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Hope alert! The origin story of those famous Podge lunches

Over the last 20+ years I am often asked where the name Podge came from and how it started. As Covid19 takes hold and we are all forced indoors to self isolate this is as good a time as any to tell the origin story. Firstly, WHY and WHEN? Back in the 1980s I founded and ran a typographic studio called APT and all of my clients were design agencies and/or advertising agencies. We took great pride in producing beautiful type for our clients and took great pride when they won awards and built a lovely camaraderie with the owners. Business was booming for ourselves and our clients and one of our agency clients said they would like to buy my business. Long story short in 1987 myself and my two business partners started a three year earn out which ended in 1990 and life was good. What happened next reminds me of the current Covid19 situation where we had a major recession in 1991/92 and a large number of my clients from the 80’s had fallen on hard times. I had been lucky and had sold before the crash and had joined another studio as MD in 1991 and was one of the early adopters of this new thing called DIGITAL. Back then it wasn’t websites and such like, it was interactive CD Rom’s, the internet hadn’t yet been invented.

In the early nineties it was my strong opinion that quite a few of my old design clients would have faired much better if they had shared their situation with fellow designers.

I had taken six of the leading lights for a lunch at The Oval in the eighties and was amazed to find out I was the only common denominator.

Whilst they were all at the top of their game they didn’t see any value in chatting with their opposition, they only had time for their clients.

After the nineties recession I rang these same six designers and suggested we all go out for a lunch, each of us invite one other person of similar seniority, book a cool venue and split the bill between us and share war stories.

I chose Quaglinos in February 1994 (it was the new Terence Conran restaurant and deemed to be cool). I booked the private room and word of mouth ensured that our first ever lunch had a capacity 30 people.

I had to give this gathering a name and I decided that as the afternoon would all be about food and drink I would call it PODGE. As a mancunian we always referred to a large tummy as “a podge” and this was only ever meant to be a one-off gathering of prima-donna design owners. Some of the great names from the industry. Amazingly these 30 senior folk absolutely loved it and they all paid their share of the final bill. As there were no emails in those days I had to get a copy of the bill from Quaglinos and take 30 copies and post it to each of them and cheque was their preferred method of payment.

Without exception on replying they all asked me if I would get them together again in 1995 as they found it really valuable. So once a year for 10 years we had this amazing design gathering of the great and the good at various venues culminating with the Atlantic Bar & Grill. Last year was the 25th anniversary of By now the digital world was flying and I was running a successful digital agency so I had a foot in both the design and digital camps. The editor of a Centaur publication New Media Age had attended one of my design lunches and asked how I managed to get the most senior people to attend each lunch and wondered if I would be able to do the same for a digital audience. They offered to do all the admin free of charge for me if I needed help. So in December 2003 was born and is now 18 years old.

Sport came next and that came about when one of my clients from the Football Association (Jimmy Worrall now of Leaders in Sport) had attended a design lunch and knew that a lot of the work I produced in my day job was for the sports industry.

At the time we had created the identity for England’s bid to host the 2006 world cup, the UK Athletics identity, the UK Sport identity and the Sport England website as well as many other projects including the first ever Premier League website. Jimmy felt that the sports industry had nothing like podge and he would help me set it up if I fancied it. Needless to say, Life is Short and I tend to say YES more often than NO and was born in 2005 and is 16 years old this year. And finally, as a mancunian through and through I was approached by several digital agencies in the north of England asking if I would take a podge up north. Obviously I said YES and at Harvey Nichols Manchester celebrated its 10th anniversary the week before Covid19 closed us all down in March.

The general thing that follows through all four lunches is that no tables are sold only individual places. 50% guests are changed for every lunch and there are no auctions, raffles, awards ceremonies etc. The seating plan is always a work of art making sure each table has a great mix of senior people and half way through the lunch half of them change tables. At Design Podge the seating plan has led to two weddings (currently with 5 children between them). Each lunch is themed and a different agency put their hands up to do the branding and website. All of the lunches sit on where we keep an archive of previous themes. The next one will be on September 18th for the Sports Industry, it was supposed to be in May as normal but this little virus sneaked up and asked us nicely if we would move it along.

This year’s theme is all around Coaching and our friends at UK Coaching have been super helpful. So that’s how Podge started in the teeth of a recession and somehow the model has proved to be a great success for the Sport, Digital & Design communities and 25 years after the first one I am determined not to let this crazy virus spoil our fun this year, by the time September comes I think we will all be ready to let our hair down. Phil Jones Is founder of Podge Events

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