Spring selection: Outdoor venues

With spring in full flow and, fingers crossed, warmer weather on the horizon, hosting an event outside can offer opportunities for delegates to take breaks outside during conferences or participate in teambuilding activities.
“Holding an event outside can add a different feel and dimension to an event,” says Senior Meeting Planner at CWT Meetings and Events, Sarah Jones. “I organise a lot of events in London where outdoor space is rare and snapped up as soon as there is a glimpse of sunshine. Rooftop terraces are becoming more popular to give clients a break from being indoors between meetings.”

Hilton London Wembley has multiple outdoor spaces available, including its 9th floor bar, Sky Bar 9, which features an open-air terrace overlooking Wembley Stadium, and with space for 200 guests. “Sky Bar 9 is only available for private hire and is popular for private parties,” says GM, Jack Nicholas. “The space is also used in conjunction with conferences taking place elsewhere in the hotel.”  

Sky Bar 9 has hosted events including aftershow parties, charity events, press conferences and photoshoots. The venue is regularly turned into a sports studio during Wembley Stadium football games for interview opportunities and sponsor photoshoots. The hotel’s outdoor spaces don’t close during the winter and Nicholas says they receive enquiries all year round. “When the weather gets colder we provide outside heaters and sheltered areas. We’ve had a positive response to our outdoor spaces, which we only expect to grow as the weather improves,” he says.

Other London venues with terraces include The Trafalgar Hotel, which has an open-air rooftop bar, Vista, located on the sixth floor. Vista has capacity for 180 guests and has hosted events including the filming of Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model and Made in Chelsea, as well as press events for guests including Jenson Button, Boris Johnson and Lord Coe. 41 Portland Place’s Ann Ryland Terrace Room features an outdoor roof terrace, which is used post conference as a space where delegates can wind down, as well as for barbecues and al fresco dining.

Lord’s Cricket Ground has a Pavilion Roof Terrace, which runs the length of the Pavilion and has capacity for 200 guests. Lord’s welcomes its first outdoor event in early May, but due to the unpredictable British weather is offering a wet weather option in the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum, just in case. Inner Temple has three areas within its gardens: the terrace, the south-facing lawns and the Temple Church courtyard. The garden is available on evenings and weekends in the months of May, June, July and September and can accommodate 600 guests for a standing reception.

Over in Newmarket, Suffolk, bloodstock auctioneers Tattersalls covers 46 acres consisting of various lawns and a large gravelled area. The venue has hosted teambuilding days, agricultural exhibitions and large parties, including one with a complete fairground across the grounds. Tattersalls also offers covered areas in case of bad weather and its Sale Ring opens onto lawns on both sides giving both an indoor and outdoor option.

Teambuilding in the great outdoors

Venues with acres of land are popular for teambuilding opportunities, according to Director at Accomplished Events, Jenny Pink. “We have over 80 events of which over 30 use outdoor space. A venue that has both indoor and outdoor space is more appealing to a client wanting to integrate teambuilding into their event,” she says.

Pink adds that getting outdoors gives delegates “an opportunity to be active during what can often be an intense and highly focused conference environment”.

With each of its venues set within 400-acres of outside space and woodlands, Center Parcs fully embraces the great outdoors.

Head of Corporate Sales for Center Parcs, Daniel Whittemore, says teambuilding is particularly popular with the majority of Center Parcs activities based outside including water sports, tree trekking, paintballing and sporting games. “During the summer months clients often choose to use the beach space onsite and host barbecues and games by the lake,” he says.

Center Parcs Elveden Forest in Suffolk recently hosted an event for 250 sales members of a pharmaceutical company. The three-day event included a Caribbean barbecue beach party complete with steel band, surf simulator and a Beach Boys tribute band as well as a beach volleyball court and rowing boats for guests to venture onto the lake. Several conferences and smaller meetings took place in spaces within its event centre, The Venue, as well as a specially-erected marquee on the site of the tennis courts. UK-based adventure, sports and social group, Spice, recently confirmed an event at Center Parcs’ Sherwood Forest site for 475 delegates in June themed around a school sports day experience.

“Being in the fresh air is a major benefit of holding an event outside,” says Whittemore. “It helps to motivate and inspire people and is a real change from being desk-bound looking at a computer all day.”

Another venue with outside space suited to teambuilding activities is English Lakes Hotel’s Low Wood Bay Resort, which offers delegates the opportunity to use its watersports centre following a conference.

Activities include canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing and powerboating.

Delegates can take part in one of the watersports activities during breaks in a conference or a teambuilding component can be included into the event programme.

“Venues that have some sort of outdoor facility are attractive because of the extra possibilities they offer. Even though the conference room may be the lightest and airiest imaginable, on a fine day, delegates really value getting outdoors,” says Low Wood Bay GM, Nevil Jeffery.

Colton House in Staffordshire has 1.5 acres of space and offers outdoor activities for conferences, events and training days. Gary Lawrence, co-owner of Colton House, says the venue is becoming increasingly popular for businesses looking for an alternative to a traditional conference. A number of businesses have held events and conferences at Colton House, using the outdoor space for teambuilding activities, including clay pigeon shooting, birds of prey experiences, archery and treasure hunts. “The outdoor space allows for several activities to run concurrently for up to 100 delegates,” Lawrence adds.

Ascot Racecourse is situated in 179 acres of parkland and was used by cloud-based education supplier Skillsoft to host its annual half year meeting for 120 delegates in September 2012. “As part of our meeting we do some teambuilding as everyone from our UK and Mainland Europe offices come together. Being able to use a big open space allowed for a range of activities, including an inflatable assault course and a bungee run, and it didn’t confine people to one area,” says Marketing Coordinator, Alice Beale.

Investing outside

“Outdoor spaces certainly offer a significant appeal, particularly during the spring and summer months because inevitably, when the sun is shining, people want to be outside,” says Head of Marketing at hospitality and events provider Keith Prowse, Ted Walker. “We continue to invest in outdoor spaces and are introducing a new Corinthian Roof Terrace to the Kia Oval cricket ground ready for the cricket season.”

The Royal Highland Centre (RHC) in Edinburgh, which has 110-acres of outdoor space for 60,000 people, started a fresh series of improvements last year as part of a three-year investment programme worth £4.2m. Infrastructure, including drainage, roads and parking, are all being upgraded.

RHC Director Archie Glendinning says the venue managed to retain all business last year despite bad weather conditions, but wants to ensure this year’s outdoor season is as successful. “We are proud that none of our customer’s events became casualties of the summer’s weather. We are not complacent though, and feel that additional investment in infrastructure will give us and our clients confidence that we can deliver, whatever the weather.”

Telford International Centre has added 10-acres of outdoor space, which is connected to its exhibition halls. The open plan area is part of the 170-acre Telford Town Park and has been assigned for use for events at the venue. Southwater Event Group says the Mobility Roadshow will be the first customer to use the space for its 30th anniversary in June this year.

Getting some fresh air every day has long been considered as beneficial to our health, so why not free your meetings spirit and choose a venue with outside space for your next event?

This was first published in the April edition. Any comments? E-mail conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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