The end of the beginning...

Well that is it; our final workshop is done and dusted. There is still a lot to do of course. I will spend the next month working with the teams to put the finishing touches to their prototypes, develop business plans, make short films of their work and plan our final showcase event. But, yesterday did mark the end of the three month Sandbox R&D period and that makes me a bit sad.

It was a fitting end though, packed with energy and excitement – a little looking back and a lot of looking forward. We kicked off with project demos; each team set up shop and the group spent a couple of hours playing, breaking, praising and questioning each others' work with characteristic enthusiasm. It isn't an easy ask to demo some of these projects, a number of the experiences are dependent on being in a certain place at a certain time which is very hard to re-create. Duncan reflects on this in his recent blog post, written as they prepared to present 'these pages fall like ash'. I hope that this was a useful experience therefore, as they will want to showcase their work in all kinds of environments over coming months. There was definitely relief among the teams as they cast their eyes around and realised that no one’s work is yet perfect but also a great sense of shared achievement at just how much they have done in such a short amount of time. Bambo said to me this week that she thinks Book Kernel’s progress from concept through development to working prototype would normally take around a year.

We weren’t about to let them rest on their well deserved laurels just yet though and we moved from this straight into our afternoon session. To kick off we had a brilliant talk from Adam of Alphasphere fame, a Sandbox 2010 participant, who’s journey from a half working proof of concept coupled with a lot of belief and enthusiasm at the end of his three months (sound familiar?) to distribution deals and product shipment via Ibiza and Downing Street in a hoodie (‘I guess the lesson is, if you get invited to Number 10, you should expect to meet the Prime Minister’) was both reassuring and inspiring. It was also clear from his talk that the support and advice of Rebecca and Pavla of Ladbury PR and Mark Leaver our Business Mentor had been invaluable along the way. Which set us up rather nicely for their sessions with the teams.

Rebecca and Pavla had the teams split up and consider the short description, key messages and ideal press response for their projects. They then ran practice ‘Waking up with Watershed’ interviews with a spokesperson from each while the others looked on. This was frightening and funny in equal measure, but with gentle (mostly) feedback on jargon, style and clarity everyone did a great job. The projects are so novel and textured that they can be very hard to explain clearly, especially when they are not yet fully realised (see Duncan’s blog post for an example of this struggle) and I know that the teams found this activity very useful.

In Mark’s session, the group was asked to revisit their ‘what we don’t know yet’ questions from our very first meeting and reflect on what they had learnt, what was unexpected, and the positives and the negatives of the last three months. The responses had much in common with each other and were a useful reminder of just how much changes over this short time. The teams were then asked to sum up what success would look like to them and identify some concrete steps to move in that direction. I witnessed some real light bulb moments here and we will be returning to those plans in more detail over the coming weeks.

All that remained to do really was to thank Mark and Ladbury for their time and efforts in putting together such a fruitful final workshop as well as the rest of our amazing Advisors for such invaluable support throughout – I have been genuinely floored by their generosity. Thanking is so important and I’m sure that I don’t do it enough. I am now going to crow bar in Kevin’s great post on the Digitising the Dollar Princess day filming at Keddleston Hall which I read just before writing this and in which he thanks people very graciously, as do the rest of that lovely team all the time (possible the most tenuous link I’ve made in these blogs to date). All of the projects have formed teams of people beyond the named leads, many of whom I have been lucky enough to meet and who have become Sandbox regulars but some who have remained a bit invisible to us so thanks to them too. And my final thanks go to the BRILLIANT team that I am a part of, to Jon and Clare for their awesome guidance and particularly to Matt, Simon and Alison whose goodwill, sense and support I have exploited shamelessly as we have put together these events.

We finished the day as ever in the Watershed bar. After all where else would you discover that even the most respected and learned academics have a guilty weakness for One Direction.