Cancelling Digital Barn 4 to focus on Front End North 2014


Today I cancelled (well technical postponed) the next Digital Barn conference in Barnsley which was due to happen next weekend.

You can read the official announcement on the website but I’ve added a more personal touch here:

Getting focused

Back in May I had to move the date for our BIG web development conference ‘Front End North‘ from June to November.


This led to a couple of new issues I had not foreseen when making this change:

  • We’d have to run 2 conferences in 2 months because the Digital Barn happens mid-October
  • I would be out of the country for over a week co-organising WordCamp Europe in the run-up to The Digital Barn
  • I would need to spend more time than anticipated helping out on WordCamp Europe as I volunteered as a co-organiser as well as being a speaker
  • I had a date for a minor surgery on October 7th the result of which meant I should be out of action for around a week when I should have been event planning

These points came together last week when:

  • We realised we had a load of Front End North speaker applications that had not yet been sorted through and added to the site
  • We had 12 confirmed Digital Barn speakers but they were not organised or listed on the site yet
  • This week thee Digital Barn speakers pulled out, leaving us with a less varied line-up
  • Both The Digital Barn and Front End North were not selling because of lacklustre marketing on my part
  • All of our plans to make The Digital Barn different and fresher (hardware hacking, business talks, new speakers) had fallen through because we didn’t spend enough time maturing them
  • My surgery was eventually cancelled on the day because I had a mild chest infection and couldn’t be anaesthetised, this was great as it freed up my time but the infection knocked me out for almost a week and I’m only just recovering

These factors along with our WordPress agency being pushed to capacity by client work meant that cancelling EITHER The Digital Barn OR Front End North was the smart thing to do.

So, on Thursday this week Matt and I took a drive to the local Apple store to return my broken Thunderbolt display and by the time we’d arrived we had decided to drop The Digital Barn and concentrate on building up Front End North.

After the decision was made I spent the evening sending out refunds and emailing speakers to apologise for messing them around.

So what now?

The Digital Barn 4 will happen early in 2015. We are still aiming to change the event to be more varied and ‘digital’ and not the standard ‘web conference’ it has been in previous years.

Front End North has some really exiting speakers on the line-up. We just need to get them confirmed and get our arse in gear as it happens in 5 weeks. The applications came from all around the world and from big names in the industry, we’d be fools not to run with this as our top priority event.

We’ll keep working at running our events as cheaply as possible. Remember we don’t make any profit from these events, they are community focused events to bring people together from our industry.

With that in mind, I’ll see you at the next one!

Why I’ve postponed Front End North

I’ve been working with Richard Eskins at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on this years Front End North conference since the start of the year.

The Front End North 'coming soon' page

The Front End North ‘coming soon’ page

Things were going really great until very recently. We had the venue sorted, some sponsors lined up and a few early speakers – but ultimately things are not coming together in a way that can move forward so we’ve decided to reschedule the event to further into the year.

There’s no shame in doing this, we still have a great conference planned, it just needs to evolve and for that to happen we need more time to get things right.

In the meantime I’ll share some of the issues faced in organising this event:

Finding Front Enders

Front End North was planned as a very focused ‘front end’ event – there was to be no design, business, UX, opinion, workflow or any other general web/digital/etc topics on the roster.

My ideal line-up would cover modern topics such as OOCSS, BEM methodologies, CLI tools, developing frameworks, practical use of HTML5, performance talks and tools like Bower, Grunt, Gulp and of course Sass/LESS and any modern JS happenings like Angular, Impress.js, Backbone etc… Some of topics I actually don’t care about myself but I know the community do.

I also wanted to embrace brand new speakers and encourage them to get on stage and share what they are doing.

This hard line approach was hurting the conference. I found myself turning down more talks than accepting them because of my narrow focus. For the next phase we’ll be more pragmatic with talk submissions and try for a good balance.

Quick fire round

One other idea for Front End North was the use of a ‘quick fire’ or ‘lighting’ talks session which would dominate the afternoon. The idea was to give speakers 10 to 15 minutes to demo something awesome. It had to a live demo, no slides (maybe an intro slide), just code.

