Lost in translation: meet our co-founder Sarah Thackray

BeaconHouse Events turns 10 next year, that is a huge achievement! What was your driver to start your own business? 


I wanted to be able to take the learnings from my experiences working in the sector and use them to create something better than what I thought the sector was doing already; something that had a positive impact on the people working to deliver the events, that offered a great experience to clients and that fit with my ambitions for the future. One major driver was being able to choose the clients that I wanted to work with, clients who were delivering great work that I believed in! We didn’t set up BeaconHouse Events right away after leaving my last role, I initially freelanced from 2009 before Catherine and I eventually co-founded in 2014. We knew each other from a previous role and prior to setting up the company we had been collaborating on some client accounts, The Great Run Company and Dynamo, and the rest is history.


A lot of your team have very varied careers, have you always worked in the events industry? 


I studied modern languages at Newcastle University and lived in France and Spain running walking tours and lugging equipment around for tour groups in my early twenties (which was when I realised that I really liked organising people!) and teaching English to Spanish kids. However my first “proper job” was in HR services with Proctor and Gamble, specialising in relocation management for colleagues that were heading overseas on special project assignments, which again was heavily focused on logistics and detail. I’ve always been ambitious and although I enjoyed the job, working for a large corporation just wasn’t going to allow me to progress as quickly as I wanted to. Months earlier I had emailed an events agency to ask if they had any roles available and the managing director reached out and invited me in, and I’ve been in events ever since. 


Have you ever looked back after starting your business? 


I haven’t ever looked back, but I do think I could have easily had a corporate career path rather than an entrepreneurial one if I had joined a graduate scheme or been on a path where I could have progressed quickly. I felt like I didn’t have a path having studied languages and knowing I didn’t want to be a translator or a teacher (!), but I like the structure of corporate organisations and I thrive when I am being pushed to achieve and do more. Owning my own business was never the plan, but I always go with my gut instinct for where I can achieve more or take the next step – after joining my previous agency as a co-ordinator and leaving as head of events, the next logical step was to start up my own business and set those challenges for myself there. I’ve immensely enjoyed growing the business with Catherine and there is always something new to learn or understand which keeps things interesting. 


What did you want to be when you were growing up? 


I wanted to work as a translator or at the BBC in backstage production! I always loved languages and I grew up living close to White City so those two careers seemed the obvious options for me. I studied Modern languages at Newcastle University but I think if I was to go back and choose again, I would probably pair languages with something like business. I’m quite a practical, hands-on learner so I want to understand how things work in the real world, rather than just the academic side. My degree taught me a lot about Spanish Literature in the 15th Century, but that didn’t really float my boat and needless to say I have never used it in the real world!


You’re a little more removed from the day-to-day delivery these days. What are you enjoying most about your role at the moment?


We have this incredible, experienced, trusted team who are delivering fantastic experiences for our clients, which gives me more time to work on the parts of the business where I think I can add value. I spend a lot of time developing relationships in the region to champion the North East as a great place to do business and growing our new business pipeline which allows us to offer more opportunities for our team and our clients. Currently, I’m leading the agency’s ESG strategy which is really exciting! I was clear from the start that I didn’t want to make grand statements and big promises, we are simply committed to working with our team, our suppliers, and our clients to make consistent, considered changes that will move us closer to our goal of ethically offsetting our carbon, both within the agency and through the events we deliver. 


The inclusion of financial resilience was important to me, and I want the strategy to be realistic so we can keep delivering great work and providing opportunities for many years to come. Without a robust business model, you simply don’t have the capacity, skills, or resources to invest back into the wider community. I’m proud that recently we have aligned with organisations that support our vision and supported a range of community initiatives in the Northeast, including Groundwork NE, The Children’s Foundation, and funding kits for the newly formed North East Sporting u11 Saturday team, based in Wallsend. 


It can be a hard balance to find your place when you aren’t doing as much direct delivery anymore, which in an agency is what you are there to do. It’s important to trust the team to do what they are great at and use my skills elsewhere, they joke that I would just get in the way anyway! 


What do you think would surprise people coming into the industry today? 


