BeaconHouse Events logo

Lost in translation: meet our co-founder Sarah Thackray

A linguist by heart and a perfectionist by nature, Sarah joined forces with co-founder Catherine in 2014 to launch BeaconHouse Events. Having previously lived and worked in both Spain and France, Sarah’s strengths in project management and communication skills made for a natural transition into the events industry and today she leads the agency’s growth and ESG strategies intending to make positive change across the sector.  We sat down with Sarah to discuss her career so far, why she loves running her own business and what she thinks the future has in store for the sector… 

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