Levitation 2024

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Report from Levitation (Eastercon 2024)

Every Eastercon is different. 2024 was held in a convention centre which brought with it new challenges. We hope that others will consider the Telford convention centre in the future, and with that in mind we have tried to address specific issues as well as general ones in this report.

One warning which we are adding here is our conclusion: Levitation made a loss because of a combination of the cost of living crisis, competing with a Worldcon, and inflation hitting our estimates very hard. But that we would only have broken even, or even still made a loss, at the target 770 members is something that future conventions will have to take on board. Rising expectations at a time when money is short is creating an unsustainable model.

Contents

Alternative versions

There is also PDF version of this report available for download:

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Accounts

Income

Current To date
1 Membership £54,459.00 £54,459.00 £0.00
2 At con (Art show, dealers’ room) £1,845.95 £1,845.95 £0.00
3 Pass along £38,171.67 £38,171.67 £0.00
4 Sales £0.00 £0.00 £0.00
5 Advertising £190.00 £190.00 £0.00
6 Access Donations £3,726.70 £3,726.70 £0.00
Total income £98,393.32 £98,393.32 £0.00

Expenditure

Current To date
A Facilities £44,502.00 £44,502.00 £0.00
B Guests (Travel, subsistence) £6,816.42 £6,816.42 £0.00
C Publications (printing, posting) £834.64 £834.64 £0.00
D Promotions £1,342.85 £1,342.85 £0.00
E Tech £18,611.13 £18,611.13 £0.00
F Green Room £1,617.83 £1,617.83 £0.00
G Gopher Hole £0.00 £0.00
H Volunteers £3,400.00 £2,697.41 £702.59
I Beer Bar £0.00 £0.00
J Ops £233.51 £233.51 £0.00
K Registration £143.68 £143.68 £0.00
L Art Shows & Logistics £1,694.52 £1,694.52 £0.00
M Programme £196.30 £196.30 £0.00
N Creche (provider + room) £2,448.90 £2,448.90 £0.00
O Newsletter £36.44 £36.44 £0.00
P Committee £6,500.14 £6,500.14 £0.00
Q Finance £2,113.04 £2,113.04 £0.00
R Insurance £0.00 £0.00
S Accessibility £1,785.60 £1,785.60 £0.00
T Inclusion £3,533.84 £3,533.84 £0.00
U Virtual £45.99 £45.99 £0.00
Total Expenditure £95,856.83 £95,154.24 £702.59

Nett

Current To date
Income £98,393.32 £98,393.32
Expenditure £95,856.83 £95,154.24
Nett £2,536.49 £3,239.08

Art show

Most of the artists emailed directly or artshow@ rather than filling in the Google form. Some did both, which was confusing. It is probably better to use email, and send a form link directly.

There were fewer queries about the no-auction system than last year, and no actual complaints at all.

Do not believe sites that assure you that Heras fencing will go through X entrance, even though you are doubtful! The Heras fencing worked well, but not so well that alternatives aren't being considered.

Communications and social media

Social media went well on the whole but one thing we really cut corners on was alt-text and we would like to have taken a lot more photos. Could have done with more help taking photos, getting them ready for social media and composing alt-text. Tagging dealers, artists and programme participants would also be a lot less work if we collected their social media IDs (or confirmed with them that they don't want to be tagged) when we onboard them.

With more time/more help, social media could also help get shyer members to engage with Discord by starting conversations.

Social media platform Follower count Notes
Facebook 456 Reconnect current has 88. Conversation still has 465.
Instagram 211
Twitter 433 Conversation still has 356.
Mastadon 89
BlueSky 212
Follower counts for each social media platform.

The most engagement from writers was on BlueSky and from volunteers and convention members on Facebook. Instagram and Facebook can be managed together from Meta Business Suite — otherwise it probably wouldn't be worth doing Instagram. I wouldn't bother with Mastodon again, there was very little engagement.

We should have included more detail earlier on about the route round the outside of the International Centre, to help people make an informed decision about which hotel to book. Also for future conventions: if the venue has not been used before the access audit should include getting from the railway station, airport etc to the convention & hotels, again early on for hotel booking purposes.

It would also have been good to get more programme highlights earlier on to encourage people to buy memberships.

