The SoLid collaboration has developed a new detector technology to detect electron anti-neutrinos at close proximity to the Belgian BR2 reactor at surface level. A 288 kg prototype detector was deployed in 2015 and collected data during the operational period of the reactor and during reactor shut-down. Dedicated calibration campaigns were also performed with gamma and neutron sources. This paper describes the construction of the prototype detector with a high control on its proton content and the stability of its operation over a period of several months after deployment at the BR2 reactor site. All detector cells provide sufficient light yields to achieve a target energy resolution of better than 20%/√E(MeV). The capability of the detector to track muons is exploited to equalize the light response of a large number of channels to a precision of 3% and to demonstrate the stability of the energy scale over time. Particle identification based on pulse-shape discrimination is demonstrated with calibration sources. Despite a lower neutron detection efficiency due to triggering constraints, the main backgrounds at the reactor site were determined and taken into account in the shielding strategy for the main experiment. The results obtained with this prototype proved essential in the design optimization of the final detector.