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The Un-Boot Camp

In this blog, Catherine and Virginia describe an interesting conference experience!

Once upon a time, many calories ago we were invited to a prestigious conference in the north of England, focusing on innovative digital practices in education. Nothing could have prepared us for the impact on mind and body...

Let’s start with the concept of a ‘normal’ modern day bootcamp experience that has transformed the exercise landscape. That is:

  1. you are unhealthy, unfit and need a rigorous exercise regime to rectify this.

  2. you attend the sessions, do as you are told for an hour or so and leave feeling fitter and healthier (until the next morning when getting out of bed is a serious challenge)

What has any of that got to do with a conference you may ask?

Well, ordinarily absolutely nothing until our most recent experience.

We signed up for the conference many months in advance, in gleeful anticipation of spending some time together to work on projects, attend a few carefully selected workshops, whilst making the most of what looked like splendid spa facilities. The 2 day jamboree was free with accommodation and refreshments included (food being an important theme to note).

Arriving at the hotel the evening before we were delighted at what awaited us (despite the lashing rain) – a beautiful location, great room, stunning views. A much needed G&T, excellent meal and quick recce of the spa confirmed that this was going to be the relaxing break we much needed.

How wrong you can be.

The schedule highlighted an 08.00 start (alarm bells should have gone off at this point - metaphorical as well as real). Being generally fairly conformist, we were up and ready on time. Despite this, it took an inordinate amount of time to reach the breakfast area due to neither of us having any hint of a sense of a direction... combined with every floor and corridor looking identical... combined with us chattering non-stop and paying not the slightest attention to where we were. Having passed the door of our room 3 times, and falling about in helpless laughter, we resorted to seeking support and, slightly more subdued (but with a good few steps under our soon to be challenged belts and VB with a lurking blister on one heel), we encountered the first of the culinary experiences of the 36 hours.

The choice was great and the quality excellent. We over-indulged, expecting that we would not see more fare til supper (next big mistake).

Session followed session in a military-style operation of short, sharp 20 minute inputs (fascinating but challenging information delivered at speed), followed by ‘speed dating’ with multiple service providers ... and our pre-allocated 15 minute business meetings (that if missed would turn the free conference into a highly expensive one). At each change over cakes and coffees were laid on to be grabbed en route. Planning time for a trip to the loo, let alone a nice quiet catch up/spa session, was proving quite a challenge as we looked through our handheld schedules for the next 36 hours.

We were in an academic conference version of bootcamp. We were told what to do, when, with whom, and for how long...there was no let up.

A brief respite arrived in the form of the networking lunch (the respite was in relation to lunch not the networking part), thinking that we could probably manage a sandwich at this point. Oh no. 3 courses. Great food but somewhat tiredness-inducing...but with no time to sleep. Unceremonious ushering to the next sessions ensued - back to back til 7pm,with the final session of the day being a discussion group fuelled by wine and canapes (never a good stimulus for discussion we find, especially when the brain and stomach is on overload).

Despite heads spinning from the relentless activity, stuffed from the copious food and ears ringing from the constant noise of chatter and discussion, we decided we were not going to be cheated of our spa moment. Sidling away from final networking and coffee groups we attempted a surreptitious return to our room to change (not easy being surreptitious when you once again lose your way and end up in the networking area 3 times) and finally managed a quick 20 minutes in the pool, Jacuzzi and steam room. More time might have been spent but CC insisted that a certain amount of time needed to be allotted to hairstyling before dinner (one of us is glamorous and we won’t mention the other).

8pm - 10pm equalled bucks fizz reception, another 3 courses with wine and MORE networking. The highlight of the evening was finding our way back to the room with only one false attempt.

Day 2: repeat all the steps above except the spa and the fact that we only passed our own door once on our search for Reception.

As with any bootcamp we were left with heads spinning, bodies aching and in much need of a darkened room and cool face cloth. Yet, un-bootcamp-like we arrived feeling fit and healthy and left having eaten an unmentionable amount of calories and in desperate need of going on an immediate diet.

As with all bootcamps, this un-bootcamp was strangely addictive and we look forward to doing it all again in a few months time (invitation already accepted), having ensured that we have fasted for a week before arrival.

Catherine Carden is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at Canterbury Christ Church University. She is also a Chair of Governors at a Canterbury primary school. Prior to working in HE, Catherine has worked within secondary and further education. Catherine is the co-founder of Bowden Education.

Dr Virginia Bower is a Senior Lecturer in education at Canterbury Christ Church University and an Associate Lecturer for The Open University. Prior to working in HE, Virginia was a teacher and senior leader in primary education. Virginia is the co-founder of Bowden Education.

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Joe Perryman
Joe Perryman
Jan 19, 2020

I love this tale, but it leaves me wondering – what did you learn?


Great blog! Self-deprecating, amusing and inspiring at the same time.

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