Research recently carried out by the Hotel Booking Agents Association revealed an increase in the number of unique venues being used for meetings and events, with a 16 per cent growth in membership of these venues between 2007 and 2013.
Lime Venue Portfolio (LVP), a collection of unique and sporting venues, has also seen an increase in demand for these spaces. “We’ve noted considerable demand from companies looking to hold events in unusual venues such as castles and stately homes,” says Jo Austin, Head of Sales at LVP. “A venue with something a little quirky and different from the usual hotel, which can be a little predictable, is a big draw to delegates and creates excitement around the event before they’ve even arrived. Most castles and stately homes have been built with grandeur in mind and giving delegates the opportunity to dine in the same room as royalty is a great incentive to encourage attendance.”
Castles and stately homes are taking full advantage of this apparent increase in demand and investing in their conference and events offering.
“Owners of historic venues have spotted the gap in the market and seized the opportunity, with the really savvy ones overcoming the obvious challenges of accessibility, IT and AV facilities and becoming strong contenders in the marketplace,” says Jacquie Rogers, Director of Jacquie Rogers Ltd consultancy.
The Lensbury in Middlesex, which was constructed in the early 30s, has invested £1.2m in its main function room, the Thames View Suite. When completed, it will have capacity for 260 guests banquet-style making it the largest residential special event resort in the Richmond area. Set in a 25-acre riverside estate, The Lensbury also offers a permanent fixed marquee for up to 250 guests.
“Unusual venues are becoming more popular for events as they can be held up as an incentive to staff and present an opportunity for delegates to visit a place they might not normally have access to,” says Director of Marketing and Sales, Maugie Lyons.
Conference venue and country house hotel Stoke Rochford Hall in Lincolnshire has unveiled new facilities and accommodation as part of a £1.75m ongoing investment programme. A £250,000 restaurant refurbishment has been completed and a new Victorian Kitchen Garden is soon to be unveiled. This summer will see the venue’s 19th century stone-built gate house transformed into cottage-style accommodation.
“Venues such as our Victorian mansion are becoming more popular as some companies have cut back the volume of external meetings and when they do book a venue they are looking for something extra, something a bit special,” says Head of Sales and Marketing, Melanie Edgar.
Chicheley Hall, a Grade I Iisted manor house is home to the Royal Society in Newport Pagnell and offers nine meeting rooms and 80-acres of grounds for teambuilding. The Royal Society has invested £12m renovating the venue.
Situated seven miles from Liverpool’s city centre, Knowsley Hall is available for exclusive hire and can host events in its State Dining Room where portraits of 18 generations of Earls and Countesses of Derby are displayed. Other event spaces include the Stucco Ballroom with capacity for 144 delegates theatre-style. The venue is set in a 2,500-acre private estate.
Rogers chose Knowsley Hall for a major industry event, and says: “When hosting the International Association of Congress Centres’ international conference where on earth would impress probably the most challenging of people who have seen it and done it all, CEOs and venue directors from the top international destinations? The answer is a stately home; Knowsley Hall with afternoon tea, croquet on the lawn and the owner, Lord Derby, joining us – well, it is his home. It was a totally British experience.”
Charley Bennett, Sales and Marketing Manager, says conference and events business at Knowsley Hall is healthy following a slow turnover in the last two years where price was often considered more important than quality or luxury.
“Meetings were being held in-house, there was a need for locations close to city centres, which ruled out a lot of remote but unique venues, and the premiums such venues often needed to command became unachievable to many corporates who were being tasked first and foremost with keeping costs down. With increased confidence recently we are seeing corporates again turning to us for events,” she says.
Knowlsey Hall plays host to the Marina Dalglish Charity Ball each year, which is held in a large marquee attached to the Hall. “Guests are delighted by the theatre of arriving at a stately home and walking along a red carpet and up our grand steps,” says Bennett.
Most famous for being the childhood home of Ann Boleyn with King Henry VIII a frequent visitor in the 16th century, Hever Castle has two venues for corporate hospitality and events. The Astor Wing offers three interconnecting rooms and can accommodate 64 delegates. There are also 18 bedrooms available to hire. The Guthrie Pavilion provides a base for teambuilding days and corporate hospitality and can accommodate 200.
Leading Hotels of the World chose Hever Castle to host its showcase event in July 2012, using the castle’s Inner Hall for smaller exhibition stands. Housing association L&Q Group used the castle to host teambuilding activities in September 2012. Delegates took part in archery, quad biking and treasure hunts on the lake, before a BBQ on the terraces of The Guthrie Pavilion.
Walton Hall in Warwickshire dates back to the 1530s and offers nine meeting rooms for board meetings and training sessions, as well as a Courtyard Suite for 200 delegates theatre-style. In the same grounds, the adjacent Walton Hotel is a purpose-built training venue, which offers a further 12 meeting rooms for up to 70 delegates.
Walton Hall became notorious in the late 1800s when it became the centre of a divorce case which led to the appearance of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in the dock in a court of law in 1870 to swear he was not having improper relations with the lady of the house, Lady Mourdant.
Scotland has a long history of built heritage and offers an array of castles and stately homes, according to Neil Brownlee, Head of VisitScotland’s Business Tourism Unit. “A grand stately home or imposing castle most certainly stand out and these venues attract and captivate the corporate market. They offer seclusion and privacy that many venues cannot compete with and are uniquely individual,” he adds.
Gosford House in East Lothian, Scotland opened for events in May 2010 for the first time in its 200-year history and can hold up to 120 delegates, while Ackergill Tower set in the Scottish Highlands in Wick recently launched Sinclair Palace, a new function and events space that offers banqueting and reception space for up to 200 guests. Over in Aberdeen, Haddo House can host up to 160 delegates, with the option of a marquee in the grounds which can accommodate 250.
Venues such as castles and stately homes can offer delegates a more relaxed environment to work and network in, as well as acres of space for teambuilding activities. Rogers does, however, warn about one challenge: delegates with an eye on the heirlooms. “The more historical venues can offer some expensive temptation. I remember seeing someone pick up one of the expensive pieces of silver at the Royal Pavilion and the poor curatorial staff almost having a seizure,” she says.
This was first published in the May edition. Any comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org