How to start a Theme Camp #6 – Structures & Set up

Aug 27, 2023 | Kiwiburn, Theme Camps

Welcome back!

Captain here, today I’m continuing the ‘How to start a Theme Camp’ blog series.

This time I’m discussing best practices for Theme Camp structures and set up. An important aspect of any Theme Camp!

I asked 25 fellow Theme Camp leads how they decide what events to run at the Burn. So you can be sure that you’re getting great info from all 26 of us (I ran a camp at KB23 too!).

I’ve grouped the answers into most common replies and ordered them from most common to least common.

Finally, before we begin, If you missed the last blogs in the series, catch up on them here:
#1 A general overview
#2 The application process
#3 Choosing a theme
#4 Organising Camp Members

#5 Choosing Events

How to organise a structure and set up your Theme Camp

Question 1 – How did/do you decide what your TC structure will look like?

The answers were:
– We sat down and discussed as a group
– Trial and error until we found what worked
– We have a build weekend (or two), where we test out different building techniques and structure designs
– We build 80% off site and the remaining 20% on the Paddock
– We have meetings every two weeks and our town planner guides us on what we need to do next
– We have a build team who decide on the structure, then the decor lead organises decorations
– Our infrastructure team collaborates with our decor team
– We draw our layout before we build
– We keep shade and shelter in mind when designing our structure
– We made do with what we had when we were starting, as we grew, new people bought more things so our structure has grown
– Our structure is a work of art in itself, it’s constantly developing, be open to change and make it better every year
– We just use whatever we have on hand and go from there
– We sourced our structure from our camp members
– We picked a ready made structure that is easy to put up, then design the furniture and decor around it
– Money and logistics decided for us
– We decided based on our camp theme

Question 2 – Where do you source materials?

The answers were (in no particular order):
– Trade Tested, Trademe, FB market place
– We use about 70% reclaimed materials
– We use a lot of bamboo for the structures, usually sourced off various members and friends farms
– We have stuff we use every year and make what we don’t have up with stuff we donate as a group or lend. We have camp dues as well that go to funding camp supplies
– We fundraise and of course try scavenge for free / cheap stuff during the year
– We have purchased a stretch marquee tent so it came with everything required to set it up
– What we have, friends, sustainable products, second hand, collective effort
– Find a solid, custom built solution and thrash it until it no longer works. Pallets are trash.
– Shouting out to friends
– Anything free or if we have to, we all pool money together in a camp account for large purchases
– Second hand, we make a spreadsheet of all resources we’re going to need. Throughout the year the members will keep their eyes out on Trademe, FB market place, opshops, garage sales, on the side of the road etc.
– We used things that we already had, or purchased second hand. We tried not to buy anything new just for this event.
– The refuse center is great for wood, and bill board canvas is an amazing material
– Connections to community groups and marquees

Question 3 – What tips do you have for newbie camp creators when it comes to their structure?

The answers were (in no particular order):
– Stake everything into the ground way more than you think you need to. Bring extra rope, stakes, tie downs etc. We always need more than we think.
– Plan for the worst, hope for the best! Always have spare ties, rope, screws etc. in a storage box nearby so you can quickly modify to suit weather change. Also, inform/empower all camp members how to do quick fixes/highlight potential issues.
– Prepare for bad weather!
– Bamboo is sustainable and reusable. You don’t have to go too crazy on your first year, a tent would do!! Always design your structure with shade / shelter in mind!
– Keep it simple. Double tarp, fly sheets, test before you come.
– Tie your shit DOWN. Your warehouse pegs won’t cut it. Get your camp mates into the habit of doing rain and wind checks every time conditions change. Keep your structure walkways clear and clean, stay on top of leaks or bulges. Ignoring failures often leads to catastrophic cascades at inopportune times, learn to read the signs and solve issues before they arise.
– If you are wanting to run this camp for years to come, put the camp fees up for the first year and invest in some structure.
– Go with tried and true ideas (geodome).
– Gazebos need to be really good quality and don’t always survive the weather.
– Think about how you’ll keep it waterproof. Think about how you’ll ‘close’ it when it’s not open to the public.
– Carpet is great, but only when it’s not raining. Think about where / how you’re gonna store everything when it’s not the burn.
– Spend money on the structure and make sure it’s strong and has enough space. Crucial.
– Build something that you can set up and strike easily, and teach others to do, otherwise you will hate it and it will consume all your time and energy.
– It could rain, a lot. Be prepared, have a plan b.

Question 4 – How much room do you allocate for the Theme Camp area vs your own camping area?

– 6 camps said 20% of their space is allocated for the Theme Camp area.
– 7 camps said 40% of their space is allocated for the Theme Camp area.
– 9 camps said 50% of their space is allocated for the Theme Camp area.
– 2 camps said 60% of their space is allocated for the Theme Camp area.
– 2 camps said 80% of their space is allocated for the Theme Camp area.

Question 5 – Anything else to think about?

The answers were (in no particular order):
– We like having most of our camp areas open to the public so people can come hang out with us during meals. We only really have personal camping private. We try to arrange the camp to hide most of the personal camping with our larger structures.
– It’s an effort running a camp and you get out what you put in! It’s there to be truly part of the community not a way to get easy tickets so put love into your set up and events and make it a place people want to be.
– Allow your theme to evolve over the event. Put effort into comfort but be practical. A warm dry shaded space is gold.
– Get a ground sheet and a shitty carpet. It’s a massive game changer. People can wipe their feet and sit down, keeps your area safe and dry and when you pack down you can shake all your MOOP to the middle and you’re done, no more crawling around in the squashed grass for ciggy butts and cable ties.
– Where to store all the stuff between burns!
– R18 or not? Seriously have a think about what you offer, what people do at your camp and what you enjoy doing at your camp and if any of those answers would pose any risk to children, maybe make it R18 just to be safe!
– Flow of tents and kitchen/shared areas.
– Kitchen is a central community space.
– Transport space was always out biggest issue.
– Make sure you ask for enough room for your TC and everyone’s tents and vans. Made that mistake twice, and it’s a real pain.
– Ways of transporting key infrastructure up for early entry. Most people in our camp can’t drive or don’t own vehicles.
– Will you still be friends after the burn?
– Many hands makes light work. The moment you start working too hard and not allowing yourself to enjoy Kiwiburn then you lose the love a little.

Phew! That’s it! That’s a lot of incredibly helpful advice.

Based on my experience and the answers above, the biggest takeaway is plan stuff as a group!

Don’t try to do it all yourself!

Now it’s time to get to planning! Go and organise your structure, the sooner you do this the better in my opinion!

Go have some fun, I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

What’s next in the blog series?

Thanks again to the wonderful Theme Camp leads who filled in the survey, you really helped make this blog series come to life!

In the next blog I’ll be discussing Health & Safety!

Until then, have a wonderful day.


Image Credit: Pixabay

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