10 Years of Northern Brickworks!
A Short History of Northern Brickworks by Robert Clarkson
Before the current trend for meet-ups in a Community Centre or a Pub took place, ’Housefests’ were the order of the day. On Saturday 25th February 2012, I held an informal Housefest for newly acquainted LEGO friends, that I had met through the only substantial LEGO club at the time, The Brickish Association (now just ‘Brickish’). Though there were only 7 attendees, shortly afterwards myself and Iain Scott discussed creating a regional club for AFOL’s. However, we didn’t rush and the only achievement was me naming this prospective club ‘Northern Brickworks’ (not only because the name conjured images of the industrial north, but also, after all, we work with LEGO bricks in t’north).
What was already becoming significant were the encounters with ‘local’ AFOL’s (the ‘usual suspects’ I called them), and these people were also interested in joining a regional club. So at an event, that Iain and I had planned to take place over the weekend Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th August 2012 at the National Railway Museum in York, some of the ‘usual suspects’ came along, and so Northern Brickworks was born.
Following this we reverted back to our ‘there’s no hurry’ mentality. The only progress I made was to create a club logo (based on an image of some mills in the background of a model train display in York) and make notes as to the purpose of the club.
In mid-January 2013 I posted messages on Brickish, Brickset, and Brick Fanatics to announce the intention to hold a meeting and discuss any interest in the formal creation of Northern Brickworks. This was set for Sunday 3rd February, held in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester. At this first proper Northern Brickworks meeting we had 16 attendees (and 11 apologies) and, with overwhelming support. A Steering Committee to create Northern Brickworks as a LEGO User Group (LUG) was appointed and so we welcomed: myself as Chairman; Iain as Vice-Chair, Irene McMahon as Treasurer; and the meritorious Jim Walshe as Secretary.
Iain worked with David Kirkham to create a website and I drafted a Constitution (yes, the one I’, often found quoting at AGM’s). I’ll emphasise here that we wanted a LUG that focused on encouraging AFOL’s to develop their building skills; boost their confidence in putting forward their models (my own creations – mocs) for display at events; and to help create, run, and support events. The added bonus would be Northern Brickworks receiving formal recognition by the LEGO Company and granting us Recognised LEGO User Group (RLUG) status.
Northern Brickworks became a RLUG in early 2013, by which time it had amassed 23 members. Other firsts for the club included having proud members display the LUG name, Northern Brickworks with its logo on t-shirts, polo tops, and fleeces, at the event in March 2013. One aspect of the creation of the LUG that I was not in favour of was the decision to have the annual membership fee set at £24. Fortunately, sense prevailed and this was reduced over subsequent years (leading to the astounding situation where now there is no membership fee at all).
A matter of difficulty that arose early on, and still remains prominent today, is the way to enable all current (and prospective) members of Northern Brickworks to feel involved and to be involved. This is with the appreciation that, geographically, many members live and work quite some distance apart. Family and work life create its priorities but having meet-ups and events, etc. on the other side of the county or country, is problematic.
This issue was appreciated at the inaugural meeting and has since been addressed as best as possible. Succeeding meetings, events and such take place at venues across the whole of the ‘North’, For example, the Annual General Meetings (AGM), where matters concerning running the club are discussed and agreed have been held in Bolton, York, Huddersfield (twice), Worksop (twice), Heywood, and online (twice). Likewise, displays of mocs have taken place at Northern Brickworks run or coordinated events in York, Manchester, Sunderland, Southport, Heywood, Tanfield (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Lymm, Bury, Hucknall, Rhyl, Retford, Mossley, and Sale.
Northern Brickworks was initially formed from a collaboration with another LUG. This form of partnership continues as the club actively supports such participation and mutual support. The additional benefit is to see Northern Brickworks members attend events wearing their distinctive green tops, with the club name and logo emblazoned upon it, all across the UK, and sometimes beyond. On this point of Northern Brickworks working with other LUG’s, before our present position of hosting our own LUGBulk (a yearly opportunity for members of a RLUG to buy slightly discounted LEGO, in Bulk, from LEGO themselves), we collaborated with other RLUGs, such as Brickshire, and the Southern LEGO Train Club.
Members take advantage of the opportunity to display their models in the Showcase Cabinets in the LEGO Brand Retail Stores across the country, especially those in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle/Gateshead.
The online and social presence of Northern Brickworks has grown extensively over the years. From the faltering start of creating a website on the new fangled t’interweb, a Forum, Facebook Page, Twitter account and more have all been created for members to interact. In addition, Zoom and similar platforms, essentially created during the Covid Lockdown periods, continue to facilitate online meetings, discussions and even the AGM. This all means that members have greater opportunities to meet old and new colleagues, and to discuss and share their LEGO experiences, plans and builds.
From the first meetup that began in my living room, meet-ups now regularly take place in Manchester, North Wales and Sheffield for all AFOLs (i.e. not exclusively for Northern Brickworks members, to attend. For the public (i.e. children), special LEGO Brick Building Clubs and similar events take place in a wide variety of venues.
As mentioned one of the primary aims of the club was to encourage members to build mocs and display these. Many Northern Brickworks members have embraced this with gusto. Some have tentatively placed a moc on the corner of a table at an event, and later expressed their delight at how well it was received, others collaborate together to make a more challenging display that has visual impact and a “Wow!” factor. In fact Northern Brickworks has led group collaborative builds, with ‘The Zoo’, ‘Crazy Golf’, ‘Mosaics’, ‘A Garden Scene’, and the awesome ‘Castle’ displays leading the way. After 10 years one could say that the box containing this commitment to Northern Brickworks members is well and truly ticked.
Finally, I will say that, 10 years on Northern Brickworks proves to be a very popular LUG, with a broad range of activities and representation for its members. From the slow and lumbered start by myself and Iain, we have seen the club develop its place within the AFOL community and it continues to be led by a clear minded and progressive committee. One can’t deny that it certainly helps to have an internationally recognised LEGO Master-Builder at its head.