This past weekend saw the Raddisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Conference Centre taken over by this year's NineWorlds Geekfest. Unlike most other UK conventions, NineWorlds is a multitrack residential convention that covers a ridiculous number of fandoms over the course of a weekend. There truly is something for everyone whether you're into Cosplay or Comics, Game of Thrones or Doctor Who, LARP or Board Games, Food or Knitting, Future Tech or Podcasting there are panels and activities for you.
One of the first things that strikes you about NineWorlds from the moment you arrive is exactly how hard they've worked to make people feel included and comfortable in their surroundings. The Communication Preference Clips are a fantastic idea that I'd love to see implemented at other conventions to give you a great indication of whether or not to approach people for a chat. As well as the comprehensive Code of Conduct and Anti-Harrassment policies there are Newbie Greeters and meet-ups available to help get you settled in. All of this setting out of expectation up front lends the event a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and allows people to focus on what of the many things on offer they want to consume.
Having only attended the event for one day, I can only guess at how difficult it must be for those attending the full weekend to figure out which things they can manage to attend without having to resort to some form of time travel. It seems however, by accident or by design, that almost every panel or event we stuck our heads into had just about the right amount of people that could fit into the available space. I do have to give a bit of a shout out to the Kickstarter launch for the London Bubble Football League who managed to entice us away from our discussions about the forthcoming WorldCon with the promise of cake.
Several highlights of our day included the Game Of Thrones Season 4 review panel from TitanCon with Miltos Yerolemou, better known as Arya's Water Dancing instructor Syrio Forel, stealing the show with some wonderful insights into both the logistics of recording the show and his thoughts on the events of the most recent series. Also, The headline act of the Steampunk track, The Steampunk Cabaret was a fantastic show from some of the biggest names in the UK Steampunk scene treating us to an array of sketches, stories and music from the likes of Lady Elsie and Major Tinker, The Cogkneys, Herr Döktor and more. But there was so much more that we would have loved to have looked in on had time permitted, such as the Whedonverse singalong, the edible knitting workshop or the late night Rock Band Karaoke.
The sheer amount of actvities on offer means that the experience of this convention is very personal one, as it's incredibly unlikely that you will find another person who has followed exactly the same path you have travelled over the course of the weekend. This had the potential to leave you coming out of the event feeling slightly isolated, however the supportive and inclusive nature of the event means that everyone was made to feel incredibly welcome and comfortable in their surroundings.
If I had to identify any down sides to the event I would have to say that I felt like the trader's area was a little on the small side, there was so much crammed in there that I felt it needed to be at least twice the size to allow for easy navigation around it. Other areas of improvement lay more in the choice of venue to be fair, whilst an excellent venue for conferences that require you to be in one place for the whole day, I felt it was a bit too difficult to find your way to the one little room that was hosting the particular event they you were trying to get too. The entire complex felt exactly that, with labyrinthine corridors needing to be negotiated in order to pick your way to, for example, the eventual goal of the mythical rooms 11 and 12 in the bowels of the building. Whilst every endeavour had been made to provide water to guests around the venue, it was an awfully long way from some of the rooms to one of the two or three bars on site in order to get refreshments. Once at the bars, the service levels of the staff did tend to leave an awful lot to be desired with, on several occasions, four members of staff milling around behind the bar, but only one person actually serving customers. Finally, I think that the fact that the events took place in all these different, hidden away places, meant that there were no real central socialising areas and it was all to easy to go through the whole day without bumping into all the people you know as tends to happen at the more open plan events.
In conclusion, I would say that NineWorlds is a very well thought out, friendly and welcoming event that manages to cram truly something for everyone over the course of the weekend. If you're after big names, big brands and big world exclusives, then this is not the convention for you. NineWorlds caters for the geek who knows exactly what they like and what they want from a residential convention, offering a wider range of topics and fandoms than any other convention on offer currently in the UK. We caught up with one of the event organisers, Erich Schultz over the course of the weekend and you can hear more from him about what they have in store for NineWorlds for next year in this week's WonkyCast at https://www.wonkyspanner.com/podcasts/erich-schultz-nine-worlds-geekfest