Convention space

The venue has three large exhibit halls (that we didn't use), two large suites (of which we used one), two smaller suites (of which we used one) and a considerable number of smaller rooms (all of which we used). It also has plenty of circulation space, some of which can be used for things like food and drink service and social areas. It could have accommodated a much larger convention than we ended up being.

We used the following spaces in the TIC:

Ironbridge 1

Main Programme with circa 400 raked seats, a few floor-level seats for those with mobility issues, a stage and two large screens in 503m2 of space.

Ironbridge 2

Dealers' Room, 43 dealer tables in 444m2 of space. One corner was fenced off with pipe and drape for use for childcare.

Ironbridge 3

Art Show, ten panels of Heras fencing with pegboard attached, in 347m2 of space.

Coalport & Pattingham

Each used as programme rooms with circa 80 seats, theatre-style. 122m2 for Coalport and 132m2 for Pattingham.

Gallery

585m2 of open space used for food and drink service and a social seating area.

Atcham

Second Programme, laid out cabaret-style with circa 90 seats and nine 5′ round tables.

Wenlock 1&2

Green Room, two small rooms combined to give 104m2 of space containing five 5′ round tables with chairs, a control table and a coffee machine.

Wenlock 3&4

Programme room, laid out cabaret-style with four 5′ round tables in 104m2 of space, primarily used for launch parties and workshops, though also for some ordinary panels.

Ryton

Games Room, 53m2 room with four 5′ round tables and chairs.

Beckbury 1&2M

Ops Hub, used by the conventions operations team, tech team and volunteers. 104m2 with a number of trestle tables and chairs that grew steadily as we kept asking for more. You need more tables and chairs in your Ops Hub than you think you do.

Beckbury 3

Newsletter, 52m2 with four trestle tables and some chairs.

Beckbury 4

Quiet Activity Room, with some jigsaws and Lego on three 5′ round tables in a 52m2 room.

Jackfield Boardroom

Silent room, a “chill-out” room with no noise or electronic devices allowed, in a 60m2 room with a permanently installed boardroom table.

Heslop/Pritchard

Night-time Games Room, in the Holiday Inn. 75m2 of space with six 5′ round tables. Also used theatre-style for the pre-convention event organised by the British Science Fiction Association on Thursday night.

Concourse

The very spacious ground-floor concourse areas were used for Registration, mobility scooters, and a filking circle. We couldn't plan for this very far in advance, because we didn't necessarily have the exclusive use of the TIC, and if we had been sharing with another event then we wouldn't have had the use of all of the space.

We did not use:

Ludlow suite

A second large suite very similar in size to the Ironbridge suite mentioned above, without the raked seating and with natural light along one wall.

Newport suite

Similar in size to Atcham mentioned above, but divisible into two sections.

Reynolds

In the Holiday Inn, a 180m2 room divisible into three (Reynolds 1 was booked at very short notice for a semi-private event on Sunday night — see below).

Rathbone

In the Holiday Inn, a boardroom rather smaller than the Jackfield Boardroom mentioned above.

These spaces were largely the right size for their function and worked well, with exceptions noted below. As is always the case, we could have done with a couple more small rooms.

We never needed anything like the full capacity of Ironbridge 1, and had we known well in advance how small we would be, we might have used Newport as our main programme, with two rooms from the Ludlow suite instead of the Ironbridge suite for Dealers and Art Show (since the raked seating wouldn't have been used anyway).

We should have had a full row of seating in Ironbridge 1 in front of the raked seating, for those who couldn't climb up to the raked seats. The TIC did add a few chairs when the problem became apparent.

We had no room available for childcare and very few children signed up, so we located it in a corner of the Dealers' Room in Ironbridge 2, which seems to have worked fine.

The decision to lay Atcham out cabaret-style instead of theatre-style was taken at the last minute, because we had one item that simply wouldn't work theatre-style, but seems to have worked out well.

Wenlock 3&4 was too small for some of the more popular launch events, which should perhaps have been in Atcham, but at the time we scheduled those launches we hadn't yet changed Atcham to cabaret-style seating.

The locations of the volunteer desk and operations help desk in Beckbury 1&2 should have been swapped. Anyone entering the room naturally went to the desk in front of them, which was actually volunteers.