The misconception is that you can spend all of your time flouncing around on-site and looking after glamourous people because often all you see from the outside is the finished product of the event photography and video. You have to be a good all-rounder, 90 percent of the work is done at your desk planning, working with your team, and preparing for onsite delivery. It doesn’t matter how senior you get; the admin doesn’t go away I’m afraid. It’s not just being able to turn up and talk to people on-site, attention to detail is incredibly important, combined with the ability to communicate and build positive relationships with people – whether that is clients, suppliers, venues, speakers, or your team. Events are all about people so it is important to understand how to work as part of the team which can sometimes span multiple countries and time zones depending on the event you are creating. 


And finally, who would your dream client be? 


I love big government events! I enjoy the complexity of delivering events with high-level stakeholders. Events that make a statement, like the TechNExt festival which we created alongside Dynamo and Sunderland Software City, is the kind of experience that I enjoy being part of; it has something to say and makes a difference in the sector. I do enjoy pushing the events sector forward, whether that be through our ESG ambitions or through initiatives like the Good Festival Ambition which was created as part of TechNExt 2023. While there are D&I policies or environmental agendas in silo, there isn’t anyone else looking at what makes a ‘Good Festival’ in a holistic sense, and I’m excited to develop that more and see where we can take it. 


Sarah has two children and two stepchildren and lives by the sea with her partner and family. To find out more about how BeaconHouse Events can support your business to meet your ambitions in 2024 and beyond email info@beaconhouse-events.co.uk 

The North East charities we’re supporting as part of our commitment to health, education and economic growth

This year our team has chosen to support health & wellbeing community projects across the region, including funding The Children’s Foundation-led Fuzzy Subjects project, giving the charity the ability to give even more children access to sessions focused on mental health and well-being. Alongside support for Fuzzy Subjects, we’ll also be getting our hands dirty helping to plant hedges on the charity’s allotment and wrapping Christmas gifts this festive season, all in support of the charity’s vital work in the region.


Linked to the health & wellbeing focus, and as part of our further commitment to North East communities, we’ve also chosen to fund kits for the newly formed North East Sporting u11 Saturday team, based in Wallsend. 


Alongside our societal donations and as part of our environmental strategy, we’ve partnered with the local community and environmental charity, Groundwork NE & Cumbria to ethically offset our carbon impact by supporting Groundwork’s nature-based solutions programme.


As our societal focus for 2023 is on health & wellbeing, we recognise the need to support local charities and initiatives to help our local communities thrive. We are therefore committed to donating the equivalent monetary value or time through in-kind support, to local community groups focused on health and wellbeing, to match our ethical carbon offset donation to the environment. We’re also providing the BeaconHouse Events team opportunities and time off to support societal and environmental projects that matter to them, as well as encouraging them to engage in activities that support their mental health & well-being.


Earlier this year we were proud to be awarded the Good Work Pledge from the North of Tyne Combined Authority. This award recognises our efforts to be a fair employer, our commitment to staff health and wellbeing, and our demonstration of social responsibility in the region. We have some incredible projects in the pipeline this year and these ambitious plans will mean more opportunities for people across the Northeast.” 


We spoke to Sean Soulsby, CEO of The Children’s Foundation who said, “We are incredibly grateful to the team at BeaconHouse Events for their support of our work here in the North East. We run our Fuzzy Subjects mental health workshops in primary schools across the region, using colorful, accessible fuzzy puppets as a tool to engage children and young people in the subject of mental health and well-being, increasing awareness, understanding, and resilience in young people, while encouraging big conversations. The support from Beaconhouse Events means that even more children can tackle these big subjects, at a time when the number of children in mental health crisis is at a record high. 


“The Children’s Foundation was founded over 30 years ago to support the needs of children and families at the time, and those needs are now more significant than ever. Businesses owe it to their communities to ensure that they have the opportunity to raise well-rounded, creative, confident, and aspirational children, no matter what their economic circumstances are, and it is fantastic to see BeaconHouse Events taking their responsibilities as a Northeast employer seriously. 