This idea, although valid, terrified and inspired speakers in equal measure and has since been dropped from the main line up.

Pannel beating

I’d pencilled in a panel for Front End North titled ‘The Framework debate’ which would allow the room to discuss the growth of front-end frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation. I got my inspiration from visiting Forefront Leeds where one of the sessions turned from a talk about frameworks into a heated group discussion with everyone in the room having varied and quite vocal opinions.

One issue with this was that I couldn’t find any speakers that would argue both sides. In general, hardcore front-end developers hate these sort of bloated frameworks and finding a defence for this proved to be a massive challenge – I feared the session would turn into a ‘framework bashing’ session rather than a worthwhile debate so the panel was eventually dropped which led to more planning around the schedule and of course, further delays.

Living for the weekend

One final problem was when we moved the conference from being a Saturday event to one on a Friday. This was done to allow speakers and attendees who did not wish to travel or take personal time out over the weekend.

This small change caused a long delay as we had to find a new venue within MMU which could accommodate us mid-week. We did eventually find a larger and more suitable space for the conference but this added a couple of weeks to the planning phase which were not anticipated.

The other more personal issue

I’ve recently found out that I need to have minor surgery and the procedure is tentatively booked in for June (my doctor would rather it was done ASAP). It’s estimated that I could be out of action for a couple of weeks – it’s nothing serious, actually pretty embarrassing but quite personal (I will blog about it one day) and it means that I can’t commit to event management around the same time.

At first I shrugged this off and tried my best to shuffle things around to fit the surgery in and just get on with it. But the looming surgery plus the mounting and awesome client work we have over at Make Do add up to June and July not being the best time of year for me to be out and about.

What next

Front End North is still happening and is still going to be in Manchester and will still be a low-price community style event. None of the original ideals have changed – we just need more time to:

  1. Pick a new date
  2. Work with our speakers on new topics
  3. Find new speakers
  4. Organise a new schedule

Stay informed, get involved

You can stay up-to-date by joining the mailing list over at or follow @frontendnorth – I’ll also be tweeting updates as will Richard on his @eskins account.

If you’d like to speak at Front End North or be involved in volunteering or just helping out let me know by dropping an email to if I don’t reply right away don’t worry, I’ll make sure to give everyone a response.

And if you are a MMU student make sure to follow these updates, there will be a number of FREE tickets allocated for students as well as a significant student discount on the standard ticket price :)

WordPress Sheffield Contributor Day is officially ON

Last week (a little late but better than never) I confirmed a larger space for the WordPress Sheffield Contributor Day. We now have space for over 60 people (it was around 30 before) so get signed up.


What to expect

The contributor day is aimed at users of WordPress at any skill level. If you are a hardcore PHP developer then great but you don’t need to have any programming skills to contribute, just come along to find out more.

For more information on what to expect from a Contributor Day check out these links:

For a feel of who has already signed up check out the WordCamp Sheffield attendee list.

WordCamp Sheffield has sold out!

Last week WordCamp Sheffield sold it’s 100th conference ticket – that brings us to:

  • 100 conference attendees
  • 18 speaker passes
  • 20 volunteers/helper tickets

That’s almost 140 people and our venue can hold a comfortable 150 – max (room 2 only has space for around 95).

WordCamp Sheffield t-shirt design

WordCamp Sheffield t-shirt design

Will we release more tickets?

As yet I just don’t know sorry – if you missed out stay tuned, we are checking with our sponsors to see if they are using their full allocation of tickets and with the venue to see if we can fit any more chairs in the main hall.

Stay tuned

Keep following the twitter #wcsheff hashtag and follow @wpsheff and my twitter @mkjones for the latest updates.

Want your WordPress fix but can’t wait until the conference??

Don’t miss the next WordPress Sheffield meet-up which has food, drinks, talks and is on the 8th of April at 7pm at Harrisons 1854 – which coincidentally is the after-party venue for the conference :)