We didn't need both a quiet room and a silent room, and could have used the Jackfield Boardroom for something else — perhaps childcare, or a committee meeting room.

We could have put some items like workshops into the open seating area on the ground-floor concourse, which was barely used.

Key take-away: when booking a convention venue, start small and expand.

Dealers

Our experiment with a dealer price membership which included a table, created problems as some people forgot to fill in the actual dealer form. This should not be repeated.

Discord

We used Discord for live persistent chat before, during and after the convention. Overall the feedback on the Discord was positive.

There were general social spaces, as well as forum threads for each programme item that let on-site and virtual members talk about programme items as they were happening. The programme item discussion threads were the key place that on-site and virtual members interacted with each other on the same level.

53% of members joined the Discord. We used Discord OAuth through our members portal to allow us to link their Discord id with their badge number for our internal records. Some people had issues getting into Discord due to technical hurdles, but overall the solution worked and was less effort than last year, where we had to manually verify who people were.

We had some issues with permissions that enabled who could see what or send messages. Members were very understanding, likely because we responded to issues quickly. In future, create a checklist of things to check before opening the discord — who needs to be able to do what.

87% of messages in the public channels that were open during the convention came from people with attending memberships. Discord is not just a virtual thing, it is heavily used by people on site.

71% of messages in the help channels came from people with attending memberships. People are often favouring a message on Discord over going to the help desk or ops hub. Especially for problems during an item they are watching.

We tried to devolve some of the responsibilities to other areas this year. Ops were in charge of monitoring the help desk. Newsletter were in charge of sending announcements. This did not work well because the area heads did not communicate the new responsibilities to volunteers. Frequent volunteers reasonably assume the role is the same as the previous years they've done it, and need to be informed and reminded of the new responsibilities.

We did some video chats pre-con, which worked okay. But we lacked any scheduled social activities during the convention. We should find virtual volunteers to run parties in the online space, and have a few people seeding conversations in some of the social spaces.

Finance

Bank accounts

Levitation used the Treasurers Account provided by Lloyds Bank originally opened for Mancunicon, Eastercon 2016. A Stripe account was used in association with the registration website and a Zettle account, also opened for Mancunicon, were used for in person sales. The bank account is currently free of charge.

Accounting software

The accounting software used is AceMoney from MechCAD Software LLC — David Cooper has used this software for Interaction, Worldcon 2005 and Mancunicon.

Budget

The original budget was based on costs from Mancunicon adjusted for inflation as well as the quotation for the function space, income was based on curves for Reclamation and later Conversation, adjusted down because of the Worldcon effect. The real problem however, was that we were “on curve” as late as January 2024, and realised that we would not hit our targets too late to enable major changes.

The total number of memberships ended up significantly lower than even our most conservative estimates, and costs were reduced where possible, mainly in programme, and by deciding to print as little as possible. The provision of £26,000 in passalong was insufficient and the convention is currently predicting a significant loss which is being tackled with the support of previous Eastercons (to whom we are very grateful).

In hotels, it is common for the venue hire costs to be reduced in return for guarantees of minimum room-night and food & beverage numbers. This is obviously more difficult when negotiating with a convention centre, but is also a double-edged sword. Our finances could have been even worse if the low numbers had caused us to fail to hit those targets and be stuck with unexpected additional costs.

Groats

Because of the lack of funds the issuing of groats was more tightly controlled by the Treasurer and the Head of Volunteers than perhaps normally the case which assisted in ensuring equitability.

Insurance

Since Mancunicon there are many more providers in the market. Three quotations were received. The convention was covered by Protectivity Insurance, Dovetail House, Wycombe Road, Stokenchurch, Bucks, HP14 3RQ.

Financial summary

Financially, the convention was a disaster, with a total shortfall of around £35,000, which is a little less than the total cost of hiring the TIC for the weekend. This is not the catastrophic problem that it would be for most events, since making money is not one of the purposes of the convention, surplus funds passed along from earlier conventions had covered most of the shortfall before the date of the convention, and we've already had an offer to cover the outstanding amount. But it is of course not sustainable for every Eastercon to have a shortfall of that magnitude.

