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A Big Pat on The Backspace

May 31, 2013

Last year I was involved with my hometown’s local history festival. 

It was ace, I got to photograph Tony Benn and everything. 

This year it was bigger and better and I’m glad to say I was involved again.

Rachel Spivey Photographer ad in the Leamington Looks Back programme for 2013

My ad in the Leamington Looks Back programme for 2013

Those who know me, or follow this blog, will be aware I have an interest in all things retro, but, while I might seek out a local history event anyway, my connection to this one is a bit closer to home.

Having designed the Leamington Looks Back logo and publicity material for their inaugural festival last year, my husband, Craig, managed to talk himself into taking on a bigger role this time around, after his idea for an exhibition about the history of the computer games industry in Leamington snowballed into a mini ‘festival within a festival’ – Backspace.

Leamington Spa Backspace event flyer designed by Craig Spivey

A montage-tastic Backspace flyer

I got to witness, first hand, all the long hours he put into getting it off the ground – from building a team of experts, to creatively directing and helping publicise what ultimately became a series of 10 events over two weeks. So, when he asked me to cover a few of the events as a sponsor and ‘official photographer’, I couldn’t say no, really.

Even though Backspace was backed and supported by Heritage Matters and secured an amount of funding from Warwickshire County Council’s Operation Footfall initiative, the, increasingly ambitious, project was pulled off in a very short space of time, on a shoestring budget, by a tiny team of volunteers with ‘off the side of the desk’ help from Vital and their extended family of suppliers.

Backspace branding

A hole left by the hasty removal of an air-con unit by previous occupants made for a dramatic entrance

The exhibition itself was gifted a temporary home in an empty shoe shop in Regent Court by Warwick District Council and quickly proved a daunting space to fill. After some begging and borrowing of artifacts, and the creation of an impressive timeline (researched, written and designed over one weekend) they managed to deliver something pretty damn awesome.

Backspace_exhibition_ entrance

The queue of big pixel people on the window foreshadowed the queue of real people on opening night


Megan from Sega Hardlight admires the exhibits

I think it is safe to say that no-one quite anticipated the reception Backspace would get.

Opening night was rammed with the great and the good from the local games industry and I was there to capture some of the reactions from a clearly impressed crowd, excited to see some of their work on the walls and learn how it fitted into the whole story.

The buzz on Twitter and Facebook grew quickly and even the local BBC news came down to do a live link!


Assembled guests try out some of the old games and devour the timeline panels


Lucy and Tina – students from the computer games art course at Warwickshire College

A combination of teamwork, hard graft and a fair amount of on-the-hoof creative thinking managed to pull of a great evening underpinned by an exhibition that combined curated, in-depth commentary and physical items with interactive games and fun stuff to do.


Dan from Leam-based indie games developers, Monster & Monster,

One of the coolest bits has been the trail of arcade cabinets in venues around town. Dubbed the ‘Leamington Spa-cade’, six local studios showcased their games in shops such as Gap and Braderie, and folks were invited to play the trail and collect stickers to complete a card and win prizes.

Cool, huh?


Alice from Vital and the best looking former shoe shop in town

I admit to not being much of a gamer myself, but the impact on popular culture that Leamington has had is undeniable when you look around that room, and I found the boundless enthusiasm of a lot of the personalities behind the industry quite infectious.


Chris White, MP for Warwick and Leamington, listens intently to Blitz Games Studios‘ Philip Oliver

Having the exhibition opened by three people representing the past, present and future of games development in Leamington was a lovely touch too, and the show even featured a wall which local developers were all invited to sign.

And while this has all an obvious appeal to the people inside the industry, the exhibition has gone on to do a great job of engendering a bit of civic pride with the general public. Over 1,700 people came through the doors in the opening weekend and I’ve never seen a visitor’s book as unanimously complimentary.


Philip Oliver starts the signing | David Darling, co-founder of Codemasters and Kwalee, Chris Southall, Studio Head of Sega Hardlight and Lucy Johnson from the computer games art course at Warwickshire College, who officially opened proceedings

My workload has meant I haven’t been able to cover all of the Backspace events (or indeed the 40-odd wider Leamington Looks Back activities) but the ones I have done have been fully subscribed and lots of fun to do.


A real mix of people came down to experience a slice of the Raspberry Pi action at workshops hosted by IndieCity


A young lad and his dad get to grips with coding

I was also on hand to grab a few shots at the Games Industry Careers Evening at Warwickshire College. All too often established professionals can come across as cynical and aloof at these things, but I have never seen such an enthusiastic and positive bunch of experts so keen to impart their knowledge.

I know I wasn’t the intended audience, but I came away quite uplifted. If any of my boys want to pursue this as a career in the future, I will endorse it wholeheartedly.


The future of the games industry assembled for a Q&A with panelists from every discipline

Will Freeman interviews Philip Oliver and David Darling at Backspace in Leamington Spa

Will Freeman, Editor of Develop magazine and games writer for The Observer, quizzes the founding fathers about the serious business of creating fun

Event photography is not something I normally fall over myself to do, but on this occasion I was proud to be involved, but not as proud as I am of Craig and the Backspace dream team for pulling this off.

And what a team.

Lending the whole exhibition a dash of credible, cultural context was the charming Dr Michael Piggot. He’s the Assistant Professor of Video Art and Digital Media at Warwick University whose fiance turned out to be the lady who taught me to crochet.

And then, of course there’s the talented and energetic Natalie Griffith. Providing the real games industry clout, Nat’s insider knowledge and connections, not only secured the support of the key players, but also expanded the festival to include educational, charity and social elements.

By all accounts, the three of them all played their parts brilliantly and I love this shot of them taken on their preview night. The sense of relief and joy is palpable and I was glad I was there to take it.


Michael Piggot, Nat Griffiths and some other fella

I’d like to wish Michael and Denise good luck for their forthcoming wedding, Nat all the best with her new PR agency PressSpace and hope that Craig will now allow himself to chill the hell out for a while!

Well done to everyone involved. I’m impressed.

RS x

The exhibition is in its final weekend and closes on Sunday at 8pm and is well worth a look, if you haven’t already. All the details are here.

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