Hannah Saunders runs Big Fish Little Fish baby raves and is an inspiration for anyone who wants a career change. Ditching a long-standing career in the Home Office, Hannah is now queen of the 2-4 hour party people. Her family raves attract parents who are rekindling their love of the glow stick and kids who love to throw down some moves, tantrums, food, what have you.
Babies and raves are such a natural fit, it seems Big Fish Little Fish was bound to happen. Ravers and babies both love you hard and give the best hugs, they are both experts at gurning and share a love of fluffy fabric and no-one knows better how to stay up all night (or all weekend) and come crashing down in a triumphant slump the following day. Not to mention the fact that us nineties ravers are now popping spawn a looking for an excuse to listen to the KLF again (3am Eternal has a whole new meaning now).
With BFLF raves coming up to fill in your dark winter days, its a great time to catch up with Hannah in her London home office.
Tell me in your own words about being a creative mum?
I think being a parent and being creative go hand and hand – who hasn’t had to rustle up 2 hours of in-car entertainment using just a packet of tissues and comprehensive knowlege of the songs from The Sound of Music? I had my children later in life (at 41 and 42 years old) and I found that becoming a parent reawakened a desire to create and experience the world afresh. It started small, learning how to do shadow puppets to entertain my baby, and ended up two years later with setting up my own business.
Who makes up your family?
My children Winter (nearly 5) and Atticus (3) plus my partner David and cat Monty.
What is your creative outlet?
My business Big Fish Little Fish – set up to put on family rave parties but developing into bigger, more festival like events. Bringing clubbing to the family massive. Until recently I thought being “creative” meant you were an artist, writer or musician but I now understand it to have a broader sense of actually bringing something into being, making things happen. Part of the excitement of setting up Big Fish Little Fish is making it up as I go along and that is the very essence of creativity. I’m constantly learning new skills – from website creation to how to wield glitter cannons.
How and when did you come to start it?
I returned to work after my second child – I was a senior civil servant in the Home Office with a 20 year career, Deputy Director of Policing – and decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was quite professionally institutionalised (um, I think that’s a “thing” rather than being hospitalised due to mental ill health) and so used a career coach to help me work through what I should do next.
She focussed on the need for me to view myself as a creative person and I found a couple of brilliant spots that I found inspirational and great places to think – the British LIbrary and the British Film Institute Mediateque. I decided that I’d set up my own business – a huge change for someone who had never considered doing so before and was mainly experienced in the public and charity sectors. The idea of the “family rave” came naturally from my own experience of wanting to take my kids to something like a festival during the winter and not finding anything that appealed – so I decided that that was what I would do and hopefully some others would want the same sort of events. I’d always been a clubber and at the Home Office had been a Programme Director for multi-million pound projects so it was the perfect overlay of professional and personal strengths of organisation/love of music and dancing/family. It also means that as a middle aged mother of two I still get to be a DJ groupie (non-rude kind). That was in Summer 2013. Since then BFLF has played to over 10,000 people in 10 different venues including a residency at last year’s Camp Bestival. Coming up shortly BFLF is running a “takeover” of one day of the Mini Vault festival in Waterloo and playing the Royal Festival Hall Ballroom – as well as launching in a new North London venue (Electrowerkz Islington), being part of the programme in the Stratford Circus arts centre and running regular parties in Balham, Brixton and Hackney.
What does it mean to you and how does it make you feel?
Very happy and empowered – as well as stressed. It makes me feel like I’m in my 20s again where the world is full of potential. It’s very exciting to be forging something new which has been so well received by people and learning a new “trade”. I’ve formed some lovely new friendships, found excellent colleagues and had a lot of fun.
What is the hardest part about it?
My partner is the primary caregiver so whilst it is hard to run a business from home when my youngest is still running about demanding attention – it probably isn’t the hardest part. To start with, it was adjusting to the weird isolation – if my printer stops working I don’t have an IT department to call – but as I now have a small team of people working with me that is less of an issue. Probably now is the massive reduction in income. Luckily I’d become used to a reduced income during my maternity leaves but it will be nice as my business grows and I can go to the hairdresser again to have my hair dyed as I like to have an insanely complicated hair do that makes me look like a badger.
What or who is your inspo?
In a very real and practical way it is definitely my children – it is only through them that I can get a sense of the sorts of things that can work well cross-generationally to keep everyone happy at my events. Having them also made me want to do something different with my life – something I could point to and say “I did that” to them so they would be proud. I also find artists who let you into their creative process or who have people at the heart of what they do fascinating – people like Grayson Perry, Jeremy Deller and Anthony Gormley. When I was at the BFI I watched a lot of documentaries both about “ordinary” people – there was a great one about the people using the Brockwell Park lido near where I live in the 90s – but also biographies of people that interest me – Kenneth Williams’ “Comic Roots” from the 80s where he re-visited the Islington slum where he grew up. If I’m sat around trying to sort through a problem then I will listen to music – but that can sometimes be distracting as I get too interested in the sound. I have a very strong emotional response to music.