We were hit by a combination of the World Convention being in Glasgow later in the year, the cost of living crisis meaning that fewer people could afford to attend two (or even one) big conventions in the year, the unfamiliar site some distance from most population centres, the continued fear of contracting Covid at a large social event, the much higher rate of inflation for hotel and meeting — space costs than is reported in the CPI as a whole, and the need for a higher membership price than usual because of the other factors mentioned above. The TIC was the most expensive venue ever used for an Eastercon, even though it was the cheapest option discovered by the venue-finding service that we used. Had we realised in 2022 that the convention would have been so small, a number of other venues would have been available, but to take them would have meant capping the convention at 500 people.

Green room

In our instructions to panellists we need to allow for the time tech need to mike up participants on the main stage. We should have asked them to come earlier, so they were ready to leave the Green Room ten minutes before the scheduled start.

The virtual guests were able to join in the green room discussions, once we got the hang of the process. We need to have clear written instructions ready for Glasgow. However, Green Room did not really talk to them. We should bring headsets to Glasgow, so we can tell the virtual panellist what is happening even if the room is noisy.

Note that panellists must go to the Green Room because it can leave a virtual panellist stranded if there is no meet up.

Link to Program Ops worked mainly in person — given everything else mainly held together, this coped. But had things started to go wrong it could have been a problem. That needs to work better. Having a voice channel — either radio or a zoom call — to the roving DCM/Duty ProgOps may be necessary.

Having the coffee machine and soft drinks worked well. We served much less beer than usual.

Hall costumes

We got back around 120 out of 900 or so tokens. There is a suggestion that registration should have handed out the tokens not put them in the envelopes where they could be overlooked, especially as we used paper tokens. We should have created a meet up time for photo opportunities, and a photograph board with the Logo would also have been good.

Health protection systems / biosecurity

The convention proved to be a far healthier environment than the hotels used for the previous two years, both of which saw major Covid outbreaks. At the time of writing (four days after the end of the convention), we are not aware of any cases of Covid that were contracted during the event, although our masking policy was similar to the 2023 convention, and less stringent than 2022. Approximately 20% of the convention goers were masked, which was lower than we hoped for.

There are no doubt a number of contributing factors — among them the smaller size of the convention, having the exclusive use of the building, and sheer good luck — but the spacious venue with high ceilings and a good ventilation system that does not recirculate air within the building must have made a significant contribution. But we also had very little “con crud” reported, and this was aided by self imposed social distancing, large spaces, and CO2 monitoring.

We had CO2 monitors (kindly provided by Dave Clements) in the Green Room, Ops Hub and bar. The only reading over 1,000ppm (indicating a potential issue with ventilation) was in the Green Room on Friday evening. We told them about this, and it stayed below 1,000ppm for the rest of the convention (though only just below on Sunday night). Neither the bar or Ops Hub ever got above 800ppm.

Scatter plot of CO2 readings from monitors in Ops, Green Room and Bar which shows the readings were between 498PPM and 1063PPM.
CO2 readings from monitors in Ops, Green Room and Bar.
Time Ops (ppm) Green Room (ppm) Bar (ppm)
28/03/2024
14:34
595 661 588
28/03/2024
18:34
503 595 554
29/03/2024
10:00
594 650 686
29/03/2024
15:30
642 711 730
29/03/2024
21:00
660 1063 755
30/03/2024
09:11
508 571 631
30/03/2024
13:30
649 653 665
30/03/2024
19:52
636 845 647
31/03/2024
09:09
582 599 646
31/03/2024
13:54
651 617 697
31/03/2024
20:57
706 994 671
01/04/2024
09:11
493 528 621
01/04/2024
11:04
666
01/04/2024
14:07
603 771
CO2 readings from monitors in Ops, Green Room and Bar.

Saturday AM, Green Room informed of the higher reading from previous evening.

Monday 14:07 no reading available in Ops (early breakdown). An earlier reading was taken from a photo taken by Mike Scott at the indicated time.

Hospitality

Food at the TIC

Generally okay, but some items were a bit pricey and the range not as good as it could have been, especially for those with dietary requirements. The venue could have done better in explaining what they did have, especially vegan options. Service seemed to be generally responsive to demand.

