One of my early assignments for CN was to write a report on Telford & Shropshire. I found then a beautiful part of England with many plans for development, but a region still a way short of realising the dream of major investment in the business tourism infrastructure.
What the area did have was a dynamic conference bureau and an entrepreneurial family running the International Centre. I have since understood how rare it is for a convention centre to be in private hands and the challenges that brings.
Convention Bureau Meet Telford & Shropshire is now driving a five-year strategy that is transforming the destination into one of the UK’s leading Convention Quarters. Part of Telford and Wrekin Council, the bureau now represents 50 venues and services.
The area welcomes 5,000 events and one million business visitors per year and its venues can host anything from small executive meetings for 20 delegates right through to major events for 4,000 people.
The bureau runs a specialist Event Bid Unit for Association clients and is the place to start your venue search.
The £250m Heart of Telford Southwater Development is now rising at the core of the new Convention Quarter.
The project, when finished, can only boost the pipeline of major events that this year includes Plastics Design & Moulding, Plastics Recycling Expo 2014, and the European Archery Festival 2014. The bureau is targeting £150m-plus in business tourism earnings per annum for the area in the coming years.
The main phase of the Heart of Telford Southwater project is on schedule for completion in Spring 2014 and The Southwater Event Group, owner of International Centre, Telford (TIC), has invested £10m in improving and expanding the centre. Event space has been expanded by over 30 per cent, making it one of the largest convention centres in the UK.
Sarah Bird, Business Tourism Manager for Meet Telford & Shropshire, is certain the investment is paying off. “The development works at the Heart of Telford, Southwater have helped further whet the appetites of prestigious events for our destination,” she says.
Telford was originally put together as a sixties planned town. Today’s fresh investment, which includes a further £200m on top of the initial £250m, is designed to take the project up a gear or two to turn the destination into a UK event hot spot.
The old Shopping Centre is being reconstructed to bring it in line with the Southwater Development that will create a new Convention Quarter next to the existing International Centre.
Scheduled to run until 2019, this latest project is led by Sovereign Land and is expanding the leisure, culture and night-time economy. A master plan divides it into four distinct ‘zones’.
The Northern Quarter will be mixed-use with a diverse retail offer, while the Southern Quarter, which will include a significant retail element, will connect the centre with the new Heart of Telford Southwater Development. Central Square will be home to vibrant public spaces and a leisure hub incorporating shops, restaurants, bars, cafés and a cinema, with the final zone incorporating additional retail and leisure opportunities.
Kate Callis, Assistant Director at Telford & Wrekin Council, says: “These two multi-million pound development projects demonstrate the real strength of successful partnership work and we are helping shape a destination that will compete against the best in the UK .”
Sarah Bird (pictured overleaf) adds: “This further investment illustrates our commitment to excellence, ensuring that we can really stand out with a distinctive, high quality and competitive offer.”
Telford can boast a fairly central location and its access to the UK’s major motorway network puts it within three hours of 70 per cent of the population.
There has been a £1m investment in the revamp of Telford’s railway station with further plans to introduce a link road between the M54 and M6 Toll.
Getting the direct rail link between Shropshire and London to stick has been more of a challenge. That link is to be restored in May, following an agreement between Network Rail and Virgin Trains.
Southwater Group’s CEO, Tom Gray, tells CN: “We welcome this confirmation of direct train routes from London to Telford from May 2014. This will improve our national transport connectivity and will certainly appeal to clients considering the TIC in the future.”
Trains will travel between London’s Euston Station and Shrewsbury, with stops expected at Telford and Wellington.
Shrewsbury had been the only county town in England not to have a direct rail link to London. A previous attempt to link Telford to a direct London service foundered.
Park Inn by Radisson Telford
Situated just off the M54, the Park Inn by Radisson is within walking distance of Telford station. The group has invested £4m in redeveloping the property, a project that has seen all 153 guest rooms refurbished, as well as the enhancement of public areas. The Park Inn by Radisson has an experienced team at the helm and capacity to host both small and large scale events and functions for up to 475 delegates.
The International Centre, Telford (TIC)
The recently expanded TIC offers an all-inclusive package of in-house services from AV and full-scale conference production, to catering, group accommodation booking, and executive check-in. Brand-free and located in the centre of Telford, the venue is five minutes from major road and rail links and 10 minutes from Ironbridge Gorge World.
At the heart of the new Convention Quarter development, the venue boasts 15,000sqm of indoor event space with interconnecting event halls, purpose-built event suites and 17 syndicate and seminar rooms. There are two group hotels on site offering 253 bedrooms and extensive on site car parking.
Q Hotels Telford Golf and Spa Resort
The Telford Golf and Spa Resort is situated in Ironbridge Gorge. £10m has recently been spent refurbishing the entire 114-bedroom property. The hotel has eight conference rooms, the largest being the Coalport Suite which can seat up 350 delegates and subdivides into four smaller rooms, along with three dedicated conference suites.
Set in 170 acres of grounds, the hotel boasts an 18-hole Championship golf course. Dining options range from the 1779 restaurant to ‘The Gorge’ brasserie, and a range of bars, lounges and dining suites.
Blists Hill Victorian Town
Blists Hill Victorian Town is a recreated, working Victorian town, set over 52 acres and offers all sorts of possibilities for event organisers, with no minimum numbers.
Delegates can gain first-hand experience of life as it was 100 years ago, swapping money into pounds, shilling and pence at the town’s bank, exploring curious remedies in the Victorian Pharmacy, admiring products on sale in the Grocers and General Drapers, choosing a twist of old favourites in the sweetshop, or trying traditionally-cooked fish and chips or freshly-made bread. There was even someone paying to be taught how to be a blacksmith on the day I visited.
Victorian characters are on hand to give insights into life in Victorian times, and you’ll be able to take a look inside their cottages. A Victorian fairground on the site has proven popular with corporates and the site can hold up to 2,500 people at a time.
One of England’s finest country houses, the 17th century Weston Park is a good option for an exclusive meeting, conference or executive residential conference. Leaders who have stayed include Disraeli and heads of state attending the 1998 G8 summit for whom the venue offered a good degree of peace, security and luxury.
A complete restoration of the Orangery has seen its fully glazed roof restored and returned to the original splendour envisaged in 1865 by John MacVicar Anderson, a pupil of the great Victorian architect, William Burn. The grand vistas across the Capability Brown landscape remain.
RAF Museum Cosford
RAF Museum Cosford, home to one of the largest and most impressive collections of international aircraft, including the world’s oldest spitfire and a Lincoln Bomber, is another unique venue able to offer a dramatic backdrop to events ranging from meetings to formal dinners.
The purpose-built conference room in the National Cold War Exhibition on the site can accommodate 130 delegates, while the facility can be used for an evening reception for 800.
This was first published in the February issue of CN. Any comments? Email email@example.com