Every year we head off on our surprise summer party for a well-deserved break, and following on from the success of last year’s Lab Fest, it was back by popular demand for round two. This time we were told it had an added ‘theme’ of “Lab Camp!”, fuelled by nostalgia for days gone by, for fireside stories, arms filled with friendship bracelets and bike rides to nowhere.
So, one sunny Thursday a few weeks ago, we all packed up our bags, locked up the studio, and once again headed to an unknown location to see what the lab_ party committee, aka Camp Chief Siobhan and her Super Camp Counsellors, Dani and Sami, had in store for us this time.
An hour or so on the train and a short coach ride later, we were making our way down winding country lanes and through fields and tracks, wandering further and further into the wilderness, before emerging at our home for the night - a picturesque field dotted with yurts and all the fairy lights and bunting you could wish for. Set within the rolling countryside, and with nothing but the sound of cows and sheep in the neighbouring fields, it couldn't have been further removed from the hustle and bustle of city life - the perfect place to relax and unwind together.
Not that that was the whole agenda, of course. By now we had prepared ourselves, armed with years of experience of Siobhan’s love of nostalgic 80s movies. And, as the sun-dappled idyllically over scenes of friendly rounds of swing ball, a very competitive tug-of-war tournament (while our office dog Paxton desperately tried to join in with both), and, naturally, a slip and slide which for some reason featured a compulsory hot dog costume for any participants, it certainly provided lots of entertainment.
And as the afternoon energy gave way to team members sitting around on hay bales, making friendship bracelets and painting each other with glitter against the evening sun, while others cracked on with barbecuing for the family, it was only a matter of time before the power ballad soundtrack kicked in...
...but first, as any good movie will tell you, no Camp is complete without a talent show! So we pooled together in teams to find out what we could (or more specifically couldn't do) and performed our hearts out regardless, revealing some surprising - and sometimes questionable - hidden talents along the way.
Then, once the sun had set, it was time for the dancing, as is the way. So as not to disturb the neighbouring sheep (and of course, to add to the madness necessary for any true teen flick narrative) flashing headsets came out and we danced and sang the night away to a silent disco.
With our voices well and truly gone and all the smores demolished, at some early hour it became time for bed. Smiling and a little ‘sun stroked’, the last labbers fell into their tents, dreaming of what the next day would bring.
It’s safe to say the next morning we were feeling a little less “Goonies never say die” and a little more ‘one of us might!,’ when faced with a somewhat optimistic bike ride. To add to the ‘sense of wonder’ (or madness, depending on your angle), mapless and with the wonderfully vague instructions of ‘just head towards Camber Sands’ we all naively set off, slightly wobbling from the night before, unbeknownst to what lay ahead of us.
Having been assured that it would take us “around an hour and a half”, it was pure relief on everyone’s (including Siobhan’s!) faces, when four hours later the last of us rocked up at the destination. Luckily, the lovely people who had rented us the bikes had lots of patience and good humour, so had kindly spent the last four hours in the sun wondering where on earth we’d all got to!
Once we’d all safely made it in one piece, it was a choice of activity; on the beach for power kiting, or into the water for stand-up paddle boarding which, as energy levels were lagging after the morning’s (mis)adventures, turned more into ‘lie-down-and-nap’ paddle boarding. Still, spirits were high and it gave us all time to giggle about all the fun that was had the night before.
Amid all the laughter, time fell away quickly, and before long it was time for a quick stop off at the pub before we all waved goodbye to the rolling hills to take our weary, happy, and maybe slightly broken bodies back to London.
It’s safe to say that this year’s Lab Fest lived up to everyone’s increasingly high expectations, and it was amazing to once again get out of the city to relax, unwind and just have a great time, most importantly, together.
So from everyone at the lab_ we’d like to say a massive thank you to Siobhan, Sami and Dani, for, yet again, managing to organise another incredible and wonderfully unique party, with the usual twist of Spacelab magic / madness.
Photos by Sophie Norris, Nicki McBirney and Femi Osewa.