Drink at the TIC

There was a mix of non-alcohol and alcohol, but the low or no-alcohol beers and spirits were very limited (almost non-existent). Venue could improve that enormously. Real ale bar was good and we ran out at a good time given the need to balance members and cost. We had twelve 11-gallon casks of beer plus 100 500ml bottles, making a total of 1,156 pints (with 100 of those “pints” actually being 500ml). That's well below the usual formula of around four pints per attending member, but the convention centre bar was closing at 10:30pm each night (11:30pm on Sunday), so it seemed better to under-estimate. None of it was on sale or return, so we were liable for £6.50 per pint of any unsold beer. Per pint, the real ale was £1 cheaper than last year. Range of beers could be better (the brewery doesn't really do dark ales, stouts, etc). Lack of cider was a problem. In future, we could negotiate from a stronger position about cider and more real ale options.

Drinks for launches and parties at the TIC

TIC provision of an ordering and payment portal to the organisers of these specific events worked well in general. Before the convention, there was a moment of confusion caused by assumptions made that parties would also require food catering — not the case given the nature of the events. Sorted quickly once identified.

Social space at the TIC

Good on the whole. It worked better than we expected, with a good flow of people in and out of the space. A few members expressed they would have preferred more comfortable chairs. The armrests made them particularly uncomfortable for fat people.

Groats

We had arranged for the bar and food service to take our gopher reward tokens (known as groats), but on a couple of occasions staff (including the Duty Manager) seemed not to be aware of this.

Food at the Holiday Inn

Generally okay. Service seemed to be generally responsive to demand.

Drink at the Holiday Inn

Generally good. TIC provided casks of real ale to the hotel bar, which was good. They also responded to requests to slightly improve the range of single malt whisky available. As with the TIC, a relative lack of cider was a problem.

The Hospitality role for Eastercon was new and the initial ideas changed when the venue stated they would do the food (the original plan was something like the food trucks at Conversation; the TIC advised few if any would turn up because of the lack of footfall beyond the convention) and they had a supplier of real ale (Salopian). The TIC also provided furniture for the social spaces, which we initially planned to provide.

Note that in negotiations we used all the arguments we usually do about us knowing our people, and stressed at every point we could about replenishment of real ale (and cider) being a preferred option. We think that from a better negotiating position that could be possible — including proving to the venue that we have a good idea about how much real ale we drink.

Hotels

We had convention rates in the Holiday Inn and International hotel, but with much less generous cancellation terms than is usual, which caused us a couple of problems. Early bookings were nearly all for the International, which looked much the better option on paper — cheaper, closer to the TIC (by less than 100m), and breakfast was included. However I think some people came to regret it and would book the Holiday Inn next time, since it is a nicer hotel with a restaurant, a wider range of breakfast options, and a health club.

There were some problems and complaints about the extra distance to walk round the TIC when returning from the Holiday Inn to the Travelodge or Premier Inn after the convention centre had closed for the night. That route was also badly lit and rather uneven underfoot, although of course it's a public road so that's not the TIC's direct responsibility. In an ideal world, there would be a well-lit 24-hour walking route past the other side of the convention centre, between it and the town park, fenced off from the car park to keep the convention centre and car park secure overnight.

There were a few complaints about some of the International hotel staff not being as helpful as in the Holiday Inn and the TIC itself. Nothing so severe as to cause us to raise it as an issue, but another reason why more people might go for the Holiday Inn the next time.

The walking (and wheelchair) route from the hotels to the TIC was being resurfaced before and after the convention, and there was some rough unsurfaced ground during the convention itself, though a route had been laid out avoiding the rough areas. That route wasn't very well marked at first, and one member had a fall, but refused help or first aid. The layout was improved after that, but still looked a bit untidy, with tape tied to traffic cones. There were no further incidents that we were aware of.

The mostly-pedestrianised road to the Travelodge and Premier Inn was partially blocked off by Heras fencing during the convention, meaning that the Travelodge's four blue-badge parking spaces couldn't actually be used, and one member in a wheelchair had problems getting themself and their luggage to the Premier Inn by taxi. As noted above, it was also a steep enough gradient to be difficult in a manual wheelchair. Not the TIC's fault, of course, but something to check for future conventions.

