“They give you the confidence to go forward.”
How one Blackpool entrepreneur’s pop-up gaming community interest company is helping to bring people and businesses together post-pandemic.
Becky Doran Brown loves board and role playing games, but during COVID she discovered a whole new side to her passion. “I have a teenage son and during COVID we found gaming was a really valid tool for keeping communication open,” she explains. “Gaming allowed us to be together, to connect and have a good time on an equal playing field.”
The pandemic may be receding, but Becky realised the wider benefits gaming could offer to the community. “Individually, gaming helps develop communication, comprehension and social skills. Role playing games [such as Dungeons & Dragons] boost creativity and storytelling. These are such valuable tools throughout life.
“Gaming offers a space for adults to be together and have fun in a way that doesn’t revolve around football or the pub. There’s so much poverty and loneliness in Blackpool. Gaming provides a temporary escape from that. It’s such a welcoming community with games for everyone at any level. It helps build relationships while supporting individual mental health and wellbeing.”
Becky launched Nerdvana North West1, a community interest company which hosts pop-up gaming events across Blackpool and the Fylde. In addition to benefiting the growing community of gamers, the initiative also benefits the venues that host games evenings. “We provide the games sessions while the venues are able to make money on the food and drinks the gamers buy while there. There’s real mutual benefit.”
Games evenings have become regular events at Upside Down2 and Paradise Coast3 in Blackpool, and there are events planned at The Office4 in St Annes too. “People are welcome to come along with their friends or they can come along on their own and just join a table. The moment they do, they’ll have already made four or five new connections,” says Becky. “They can bring their own games but they don’t have to. They can just turn up and play ours.”
Nerdvana became a reality when Becky spoke to Blackpool Unlimited.
“Blackpool Unlimited was recommended to me by quite a few people. I knew what I wanted to do with Nerdvana but I wasn’t sure how to get it off the ground. Through Blackpool Unlimited I was able to take part in the Rebel Business School at the Winter Gardens.
“They really push you to get moving. I think without them I’d still be designing the website. With their help, I was able to get the website built and our first night booked. They showed me how to get your business started without spending any money and how to take advantage of social media. That’s all something I definitely would have procrastinated about otherwise.
“We’ve been increasing our numbers since then – we have a long way to go but we’re always looking to work with new venues on the coast, even for a one-off event to test the concept. If you run a venue and would like to drive more business while supporting your community, please get in touch!”
Nerdvana may be up, running and growing, but Becky’s relationship with Blackpool Unlimited continues. “I’ll be taking part in a Blackpool Business Forum run by Blackpool Unlimited soon, and I’ll definitely be going back to them for advice about tax to make sure I'm doing that right. I also want to look at putting some funding bids together and I’m sure I’ll be asking them for some support and advice there too.
“If you’re used to working for someone else you get used to being told what to do,” Becky says. “They write the book and you follow it. When you’re writing the book yourself it can be a bit scary. Blackpool Unlimited is invaluable for helping you get started. They give you the confidence to go forward.”
“I genuinely believe gaming has the power to help people,” Becky stresses. “It gives people joy. It makes you feel good – I think we all need some of that.”
And what would Becky recommend as a great starter game? “Muffin Time's a good one for building your understanding of basic game mechanics, and it’s really, really good fun. Unstable Unicorns is another really good, family-based one. Come along and give them a try.”
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1. Nerdvana North West
2. Upside Down
3. Paradise Coast
4. The Office