Big Fish Little Fish: Interview with the genius inventor of family raves
I’ve never been one to wrap Roma up in cotton wool and hide away from the world. As a family, we’ve always got out and done stuff, with me generally bombarding ideas on Jenna.
Prime examples of outings some friends have thought me mad for would be the trip to the cinema with Roma to see War for the Planet of the Apes and a family session at local festival Standon Calling.
Imagine my absolute joy then when I heard about Big Fish Little Fish, the family rave business. My sister pinged me a line telling me she was taking my nephews, at which point I investigated immediately.
Until now, I’d had no reason to be aware of the concept, but I’m certainly glad I’ve been brought up to speed.
Big Fish Little Fish, founded by Hannah Saunders, is an organiser of daytime raves running from 2pm to 4pm, which parents can take their children to.
It was as though it was meant to be – the nearest Big Fish Little Fish was being held just ten minutes up the road at the Broxbourne Spotlight, so I diarised the date and made a vow to take Roma.
Complete with a Halloween theme, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity for the pair of us to dress up. Roma rocked a witch outfit and I dressed in Phantom of the Opera/Dorian Gray/Dracula garb.
The event was the stuff of dreams. Where else can parents take their children for something that will truly appeal to both?
Adults could have a dance and a drink, blowing off some steam, while the children could join in – soft drinks, of course – as well as get creative at craft tables, have faces painted and battle with balloons. For little ones like Roma, there was even a small soft play area and ball pit to sink into.
After the event, I spoke with Hannah about the concept for Big Fish Little Fish and how she found the turnout and crowd at the Spotlight that day.
“It’s absolutely lovely, it was a really great crowd. It’s the third time we’ve been here, but each time it keeps getting better. It was a fabulous response,” she said.
But where on earth did the idea for her venture come from? After all, she was working as a civil servant for the Home Office.
“I was a parent of young children at the time and I had decided to change what I did for a living. I took care of them a lot, going to baby groups, but I am an old raver and I’ve always loved dance music,” she told me.
“I was taking them to festivals when they were tiny babies, but outside of festivals, which we all enjoyed together, I couldn’t find anything that was like that.
“I’d go to children’s discos and the music wasn’t great, so I thought, why don’t I create the thing I want to take my own children to? Something where grown-ups and children can enjoy themselves together on the dance floor.”
As a parent, influenced by her understanding of children and peers, she set out to create the very thing she sought.
“I wanted to share my love of dance music with my children. I’m not skilful in many things; I can’t drive a car or ride a bike, but I really know how to have a good time and really love dance music. Being able to pass that enthusiasm on was something I really thought I could do,” she said.
The first Big Fish Little Fish event was hosted back in July 2013 at the end of her road in Brixton at a new pub, which resulted in a crowd of 300 people attending.
That was just scratching the surface of what was to come.
She explained that Big Fish Little Fish was never meant to be small, despite welcoming little people. “It was always meant to be a rave,” she said. “Since then, we’ve taken it all over the UK and to Australia.
“It’s great, it seems to have really struck a chord with people and they love it. It’s relaxed, it’s fun. It’s somewhere, you as a grown-up can perhaps rekindle your youth – when as a sleep-deprived parent it’s not always the easiest – and it gives kids the chance to enjoy it too.
“Sometimes they just love the fact their parents are simply relaxed and enjoying themselves. It’s a joyous thing, which never tires frankly – it’s just awesome.”
Like all good entrepreneurs, Hannah had belief in her venture from the get-go. In fact, there was nothing else she wanted to do but run Big Fish Little Fish. Having left her job as a senior civil servant, all of the family savings were put towards getting her dream up and running.
“This was always a full-time thing from the start. I’d given up my career as I didn’t enjoy it anymore, and didn’t know what I was going to do. I’d had two children later on in life. And then I decided, when I came up with the idea, this was it, there was no Plan B, I threw everything at it,” she explained.
“I didn’t want work for anyone else ever again, I wanted to be my own boss, threw everything at it and risked sanity, health, our entire family finances, and I’m so enormously grateful that people have enjoyed it and made it a success.”
The decision prompted her partner David to give up his job to become the primary carer for their children. In addition to his role as dad, he took on a position as a Big Fish Little Fish director as the business grew.
With around 170 Big Fish Little Fish events each year, the biggest ticketed event had 2,000 people in attendance. That said, the company also hosts events at festivals too and Hannah revealed this year’s tent at Camp Bestival was rammed.
“I’ve achieved a lifelong ambition – I’ve got to play Glastonbury a couple of times. I’m not a DJ or a musician but I got to play there. I’ve been going for more years than I care to share, but for my daughter’s first Glastonbury she was four months old! She’s seven now and has been to four or five, so it’s good going,” she said.
“We’ll do festivals or anything we like the idea of really. We do things because they’re fun and they make people happy. We’ve done lots in clubs, places like Scala, Alexandra Palace, even woods. We do Pride every year too. It seems to be a thing that works in many places in many ways.
“It’s made by the customers, the audience, they are active participants in making the rave happen, as all raves are. That’s the joyous thing, we’re creating it together.”
A free event was held at the Southbank Centre three years ago, which had people queuing around the block. The music even had to be paused at one point to restore crowd control and and today people still bring up that buzz when they speak to the Big Fish Little Fish team.
“We have gone out of our way to make sure that, whatever a family is, and there are all sorts, any group of people calling themselves a family are welcome at Big Fish Little Fish,” she said.
“We get all sorts of different family make-ups, so many things are called family-friendly but it’s either solely child-focused or mum and baby groups. What about male carers?
“That’s something I hope comes through with what we do. Raving was all about equality and coming together and that I hope that continues to be the case with Big Fish Little Fish family raves.”
Fancy partying with your kids? Hit the BFLF site to find out more on local gigs.