Membership numbers

Full All Days 388
Apocryphal 2
Child 4
Concession All Days 105
Dealers 15
Infant 1
Saturday 13
Sunday 1
Teen 4
Virtual 53
Total 586
Breakdown of memberships at March 26th 2024.
# Year Location Name Total # of members
60 2009 Bradford LX 850
61 2010 Heathrow, London Odyssey 2010 1300+
62 2011 NEC, Solihull Illustrious 956 / 877
63 2012 Heathrow, London Olympus 2012 1400
64 2013 Bradford EightSquaredCon 800
65 2014 Glasgow Satellite 4 777
66 2015 Heathrow, London Dysprosium 1185
67 2016 Manchester Mancunicon Unknown
68 2017 NEC, Solihull Eastercon 2017 / Innominate Unknown
69 2018 Harrogate Follycon 949
70 2019 Heathrow, London Ytterbium 1119
71 2020 (online) Concentric 846
72 2021 (online) Confusion 466
73 2022 Heathrow, London Reclamation 797
74 2023 Birmingham Conversation 938
75 2024 Telford Levitation 586
Total membership of previous Eastercons.

Member portal

We needed a way to authenticate people before we linked them to RingCentral Events (our platform for streaming and catch-up), as well as a place to initiate the OAuth flow for Discord. This led to us writing a custom members portal.

This became a “one-stop stop” for at-con activities, with a simple flat menu structure that made it easy to find the resources one would need during the convention. In the end it had:

A “magic link” was sent out to every member a few days before the convention started. This was unique to their membership and automatically logged them in. The session cookie then lasted for 4 weeks. The link to RingCentral Events also used RingCentral's magic link system. This meant that members didn't have to come up with a password and, for the majority of people, they never had to manually request a login link. People praised this frictionless approach.

The links to the voting forms used a feature in Google Forms to pre-fill their badge number.

As we integrate more and more online features with the convention, even for on-site participants, we are increasingly relying on using people's email addresses as a unique identifier for them. Future conventions may want to consider that, if an email is being provided for someone when they register, that they might want to check it is unique.

Opening hours

Our hire charges included opening from 9am to 11pm on Thursday through Monday, with Thursday being a setup day rather than a public day and charged at a slightly lower rate. Additional hours of opening cost £600 (inc. VAT), and because we were short of money we paid for only one additional hour, extending the closing time to midnight on Sunday. Since the clocks changed on Saturday night, we were concerned that closing at 11pm on Sunday would feel like closing at 10pm.

We advertised the time people needed to be out of the venue, rather than padding it. This did lead to some confrontations with people who assumed we had padded it and objected to being asked to leave promptly. On the whole, though, movement to the hotels was relatively seamless.

On Monday, we didn't really need the venue to be open until 11pm, since we were finished with tearing down well before that time.

Two other convention functions typically continue into the night — the Games Room and filk singing. We booked the Heslop/Pritchard room in the Holiday Inn for use as a late-night and overnight Games Room, and this worked well.

Programme

Over a quarter of the members were on programme. A few members said that they would like to have seen more “fun” items in the evening.

The mixture of 45 minute items in 60 minute slots with 60 minute items in 90 minute slots was confusing for some panellists and attendees but allowed us to programme more.

More attention needed to be paid to how many similar items there were, and scheduling similar items against each other. Tagging the items would have made it easier to identify similar items, both to consider dropping ones, and to consider whether or not to schedule them against each other.

Programme participant demographics

These demographics were self-reported by programme participants. The questions were optional. Gender, sexuality and ethnicity were free-form text inputs. In the interests of producing summary statistics, some more nuanced identities have been flattened. If someone is on multiple items, they are counted multiple times.

Gender Participants Moderators
Count Percentage Count Percentage
Female 160 27% 41 28%
Male 260 34% 45 28%
Non-binary 57 10% 8 5%
Unreported 177 30% 54 36%
Breakdown of programme participants by gender.
Sexuality Participants Moderators
Count Percentage Count Percentage
Asexual 12 2% 5 3%
Bi/pan 95 16% 26 18%
Gay1 21 4% 6 4%
Heterosexual 141 24% 32 22%
Queer 38 6% 7 5%
Unreported 287 48% 72 49%
Breakdown of programme participants by sexuality.

