My Event World - Celia Forshew

Celia Forshew, the founder and chief executive of Seed Marketing, spoke to Event about the student festivals she founded, support for the CoppaFeel organisation and frustrations with nimbyism.

Forshew has founded Vale Festival, Beach Break Live and student agency, Seed Marketing
Forshew has founded Vale Festival, Beach Break Live and student agency, Seed Marketing

I got into the event industry becauseIt all started with a bit of a ‘sliding doors’ moment at university. My housemate and I had just been to watch Hotel Rwanda and both felt very affected by what we'd seen. At the time, a similar situation was taking place in Sudan and we decided to get up and do something about it. 

The idea was to put on an outdoor screening of the film as a way of raising money and awareness, but this quickly snowballed and we decided to turn it into a festival, hence the Vale Festival was born. It has gone on to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds and support a number of causes over the years.

That first event was such a roller coaster but it gave me my first real taste of what it feels like to run an event. I totally fell in love with the collective passion and excitement that goes in to putting on (and pulling off) unique and creative events.

A year out of university my now husband and I decided to set up our own festival, Beach Break Live. Little did we know that putting on a proper festival is a lot harder than it looks! We quickly learned a lot about all aspects of putting on a large event and over the next five years it grew to become Europe’s biggest student music festival.

I have worked here since I left Beach Break in 2011 to set up Seed, a full-service marketing agency with a unique focus on the student audience.

I was attracted to this particular role because… Aside from a couple of brands such as Red Bull, no-one seemed to be doing anything genuinely engaging in this market. Students were still perceived as a bit of a homogenous bunch rather than a complex yet valuable demographic that live in intimate social communities, where major brands and loyalties can be born.

Beach Break was evidence of this – we hadn't spent a penny on traditional marketing but nearly every student in the UK knew who we were. In recent years this has become clearer with success stories such as Tinder.

I decided to launch Seed as I felt there was a big opportunity to cultivate this ethos to do something really exciting.

Not many people know that I’d never been to a real festival before our first Beach Break Live.

The best event I’ve been involved was... I can narrow it down to two. At Beach Break Live 2009, we had to move the festival from Cornwall to Kent six days before the festival was due to start, and every artist and ticket holder came with us – a potential tragedy turned into the most magical event we’d ever ran – it was a real Woodstock moment.

Then it would be the Spotify Secret Social 2015. It was our second year of this event and the culmination of our yearlong Spotify student programme. Guests were told nothing more than to pick up co-ordinates and to pack a toothbrush. Students from every university arrived by coach through 15-foot high security fences and past broken-down fighter jets to an abandoned aircraft hangar in an ex-RAF base.

Once inside the venue, they were treated to surprise performances from B.Traits, Big Narstie, Jungle and DJ Fresh, all whom emerged from an old jet testing tunnel under a huge count down clock. It was like New Year’s Eve every hour and it went off!

If I could do it all over again I would… On the one hand, there are too many things to list; on the other I believe we are the sum of our successes and failures... So actually nothing.

The one thing I can’t stand is dried fruit. I don’t even think it’s good for you.

Outside of work I spend my time seeking a work/life balance. Doing yoga, playing netball, surfing, travelling, cooking and seeking inspiration for future events and experiences.

If money were no object I would buy an island. Definitely. And try to do more good things for the world.

If I could switch places with anyone else in the industry it would be... I’m hugely inspired by Kristin Hallenga, who founded CoppaFeel after developing breast cancer when she was 23.

The charity’s aim is to encourage women of all ages to check their boobs, and Hallenga and the team have done a phenomenal job. Amongst other amazingness they’ve set up Festifeel – their own festival curated by Fearne Cotton and a hugely successful Uni Boobs Team. She’s basically a bit of a legend in my book.

If I ruled the event industry I would lobby to overhaul licensing laws. The amount of events and venues that get shut down or forced to reduce their sound levels to nothing due to nimbyism drives me mad. Britain is famous for its music and event heritage but the laws make it almost impossible for them to thrive.

I was listening to the radio a few nights ago and some residents from Notting Hill were arguing that the carnival should be shut down. I nearly threw my radio out the window.

More: My Event World - James Hunt

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