As I’m sitting here, brew in hand and sunshine on my face, I keep asking myself why we haven’t done this before. Why has it taken us so long to share the journey we’ve had so far with you? I suppose it’s because there is so much to tell; it’s a combination of having too much to do as it is, and the fear of becoming vulnerable once all our ups and downs are there for all the world to see.
But we always said we want to be transparent and honest throughout this journey we have embarked on together; I remember one of our first meetings and making a promise to each other that even if we might not like what the other has to say we will still be honest and straightforward. We believed that it is the only way a partnership can become strong, and it has been the pillar of our relationship ever since.
It is CRAZY to think that it has been nearly 8 months since Natalie and I have met – on one hand, it feels like a lifetime ago because things have progressed so quickly and naturally since day 1. On the other hand, say what?? How have we only met 8 months ago?!
So, with 8 months, 3 events, multiple sleepovers, thousands of WhatsApp messages and excited screams, countless meetings, weekly full on working days, a few glasses of wine and too many cups of coffees under our belt we both felt like it’s time to let you in and tell you what we have (or haven’t) learnt so far. Buckle up folks, it’s going to be a long one!
Summer of 2018
Some of you will already know this but I can’t not share the story of how we’ve met because it was the beginning of Concept North! It was one of those crazy hot days last summer; I was working near Liverpool and Natalie was kind enough to meet up with me for a chat even though we only knew each other from the little squares of Instagram (I am secretly hoping that since then she has learnt her lesson not to meet up with random potentially psychotic strangers 🤷🏻♀️)
We met up because that’s what you do when you work from home and your social life is worse than your 65-year-old aunt’s. There is a fine line between enjoying the shortest work commute a person can do (meaning, from your bed to the sofa) and realising that unless you reach out to people and make a special effort, building lasting connections is a lot more difficult when you work from your living room.
Our first ever picture together, taken during that ominous first meeting (I think we've aged since then😅)
It didn’t really take long for us to find mutual ground. We met up because we thought we can connect and talk about work and the struggles that we shared – but we were lucky enough to experience one of those fortunate rare occasions when you meet someone who’s just so much like you. 15 minutes after seeing each other in person for the first time ever, we started chatting about this random idea of building a community. A place where people like us can connect, where we would find different ways of inspiring each other and building each other up as opposed to competing with one another. It was one of those conversations when dozens or what-ifs are flying around the room and you are becoming all flushed and a little bit scared because not only have you found someone who shares your thoughts, but you also feel like you might be on the verge of doing something really great.
A week after our first meeting I travelled down to Liverpool once more to see if the spark was still there and figure out if we should pursue this crazy idea we’ve had. It turned out that the sparks have turned into a full-blown bonfire! We were sitting in a café shouting random words at each other, scribbling ideas down in a notebook and just genuinely looking like we were high on something. By the time I got home, we’ve had a business name and doodles of our logo.
Hard at work (sort of)
The beginnings of Concept North
Have we just found our logo?
Our why’s and how’s were very simple: we were going to create a 3-day design exhibition (don’t laugh!) in Liverpool because we felt like the North of the UK is pretty much ignored in our industry and we wanted to change this. We hated feeling so isolated purely because we don’t live down South and we wanted to create something truly special for the northern design community, something very different to all the other events out there. A space with no discrimination, no egos flying around.
It still shocks me how quickly things have escalated from then on! In less than a month since meeting each other, we had a business name, a logo, we have built a website and we had multiple meetings set up with potential venues for the exhibition. I will never forget the moment when we have received our first quote for a venue – we were sitting at Nat’s dining table and after one of those ‘no, YOU open it!’ moments Natalie finally opened the email, looked at me and very calmly told me that it would cost us £25k to just hire the space without any equipment, furniture, staff, food, etc. £25k just to have it for ourselves for 3 days. Mind. Blown.
That priceless pre-£25k quote smile
It felt like being kicked in the stomach but in hindsight I think we both really needed it. It made us stop, think long and hard about what we wanted to do and realise that if we really do want to get in the position of doing all this big stuff we’ve been dreaming about, we’re just going to have to start small and work our way up (not the simplest thing to swallow when you are as impatient as we both are, but so necessary). We had no idea if what we were planning was even needed…I wish I would’ve counted how many times we’ve both said the sentence ‘but what if nobody turns up?!’ before our first event and I think Nat will agree with me that all this was THE scariest thing we have ever done.
