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Ready to rock: meet our co-founder Catherine Duhaut

After studying for a career in TV and radio, our co-founder and director Catherine moved into event management before founding BeaconHouse with Sarah in 2014.  As BeaconHouse Events enters its 10th year in 2024, we grabbed a coffee in Cake Stories and caught up with Catherine to chat about her career to date, what excites her about the future, and why she’ll be leaving organising Glastonbury to Michael and Emily Eavis… 

First things first, how did you get into events? 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve organised people. I used to buy Top of the Pops and Smash Hits magazine and I’d read about these big celeb parties I remember thinking that that would be a great job, but not realising that people did that in real life. Staying on the showbiz theme, I went to the University of Sunderland to study Media Production to work in film and instead fell into radio which I loved. The course was mainly centered around production which I found fascinating, even in school I would build the stage sets for the drama productions rather than be front of stage.

My studies led me to some amazing work experience at XFM and BBC Radio One which I loved, but being impatient and (overly!) ambitious I decided that if I couldn’t have my own show on Radio One straight away… I would develop and produce music festivals instead, which led me to my Masters degree in Project Management. I didn’t realise going in that an MSc in project management is less about music festivals and more about engineering and manufacturing, which I ended up really enjoying! I wrote my dissertation on the difference between event management and project management and talked about the disparity between the two which led to a volunteer role at a Newcastle-based events agency, which is where I met Sarah!

What was your first role in events like?

I was coming in pretty blind, working minimum wage with zero experience, far more people arrived than they thought were going to and I ended up operating the bar (my by-night job!), I guess my resourcefulness paid off as I was hired off the back of that event. Before I finished my masters I had a full-time job at an events agency, which was too good to be true. I led a tough double life for six months managing the two,  I knew if I was serious about building a career in the sector I had to make it work. I ended up working at that same agency for six and a half years and gained a tonne of experience in organising and running events across the UK.

After I left, I freelanced for a while before the workload got a little much and Sarah and I joined forces in 2014 and BeaconHouse Events started to form to be the business it is today.

BeaconHouse Events turns 10 next year, how does that feel? 

Sometimes it feels like much longer than ten years and other times it feels like two! There have been a lot of life changes over that time and sometimes it is hard to wrap our heads around how much we have fitted into the last ten years. When we started we didn’t have this grand business plan or an idea of what the business would look like today, we have grown organically over that time but what has never changed is the mission and vision of what we wanted to deliver when we started the business. When we work with new members of the team to explain our values and mission now, it is so authentic because it is what we have been living and breathing for almost a decade – it has been embedded in the culture from the start.

Have you always been entrepreneurial? 

It’s funny because I would say no, but my parents would probably say yes! “Typical” entrepreneurial traits have always been part of my make up, such as I’ve always enjoyed organising people and could maybe be a little bossy with it, which I can now see coming through in my eldest daughter! I’m also quite competitive and ambitious which I guess are considered to be entrepreneurial traits too, but I never did a business degree or economics or sought out life as an entrepreneur. That’s where the partnership with Sarah works so well. Sarah tends to look after more of the business and strategy side of the business whereas I focus on the processes, operations  marketing and culture. Sarah excels in the parts of the business where I don’t – while I have big ambitions for BeaconHouse Events and have a real interest in the story of where our growth is coming from, I’m less inclined to spend the necessary time with spreadsheets. I think what Sarah and I have is quite unique – people will often look for a business partner after they have gone into business and my best advice would be that you can’t seek them out. If you have an affinity with someone and want to start a business, that’s great – but it’s difficult to build that rapport and trust if there isn’t already a relationship there.

Neither you nor Sarah are from the North East – why is this region a great place to do business? 

We both had personal reasons for settling in the North East and building our business here. I had met my now husband in Sunderland – I’m from Northern Ireland, and he’s French, so there was a conversation to be had about where we were going to call home and we settled on England because it was kind of in the middle…kind of! I wouldn’t change my home now for the world and I’ve not officially lived more of my life as a Geordie than in Northern Ireland these days. The North East has such a supportive, collaborative culture that it was the perfect place to start and grow BeaconHouse, and while we are fairly Northern-focused with our portfolio, the last few years and the rise of virtual and hybrid events have really shown us that we can be delivering work nationally and globally from our base here in Newcastle, which is really exciting.

What is coming up in the future that excites you? 

For me, it’s the ESG work that we have been focusing on and building on our ‘Good Workplace’ credentials. It is exciting to be delivering great work with a clear purpose of why we are doing what we are doing. Part of what we believe is that we want to create events with lasting purpose, those game-changer events where people go away with a different mindset to when they walked through the doors – and the other side of that is building an environment for a thriving team who can work together to make that happen. Creating events with meaning is still what excites me, especially when we work with a new client for the first time and we can exceed expectations about what is possible, seeing the team go above and beyond to create an experience that will have real-world impact for a client never gets old, and as we grow we’re able to be even more creative and ambitious about what we can deliver.

Do you think the events sector would benefit from more diversity? 

Absolutely. If we want to keep being creative and driving forward, we have to have that diversity of thought in the sector. Everyone in our team comes from different backgrounds, of varying ages, and have different career paths and experiences which has shaped how they see the world. Even having younger members of the team join has helped us positively challenge the way that we work and how we communicate with each other and deliver work for clients. Having access to more ideas and points of view will only make us more creative and the more diverse we are as an industry the more resilient we are and the better equipped to create experiences that are meaningful to everyone.

What do you think the most important character trait is for an events professional? 

Whatever your background I think it is really important to be curious about the world and want to be inspired by getting out and experiencing things. Our events aren’t boring and that comes from our team bringing all of their experiences to what they deliver. For me, I love food and have been lucky enough to eat in lots of different places all over the world. Transferring that experience to an event, would typically mean challenging the venue to create something brilliant, rather than your run-of-the-mill meat and veg that you might expect. Curiosity and a desire to challenge the norm and to do things differently, combined with an attention to detail and a good work ethic will get you a long way in events.

We offer training for the team and if there is something that they want to do, even if it seems a bit left-field, so long as they can tell me what they can bring from it back to the team I’m more than happy for them to go and try something new if they’re excited about it.

And finally, who would your dream client be? 

For me, I like the ‘challenging’ events – where a client comes to us to solve their problem and we have to solve the puzzle of how we are going to do it. That could be any type of event or sector, having the scope to be creative about what we deliver and seeing the client’s mind change from thinking something wasn’t possible to being excited is my dream scenario.

I’ve come a long way from where I started, I doubt very much I’d even pitch to organise something even remotely like Glastonbury any time soon! I’m much more likely to attend than seek out to be the organiser!

To find out more about how BeaconHouse Events can support your business to deliver events with purpose in 2024 and beyond, email