June 2008, I left Liverpool to head up to North to York St John University and the FACE conference. Earlier in the year, I had submitted an abstract to the conference committee on Looked after Children and Educational Achievement; the conference theme being, Challenging isolation: the Role of Lifelong Learning. My abstract was accepted and now I was on my way to present my paper. Imposter syndrome was my passenger consistently shedding doubt. This was the first time I was to do anything like this! Yes, I was used to presenting in front of audiences, but it was usually, sharing practice or disseminating information. I was not an academic; I did not think I would ‘fit in’ to the FACE crowd, and I had serious doubts about how my paper would be received by people, far more experienced than me! As the M62 took me closer to York, I became more nervous! I walked into the conference not knowing what to expect!
14 years later, I remain a non-academic! I am however, a proud member of the FACE community, confident that myself and Practitioners like me, have a space and place to share knowledge, experience and expertise.
What struck me as I joined the conference was how warm and welcoming everyone was. FACE conferences typically start at lunchtime, as I sat down to eat I was soon joined by others; striking up conversation was easy; participants were genuinely interested in me and I swiftly felt at ease. I began to relax and accept that I did have a place in this community and that I would enjoy the next couple of days.
As the formal proceedings began, John Storan welcomed us to the Annual FACE Conference. John acknowledged those that were regular attendees and presenters; he also took time to welcome those of us who were attending for the first time. I felt accepted, it was ok for me to be there, that I and others like me were formally acknowledged and welcomed, my participation was validated. The little gremlin telling me I did not belong was not quite so loud in my ear. Nowadays at conferences, we set time aside the evening before the conference to host newcomers; I particularly enjoy being part of this, I know how important it is.
As the conference progressed, I noticed how lively and informative each of the sessions were, and how easy it was to talk and discuss with everyone. Presenters were genuinely interested is hearing and answering questions. Delegates sought you out to chat in more details. There was genuine support and interest from everyone it was inclusive. FACE conferences brings together a unique set of people, academics, practitioners, policy makers and others , all curious to learn from each other. I have always felt that my contribution at a FACE conference is valued and I hope that others feel that too, it is certainly our intention.
One of the wonderful aspects of a FACE conference are the social events, this is a great opportunity to continue discussions and reconnect with others, not to mention the chance to experience some of the wonderful places the host city has to offer. I remember going on the Ghost tour through the cobbled streets of York and having delicious meal in University Banqueting Hall. Sadly, I did not win at the Raffle! The Raffle, another wonderful aspect of the conference, each year the host institution choose a local charity and a raffle is organised. The generosity of FACE delegates never fails. I definitely recommend taking part in all the social gatherings organised by the host institution, it is a great way to relax with fellow conference goers. Just remember that sessions continue on Friday morning too, so do not stay up too late!
I left the York Conference, on Friday afternoon a member of the Executive! (I certainly did not think I would be doing that when my imposter syndrome mate was sitting next to me in the car on my way to York!).
Since then I have attended every FACE conference, each one following the same format but each with their own style influenced by the host institution. Welcoming new and emerging researchers to the FACE community is integral to the conference and each year a free place is made available to an individual wishing to introduce their work. I would urge anyone interested to take up this opportunity; your audience will welcome you warmly.
Hosting the conference is a lot more that just facilitating an event, I know this first-hand as in 2016, I had the pleasure of hosting the FACE Conference at Queen’s University Belfast. Our conference team‘s mission was to ensure that all delegates felt welcomed and part of active and positive community, passionate about continuing and moving forward the debate around lifelong learning.
This year, we see the FACE conference return, what a joy it is that Southampton University are continuing the FACE tradition. I am looking forward to meeting up with old colleagues, and I am very excited about meeting, in person, our new colleagues. Those, that like me, so many years ago might not be so confident about attending: my advice? don’t listen to that gremlin, get your abstract submitted and prepare your session, I can assure you that what you have to share is relevant, is informed and will spark discussion and debate with your peers. I am glad I went to York St John all those years ago and I am certain those that join us in Southampton this year will feel the same.