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One of the many unpredicted consequences of the regeneration boom has been the delegate bag mountain. I can’t be the only person with a pile of unwanted black bags festooned with ODPM logos, some of them still containing invitations to drinks and nibbles at the exhibition stand of some sweaty-palmed property developer.


Working out what to do with these surplus holdalls has become a conundrum. I did consider using them for a submission to English Partnerships’ ‘build a house for 60 grand’ competition, but thought better of it. Foisting them on the kids as school bags was always a non-starter: can you imagine explaining ‘building communities: people, places, performance’ to your classmates?


There are some who use them as a kind of anti-Gucci statement - they parade their bags through the streets with an attitude that says stuff your designer logos, I’m happy with one from the Government Office for the West Midlands. The trouble is, of course, that you might be mistaken for the kind of person who actually believes that’s fashionable.


At New Start we’ve taken to using biodegradable jute bags for our events, which means that after a conference you can go home and plant tomatoes in them. Even so, there’s a limit to the number the average urban garden can cope with.


The real worry, though, is that many of us have similar problems working out what to do with the information associated with the bags - the conference brochures, the lovingly produced presentations, the contacts we really mean to follow up one day.


A standard response to a deluge of information is to produce more information explaining how to deal with it. We certainly need that knowledge. But most of us, if we’re honest, struggle to sift what’s essential from what’s useful or merely interesting.


The real value of information, especially at conferences and events, is the connections it enables us to make, mental and human: the clues that help us put the jigsaw of our work together, and the people whose experience and inspiration spark the desire and determination to do better.


If each delegate bag serves as a reminder of a person we’ve met who has made a difference, then perhaps the mountain is a small price to pay. In the meantime, if there’s a social enterprise out there that can run a viable business recycling conference bags, call us now please!


Julian Dobson, editor


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See also Towards sustainable conferences


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