1 Does not include lesbian.

Ethnicity Participants Moderators
Count Percentage Count Percentage
Australian 2 0% 0 0%
Black 12 2% 1 1%
British 206 35% 52 35%
East Asian 8 1% 2 1%
Irish 4 1% 1 1%
Jewish 20 3% 4 3%
Mixed race 22 4% 5 3%
White 331 56% 73 49%
Unreported 206 35% 58 39%
Breakdown of programme participants by ethnicity.

Where people had multiple identities, they were counted in each of their identities. The percentages are a percentage of participants/moderators, which is why the percentages don't add to 100%.

Age Participants Moderators
Count Percentage Count Percentage
18–24 4 1% 0 0%
25–34 44 7% 7 5%
35–44 85 14% 19 13%
45–54 96 16% 25 17%
55–64 160 27% 41 28%
65+ 58 10% 14 9%
Unreported 149 25% 42 28%
Breakdown of programme participants by age.

Programme planning

We used PlanZ as our programme planning tool. A lot of work was needed to make the participant view mobile friendly. More work still would be needed to make it re-usable for other conventions in the future.

Similarly, work would be needed to make the notion of “on site” and “virtual” attendance on a programme item re-usable.

Signage

The Signage on the rooms was very clear. The ability to display on screens worked very well but:

Streaming and catch-up

We used RingCentral Events as our platform for streaming and catch-up. The cost of RingCentral Events was partly covered by the Glasgow 2024 Worldcon, in exchange for using Eastercon as a testing ground for the platform.

Overall there was positive feedback about the platform.

People found it easy to use. Performance seems good, though it's hard to disentangle video quality and stability issues from tech. A few people report issues with catch-up videos not streaming well.

Live caption quality is okay, and catch-up caption quality is very good.

People very much appreciated the breadth of what was streamed and made available for catch-up.

Chasing people up for permission to stream and catch-up took up some time. In future, we should make it a required question to answer up-front before signing up for the programme.

On-site members appreciated both streaming and catch-up options. Some people watched from their hotel room (when they had adequate wi-fi).

A total of 80 person weeks were spent on the RingCentral Events site (that's about 4 times as long spent online as in-person!)

43.5% of the time someone watched a stream, they watched it all the way through the item.

Room # People Total days spent watching live stream
Atcham 82 9.0
Coalport 76 11.6
Ironbridge 99 14.8
Pattingham 84 10.6
Wenlock 54 3.7
Breakdown of how much time was spent watching live-streams of programme items.
Line graph of percentage of time spent watching live stream of programme items.
A graph showing how long people watched a live-stream of a programme item for.

177 members watched at least one item on catch-up. On average, they watched 6 items.

A box-plot of the number of items watched on catch-up.
Box plot of how many items a member watched on catch-up (limited to people who watched at least one item)

Despite Ironbridge 1 being the main room, people tended to watch more catch-up items from Attcham, the second programme room. This may be because the items scheduled in Attcham were more appealing, or it may have been because they watched the items in Ironbridge 1 live, and were using catch-up to watch the conflicting items in Attcham.

A box-plot of how many times items in each room were watched on catch-up.
Box plot of how many items in each room were watched on catch-up.

In total, there were 1062 views on catch-up.

Tech

Our contract with the TIC did not include Internet access in the price (except the free wifi), and also excluded power in the Ironbridge and (I think) Atcham suites, though it did include power from wall and floor outlets in the smaller rooms. So we had to pay extra for seven wired Internet feeds (the five programme rooms plus the Green Room and Ops Hub), and for power in the Main and Second Programmes and the Art Show (we simply didn't offer power to dealers in Ironbridge 2).

The TIC has its own in-house production company, Stagecraft UK. Event organisers don't in general have to use their services, except for certain venue-specific things like power, Internet and rigging. However it turned out that the price for power, Internet and rigging goes up a lot if you're not using them for other things (or you don't get a discount off the list price, but it comes to the same thing).

We found Stagecraft very difficult to negotiate with on price, because they simply don't work the way that we're used to. We're very price-sensitive, since our only significant revenue comes from our membership fees. We're used to companies operating in a competitive market, who give you an itemised quotation, and you can then pick the items you want off the list without the item prices changing if you don't take all of it. They don't give big bulk or package discounts because they can't — their item prices are already competitive, and significant discounts would push them into loss. We were continually trying to do this with Stagecraft, and continually being told that it was a package deal, and taking items off it wouldn't make it cheaper. At one point they also forgot what they'd already agreed to and trebled their prices compared to previous quotes, which caused us some concern. Some of their equipment (e.g. projectors) is quite old and outdated, but still being priced as if it was brand new.

