Now that we've been able to catch our breath after an incredibly busy couple of weeks, both before and after our Big Weekend 2023, we are proud to provide a little summary of what went on in Birmingham from 3rd-5th March..

We haven't had a Big Weekend event since we brought the event to Bristol in 2019, so we were super-excited to meet people face-to-face again, bringing those affected by alopecia together for a weekend of information, latest updates, support and, hopefully, fun!

We welcomed over 170 attendees from all over the UK and further afield, with attendees joining from Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and USA. With the addition of our staff team, trustee board, volunteer team, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers, it was more than 260 people who made the event as special as it was. 

The Friday began with a welcome reception in our Exhibition Hall. As with previous years, we were delighted to welcome some fantastic sponsors and exhibitors. Our Platinum Sponsor, Aderans Trendco, headed the line up (we're making this sound like Glastonbury aren't we?!) with Gold Sponsor Eylure and Silver Sponsors Banbury Postiche, Freedom and Hairware supporting too. Huge thanks to all our sponsors, who help us enormously with the cost of putting on this event. 

Our Exhibition Hall was filled with lots of brilliant exhibitors joining our sponsors with their own stands, creating a busy room buzzing with advice and chat. 

After a Friday evening icebreaker session, and a make-up masterclass by content creator Dani G, as well as canapes and welcome drinks with our Sponsors and Exhibitors, it was time to say goodnight ahead of the BIG day on the Saturday. 

For those who joined us early on Saturday morning, there was a choice of attending an icebreaker session or a 'Mindfulness and Meditation' session run by long-standing volunteer Robert Newman. The volunteers on our welcome desk did an incredible job of welcoming attendees with a smile and a goody bag! At 10am, the talks began. Alopecia UK's Chair of Trustees began with a welcome and introduction to the event, followed by a talk about the charity from Alopecia UK CEO Sue Schilling. It was then over to Amy Johnson (AUK's Operations Manager) and Lynn Wilks (AUK Trustee) to advise the audience on how best to navigate the NHS and wig provision (including some pretty terrible puns, which lead to some laughs and groans from the crowd!)

Our 'Gut Health and Nutrition' session included talks from Alopecia UK's Research & Liaison Manager Niels Bootsma, Alopecia UK's Research Committee Chair Professor Simon Milling and Trichologist Zoe Passam. We have pulled together a short summary of this session which you can read here. Our 'Alopecia My Way' session was really popular, the session was led by our Psychological Wellbeing Lead, Dr Kerry Montgomery, and featured Georgina, Laura, Sarah and Serica. Although those on the panel had different types of alopecia, there were common experiences in particular how long and difficult the journey from initial hair loss to diagnosis has been. 

In the afternoon, our 'JAK Inhibitors and Alopecia Areata' session was as busy as we expected it to be given that JAKs remain a hot topic. We have created a short summary of this session here.  At the end of the session, Alopecia UK’s Lynn Wilks, who has been one of the patient representatives in the NICE technology appraisal for baricitinib, talked about what the public can do to impact the NICE process. There is still time to have your say. Find out more here. Closing date for public comments is 20th March.

A concurrent session at this time 'Androgenetic & Scarring Types of Alopecia' covered information about how these conditions are diagnosed and the research happening in these types. The take home message about scarring alopecias was the importance of getting an early diganosis so that hair loss can be slowed, but sometimes this is really hard given the long NHS waiting times. 

Later in the afternoon, an Expert Panel discussion led to lots of interesting discussion points. One question prompted a discussion about a genetic study of black death survivors, which suggests they may have benefits from an overactive immune system and therefore also have a higher risk of autoimmune disease. It was interesting to think about how those with an autoimmune disease might actually have had an evolutionary benefit because they can fight off infection better, thus surviving the black death! We didn't expect this to be discussed at Big Weekend! Dr Fabio Zucchelli and Dr Maia Thornton of the Centre for Appearance Research ran a session called 'Managing Anxiety and Mood when Living with Hair Loss', which talked about some interventions that can help manage appearance-related anxiety. 

As well as all of the above, there were also breakout sessions for men with alopecia, those interested in volunteering for Alopecia UK, and those supporting a loved one with alopecia. PLUS, further demonstrations from Dani G, eyebrow mapping with Finishing Touches Group, How to Create an Up-do on a wig and Q&A with Aderans Trendco, and the most fabulous Henna crowns by Created by Connie. 

Our day was rounded off with a raffle, with more than £2,000 worth of prizes handed out to lucky winners (thank you to the sponsors and exhibitors who donated prizes, plus Michelle at Mimo Wigs), and a fabulous closing talk from singer Hannah Woof who performed one of her songs to the crowd. 

It was then time for us to say goodbye to our Saturday daytime attendees and quickly transform our main talk room into our dinner hall for the evening. For those that joined us on the Saturday evening, we enjoyed dinner, drinks, dancing and daftness (the latter courtesy of a fun photobooth!). The night ended with those on the dancefloor doing their own version of 'This Is Me' from The Greatest Showman. It was emotional but the perfect way to end the night. (We won't talk about Niels wearing Amy's blue wig most of the night on the dancefloor (he wore it best!), and the less said about Amy's rendition of 'Proud Mary' the better...)

For those who managed to get up early enough to join us for our guided walk of Birmingham on Sunday morning, it was one of our coldest awareness events! Most of our heads were covered with woolly hats! We helped to raise awareness on the streets of Birmingham with our AUK hoodies, and we were entertained by tour guide Jonathan. 

We want to thank EVERYONE who was a part of Big Weekend 2023, but we want to give a special shout out to our volunteers, our 'Dream Team'. We cannot do our events without volunteers. From the warm welcome that they extended to every attendee, to the setting up and taking down at the beginning and the end of the event, each and every volunteer worked tirelessly to ensure the event not only ran smoothly but was able to deliver in a way that the charity envisaged for our community.

We enjoyed every minute and hope those who attended did too. It was incredible to see the amazing support that you all show to each other. It is this that make our events so impactful. 

Well done to our Events Manager Naomi Hall for creating such a special weekend! We can't wait to see what she comes up with for Big Weekend 2025! Hope to see you and venue to be this space!

A final thank you to the following exhibitors for supporting our event and creating such a buzzing Exhibition Hall: Aspire Hair, My Beautiful Wigs, Masumi Headwear, Kodes Accessories, Beautiful Warrior Headwear, WIGgit, Farah M London, Finishing Touches and the Centre for Appearance Research.