“Far too many Northeast children are born into poverty and our region has fallen behind others in terms of school attainment and health inequalities. Investing in our region isn’t just a fluffy, nice thing for leaders to do; if businesses don’t invest in the wider communities and issues that surround them, especially children and young people, then that has a direct impact on their workforce or customer base of the future. It is people who make up businesses and leaders today must understand the crucial role that they play in shaping what our regional society looks like tomorrow.”


Our ESG strategy is based on key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, otherwise known as the Global Goals, which look to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Our strategy particularly focuses on Climate Action, Responsible Consumption and Production, Quality Education, and Good Health and Wellbeing; all areas where we can have an authentic and lasting impact both in the North East and across the events sector as a whole.


How to keep your delegates in high spirits – even if they aren’t drinking

Sales of non-alcoholic beverages saw a surge this year, and there has also been a rise in demand for spaces and activities that aren’t centered around booze, particularly some Generation Zs and millennials, who want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Half of the UK adult population bought a no-alcohol or low-alcohol product during 2022, boosting volumes by 9% last year, according to the IWSR, and sober night-clubs are becoming more mainstream as people look to have fun, without the headache the next day. A sobering thought if you are looking at planning your next corporate event.

Catherine Duhaut, co-founder and director here at BeaconHouse Events said, “There are lots of reasons why people don’t want to drink; health, driving, recovery, religious beliefs, pregnancy, or just simply because they don’t want to, and I think we need to move away from the stigma that if someone isn’t drinking it has to be noted. As a sector, we need to be more inclusive when it comes to offering alcohol-free refreshments and activities that are just as good, or even better, than their boozy counterparts. Gone are the days of being offered a warm lemonade, or worse, a free Prosecco but you have to pay if you want a soft drink (yep, that happened), as an acceptable alternative. Post-conference get-togethers are sometimes where some of the best conversations happen, and it is our responsibility to make everyone feel comfortable and included, not just those who want to drink.”

We spoke to the team here at BeaconHouse and they shared their top tips for creating an inclusive event that doesn’t center around drinking.

  1. Offer tasty alternatives 

From delicious mocktails and non-alcohol like Sipsmith Gin, or Caleño Dark & Spicy rum, to low-alcohol like Brewdog Lost AF (0.5%) there are plenty of enjoyable options that look and taste just like the real thing. If you are offering a welcome drink, make a non-alcohol version readily available so delegates don’t have to ask and serve non-alcoholic drinks in the way you would serve an alcoholic beverage – just because it is 0% doesn’t mean it can’t look stylish and you won’t be able to tell the difference. You could even set up an interactive station where people can customize their drinks and have a bit of fun with their concoctions! Provide a selection of fresh fruits, herbs, and mixers, and let your delegates enjoy creating their signature drink.

  1. Knowledgeable staff 

Choose venues, bartenders, and servers who are knowledgeable in alcohol-free options, know how to mix a great mocktail, and can recommend the best flavours to go with your dining options. A great venue team will make sure that drinkers and non-drinkers get the same level of care and attention during the event. Ask the team to consider how they are communicating the alcohol-free options so people don’t feel ‘other’ if they are ordering from that menu.

  1. 0% networking

Plan opportunities for delegates to get together post-event outside of the bar. This could be organising a walking tour of local sites, mini-golf, or holding post-event get togethers at a local independent coffee-house. Keep your guests busy and engaged and they’ll soon forget they don’t have a drink in their hand.

  1. Keep your guests entertained 

Focus on the experience that your delegates are having while they are with you, and give them plenty of things to do to keep them entertained, and spirits high. Depending on the type of event you’re designing, this could be live music, dance instructors, craft stands, pinball machines, photo booths, or trivia games – just get creative.

Remember, the reason why people may choose not to drink varies, and it is a completely personal choice as to whether they choose to consume alcohol or not, it is our role as event planners to make sure everyone is comfortable, feeling confident, and having a great time, regardless of what’s in their glass.

For more information on how to create an event that your delegates will remember, contact info@beaconhouse-events.co.uk or give us a call at +44 (0)191 691 3456.