At the end of March we exhibited at Europe's largest disability exhibition called Naidex. This annual event takes place at the NEC in Birmingham and this year Naidex celebrated their 45th show! The event showcases the latest innovative products, live demos, seminars, networking opportunities and more! There were 350 cutting-edge exhibitors, meaning we were part of an incredible line up!
Not only was this my first time attending Naidex, this was our first exhibition as a team. So after hearing that 18,000 people were set to attend the event, we knew we had to make the most of the opportunity. We started preparing for this event in October 2018 and attended multiple exhibitions for inspiration! One of the key things we learnt was that we needed to work hard to ensure people were drawn to our stand. Therefore, we spent months working with our focus groups and design team to create a stand that was eye catching and informative. Something that is surprisingly a lot harder than it sounds! Although I really wish I didn’t spend so many sleepless nights worrying about it, because we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome! It was overwhelming to see so many people drawn to our stand based off our panels, goody bags and giveaways. However, we never anticipated to be so busy, so next time we definitely need some more volunteers! Every exhibitor worked incredibly hard throughout the entire event, including Fliss who was the official AYL security guard.
I have attended a few events at the NEC before, so I was aware of how big the venue was. However, this didn’t stop me feeling like an ant during construction that took place the day before! Everywhere you looked there were construction workers, exhibitors, vehicles, scaffolding, tools, trollies etc. Yet despite the chaos, everything ran like clockwork. We also decided to stay in a one of the hotels within the NEC grounds; meaning I could go back and rest when needed! (Review Coming Soon!) Although this didn’t happen because our stand was s busy! So despite my body continually telling me to rest, I couldn’t complain because it meant things were going well! The incredible atmosphere kept me going, then once my adrenaline wore off I spent several days recovering in bed. Even Fliss had a couple of lazy days, as she worked very hard throughout the entire event so her paws were probably a little tired!
Everyone who visited our stand was interesting, supportive and friendly, which made us feel very welcomed and at ease. We also received some fantastic suggestions on how to improve our website and expanding our services. I must admit, we expected the second day of Naidex to be much quieter, but it was almost just as busy as day one! Another exciting part of Naidex was meeting so many people we have followed / been friends online for several years, but because we live so far away we have never had the chance to meet in person! (Links to their accounts at the bottom of this post.) This also created such a positive atmosphere and meant there was no judgment whatsoever. As an ambulatory wheelchair user, I often feel very uncomfortable standing to stretch my legs or realign my shoulder in public as it creates a lot of negative attention. But for once I wasn’t the odd one out! It was a mutual understanding for both carers and people living with a disability that made it such an inclusive environment.
Another highlight from our trip to Naidex was meeting so many service doggies & their owners. I rarely come across other working dogs when out and about at home, so it was a real treat to meet up with 12 Canine Partners and their owners! The exhibition was an overwhelming & exhausting experience for everyone; but the dogs took it in their stride, & didn’t let the endless distractions impact their ability to work! I on the other hand, could barely function at times! I honestly wouldn’t have managed without Fliss by my side, because my carers were so busy running the stand.
Overall, Naidex was a fantastic event. What struck us the most was the sheer number of innovative, caring, solutions-focused companies and individuals in attendance. We can’t thank everyone enough for coming to visit us and support our work, we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome! We met so many of our lovely followers, made hundreds of new friendships & even developed some exciting working partnerships. We have already started planning for nest years event, so hopefully this was the first of many successful exhibitions!
Finally, please bare with us whilst we input all the reviews people took the time to write during the event! We returned home with a MASSIVE pile of papers to get through, so it is taking some time to get through everything! On behalf of the AYL team, thank you one again for all your support, we really appreciate it!