By the time September came, we were getting ready for our first ever event which was to be held at The Florist in Liverpool. No one knew who we were and what we were doing so it felt a little bit like trying to stand out in a crowd of a million people, but we were so determined and passionate about pulling it off. The feeling we had after being in a room with 50 creatives was mind-blowing and I cried all the way home in the car (out of relief and joy). Natalie called me later that night and when she screamed ‘I’m so proud of us!’ into my ears I swear I could feel my heart double in size in my chest!
It was a lovely evening, but it also made us realise that if we were going to carry on organising these events, we just can’t keep reaching into our own pockets. We needed help and we really hoped to find some brands and companies who will see the value in what we are doing and believe in us.
I think this has been the hardest part of it all so far. The logistics behind organising an event are SO complicated. Every now and again we get a comment like ‘well it can’t be that hard’ and I am not ashamed to admit that I feel like getting physical with the person in question😁We have never worked harder than since Concept North have been founded – we both run our own businesses and this passion project of ours is a full time job on it’s own. The hours we have put into searching for the right venue, contacting people, looking after our social media accounts, spreading the words, sorting out food and drinks, music, goody bags, trying to get more people on board, write blog posts and newsletters, fiddling with our very temperamental website (I’m pretty convinced it’s a girl) take up most of our time off.
Winter 2018 – 2019
There are two things we have learnt since starting Concept North: a. feeding people is EXPENSIVE and b. if your idea is a gooden, people will try to jump on board. Now this might sound a little bit nasty, but it is true. We’ve had amazing feedback from people who join us for our events, and it turns out that there are many of us who think that northern designers, architects, interiors brands and bloggers deserve more stuff to happen here up North. This also means that we hear from a lot of people who would love to get involved in some way, as long as we do the work and it’s for free. Which is really nice and we so appreciate the interest, but hellooo, how can we help you when we still need help ourselves?
Two events into Concept North we bit the bullet and started to look for sponsors more seriously. We know that this community is needed, we know that the events can get bigger and better – if only we can get some help in organising them. It’s one of those things no one prepares you for…Asking for money is a big task for anyone but asking for money when you are two girls no one has ever heard of is terrifying!
In a world where social media stats mean absolutely everything, we don’t have much to show for ourselves. Our very humble following on our own Instagram accounts wasn’t enough to entice big names to pay attention to us. We’re not in the almighty trendy interiors-club on Insta which meant we couldn’t ask for help from anyone. All we had to show for ourselves was our small, but very engaged audience on @concept_north, the amazing comments and feedback we receive after every event and the relationships our lovely guest have started to develop between themselves thanks to Concept North. Big sigh of relief here, because thankfully this was enough. By December we were receiving so many enquiries and interest in sponsorship opportunities – although we have quickly learnt not to get our hopes up. We were all smiles, swallowed tears and gratitude during our huge Christmas party (table for two please 🙋🏻♀️) and congratulated each other for securing that oh-so-needed sponsor, only to have it pulled last minute and to receive 6 no’s within the space of 2 days.
Christmas party for two
After feeling sorry for ourselves for a good few days we have pulled our big girl pants up, shook the self-pity off and secured two sponsors (huge thank you to Concept Bespoke Joinery and Tektura Wallcovering) for the whole of 2019. Giving it up was never an option for us, and it’s incredible how resilient you become when you want to hold onto something with teeth and nails.
Here we are now…
Here we are indeed. We are getting ready for our 4th event and this time, we are hoping to do something completely different from what you’ve seen from us so far.
It has been the craziest, wildest, most erratic journey of ups and downs and highs and lows. Above all, I think I can best describe it as a rollercoaster of emotions – every single event makes us go crazy with sheer panic and self-doubt, they make us question ourselves and tempt us into believing that we aren’t doing enough; only to then feel so calm and safe as soon as we stand up in front of you to welcome you (okay, so hormones might be to blame here too).
We had so many moments when we thought maybe this wasn’t meant to be, and even more moments when something small happened and instantly restored our faith in ourselves and our vision. We celebrate each small victory for Concept North because we believe that these small victories will make us more established: to name a few, we have been interviewed about our journey, we’re waiting on a magazine feature to come out and we have been invited to talk about who we are in a podcast. This dream we have about creating a vibrant, lively and creative hub for individuals and businesses in the interiors and property industry is one many of you share with us. We shouldn’t have to travel down to London (even if we enjoy it!) just to see a showroom launch, take part in the celebration of a new collection or to attend a trade show. They should be available to us here up North because we have the most amazing group of brands, creators, makers, designers, developments and so on.
If you’re still with me (and you’ve read my short novel over here), let me thank you for supporting and believing in us so far. It really means more to us than I have the skills to put in words – just know that we see you, we love you and we hope to squeeze your hand at our next event in Preston, on the 28thof March.
Natalie & Melinda
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