Ironically, if they had allowed us to pick and choose which items to go for on their lowest- priced quotation, we'd probably have gone for much (though not all) of it, and they'd have got more revenue. As it was, in the main we only used them for the things we had to buy from them.

On the day, Stagecraft's delivery of the stage and rigging in Ironbridge, and the projectors in Coalport and Pattingham, was good. The pipe and drape that fenced off a corner of Ironbridge 2 (Dealers) for childcare was a bit sloppy but worked. The Internet feeds caused us some serious issues during setup and into the start of the convention, with cable and patching errors that should have been spotted and rectified earlier, and at least one damaged patch cable that failed during use.

Overall, Stagecraft was the aspect of working with the TIC that we were least happy with.

Team

We went into the planning for Levitation knowing that it was a long haul, 2 year committee, and that the presence of a Worldcon in the UK would reduce our Pool. We had a high turnover due to life events, but the resignation and handover protocols and policy documents were followed in all cases, and very little was lost or dropped.

Recruitment of volunteers went very well. We recruited 89 volunteers, or just under 20% of the convention, and as many people helped out without formally offering. We think around 25% of people were engaged in making everything happen. Thank you to everyone.

There is a growing need for expertise in software and tech, that it may be that we cannot provide entirely through a volunteer team. This year we chose to hire in tech support and feel that this was the right decision.

Transport

We are accustomed to rail engineering works taking place over the Easter weekend, and this year was no exception with disruption to the main west-coast line. However it was made much worse by a landslip just to the west of Telford meaning that on the Thursday before the convention there were no trains from Shrewsbury and only a two-hourly shuttle service from Wolverhampton. This is of course unlikely to be repeated in future years.

Road access was easier — the M54 is the main road to Telford, and there were roadworks before Easter but they had finished before the convention started. There was of course the usual bank holiday traffic.

Telford is not particularly convenient for any international airport — Birmingham International is on the other side of Birmingham, and Manchester and Liverpool airports are well to the north with inconvenient train connections. We did have a few European and North American members, but it wouldn't be a great venue for a convention that was aiming to attract a large international membership.

Venue

The TIC is a purpose-built convention centre near the centre of Telford, a new town in Shropshire. The shopping centre is less than half a mile away, and the railway station (which is on the train line between Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury) is about a mile away. The M54 motorway goes through the town.

There are two on-site hotels owned by the same company (the International hotel and Holiday Inn), two budget hotels between the venue and the town centre (Travelodge and Premier Inn Telford International Centre), a further budget hotel near the station (Premier Inn Telford Central), and Ramada and Mercure hotels on the far side of the town centre (the former of which is also owned by the TIC).

Members' opinions on Telford as a town rather than the TIC itself were mixed. The chain restaurants such as Wildwood and Wagamama were welcome and widely used, but some more independent and varied eating options in the town centre would have been welcome. People did not generally go as far afield as Shrewsbury or Ironbridge, even though they are only a 15 minute drive away.

The accessibility of the town was undermined by unexpected building works which prevented access for taxis.

The gradient of the path into town is difficult in a manual wheelchair, and the uneven late-night route from the Holiday Inn back to the town-centre budget hotels was especially challenging for wheelchair users (see also below under Hotels). We should have more strongly advised wheelchair users to stay in the International or Holiday Inn hotels.

Despite being a modern building, the TIC has one moderately serious accessibility issue, which is that it has only one passenger lift, and that lift is too small for the largest powered mobility scooters. The venue informs us that they have a planning application in for a new elevator. They were very supportive with the use of the goods elevators but this is not ideal.

Some of the convention centre doors (e.g. the Ironbridge suite) have hold-backs that will hold the doors open but release and close them automatically in the event of a fire, but many do not. They all should, since it's not possible to open those doors from a wheelchair or scooter, and we don't have enough volunteers to station one permanently by every door, and so it would have been better for every room to have an open door. We were allowed to prop some of the doors open on the basis that the volunteer on duty in the room would close them in the event of a fire alarm.