty of stuff or it being easier to talk collectively about joint work
  • Breaking out the flip charts!

Cons:

  • Not having the whole team present was really sad – and likely to be something we all need to consider in the increasingly hybrid future
  • Covid-19 meant that people’s throat hurt from doing PCRs and daily lateral flow tests, and made lipreading difficult in a mainly masked environment, which led to arm ache from constant ‘step back, mask off: mask on’ manoeuvres
  • Real life is tiring! Spending full days together, non-stop talking, writing things down physically, using different parts of our brains… It’s more labour intensive than working remotely and we were out of practice
  • As we were working long days, we didn’t get to explore the place as much as we would have liked – only one team member made it into the sea
  • Having a long agenda with many items to consider didn’t work for all – one team member would have preferred to have focused more intensely on one item fully – identifying problems and solutions, rather than mapping out more areas and looking at when they might be sorted
Three people are indoors, working on a model built from paper and straws. Two of the people are engaged in conversation while one of them is bending over the table, building the model.
Unlimited team members Harry, Ellie, and Toni hard at work

The timing of our trip was great – not only just before ‘Freedom Day’ (which feels anything but free for many of our team who are either on the CEV list or are unable to vaccinate due to medical issues), but on the cusp of Unlimited’s transition into independence. It’s been beneficial to map out both our strengths and bumps, and to look, as a team, at how to solve them before we become a new organisation has been really beneficial.

As everyone on the team chorused: ‘When can we go away again?’

A group of people sitting and standing in front of a blue building. It is a sunny day. On the blue building there is a fried egg artwork. The people are all smiling happily. It is a diverse group of people, from different ethnic backgrounds and of different genders and ages.
Unlimited Team all gathered together physically and virtually in Blackpool