Back in 2014, when Wendy Bell searched in vain for a UK-based horror convention, it planted a seed in her mind. Wendy had been to Comic Con and enjoyed it so much that it became a regular day out with friends. As a huge horror fan, she also began looking for a horror-themed convention.
Whilst she could find horror conventions in the USA, she discovered there was nothing comparable in the UK. During a chat with her sister, Gill Bell, Wendy said, “I’d like us to run a horror convention, but don’t know where to start.”
Gill had organised events before and said, “I do”. Within a week, she’d booked the venue at Magna Science Adventure Centre near Sheffield.
Gill said, “I’d run events in the past, so knew the basics.”
Wendy agreed, “Though in hindsight, if we’d known what to expect, we’d have been too frightened to do it. A few weeks away from that first event, the people at Magna asked if we had a market licence. We didn’t even know we needed one! With lots of help from Rotherham Council, we managed to get it pushed through in time.”
That first event in July 2015 was a huge success, with around 1,500 attendees. Wendy found hosting an event of that scale so nerve-racking that she said never again. But, by then, they were already committed and needed to keep going to get their investment back. Thankfully, now in their seventh year, Wendy and Gill are much more relaxed about the process.
“Running the events is so intensive and we feel so much responsibility to everyone there. We always say ‘let’s not do another after this’ then start planning for the next. But it’s become easier as our reputation has grown, and we’ve met some great people over the years.” Gill
To source the best market traders, Wendy spent hours researching the ones they’d like to see. She flagged up awareness of HorrorConUK through Facebook and Twitter, even approaching some with a personal invitation to take a pitch.
This individual attention and friendly approach helped them through the Covid years. With the 2020 event cancelled, most traders rolled over the cost of their stand to the next event. Wendy and Gill say they appreciate the trust placed in them at this time. Especially as many events folded.
HorrorConUK has developed a reputation over the years for its inclusive atmosphere. Relatives might go along to support people running the trade stands or accompany friends, even if they’re not fans of horror themselves. But many finish the weekend by telling Gill and Wendy how much they loved the event.
“HorrorConUK is not a scare attraction. Lots of people get dressed up, including kids. We’ve seen babies dressed as ghosts and parents with baby zombies carried on their backs. It’s a good vibe and atmosphere. Our traders often tell us that it’s the friendliest, and their favourite convention.” Gill
Planning for the May 2023 event is now in full swing with eight guests already lined up. An announcement has already been made about the actor Doug Bradley, ‘Pinhead’ from Hellraiser. More will be shared soon and there will be screenings of new short films. Along with exhibitors, scare actors, and spot play cosplay competitions, there’s lots to look forward to. The 2022 event attracted over 5,000 people, so they expect tickets to sell fast.
“Many people ask why the event doesn’t take place near Halloween. But if you enjoy horror, it’s not a once a year thing. By holding the event in May, it gives people something to look forward to. Plus, many special guests are busy doing shows in the USA during October. It also means we find it easier to book high profile names at our event in May.” Wendy
It’s clear that HorrorConUK is now firmly established in the calendar. The event attracts sponsorship from Cineworld and some of their bigger traders, including Mad About Horror. Author and journalist Tony Earnshaw, and lecturer and writer, Darrell Buxton, host the guest talks. And the renowned artist and illustrator, Graham Humphreys, designs the exclusive HorrorConUK annual posters.
“We’ve achieved so much in the last eight years. And we’re proud to have been the first European horror convention listed in the prestigious Rue Morgue magazine’s list of the world’s top genre events.” Gill
Despite the international appeal, the Sheffield sisters are keen for the event to remain in the north. With their roots in South Yorkshire, they looked for office and storage space close to home.
They found The Business Village provided an affordable option. The all-inclusive price gives peace of mind in the current financial climate. And the support offered has been a great benefit. It’s led to them joining the ScaleUp 360 programme where they’ve been able to access marketing advice.
“Both our accountant and web designer were in The Business Village. And we’ve found lots of benefits such as free parking and security during out of office hours. Everyone is so helpful, from those working on reception, to the management team who we can approach for support. It can be daunting running your own business, so the community of people around you can make a real difference.” Wendy
Last year, Wendy and Gill decided to expand and introduce a second event to their roster. PopcornCon is a different event specialising in TV and film, and with British guests. The next one is scheduled for September 2023.
“PopcornCon has a lower price and is a great introduction to a Comic Con event. Last year, guests included actors such as Paul McGann from Withnail and I and Dr Who, Chris Barrie, ‘Rimmer’ from Red Dwarf, and Scream Queen Caroline Munro from James Bond and many horror films. She was also the Lambs Navy Rum pin up girl! We love hosting our events – and one of these days we might make some money too.” Gill
HorrorCon UK information
Date: 20 – 21st May 2023
Venue: Magna, Sheffield, UK
Ticket prices: Adult day ticket from £25, Children aged 12 to 16 from £12, Under 11’s free
Event website: https://www.horrorconuk.com/
Date: 10th September 2023
Venue: Magna, Sheffield, UK
Ticket prices: Adult tickets from £10, Children aged 8-16 from £8, Under 7’s free
Event website: https://popcorncon.com/