Conference angels of the North

When I was a boy my grandfather took me down to the quayside at Newcastle and it was full of interesting nooks and crannies for a six-year-old at play, but the jobs were disappearing, the rust emerging in the shipyards and regeneration was a way off.

Today the Quayside on both sides of the Tyne’s NewcastleGateshead conurbation is a thriving centre of gastropubs, venues, modern offices and development.

The Baltic Centre and The Sage are the two main venues on the Tyne, although aspirations to put a convention centre project back on the politicians’ and planners’ desks have not been extinguished entirely.

A steady rise in big events coming to The Sage has shown there is a clear appetite from organisers to come to the region. Hoteliers have broadened their footprint in the city, with a new Indigo near the Central Station and plans for a Crowne Plaza in the Stephenson Quarter moving into the build stage.

The hotel will stand at the gateway of a 10-acre regeneration site where £200m is being pumped in. When completed, hopefully in 2015, the 251-bed Crowne Plaza will boast the largest conference and banqueting space in central Newcastle, Michelle Percy, MD of the developer Stephenson Hotel, part of the Clouston Group, told CN. She says bookings have already been taken prior to the arrival of the Rugby World Cup to the city.

Geordie hospitality

“What I love most about NewcastleGateshead is the consistent feedback we get praising our warm welcome and distinctive Geordie hospitality from all visitors, whether they’re leisure tourists or conference delegates and business visitors alike,” says Paul Szomorou, Head of Business Tourism at the NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau.

“We’ve hosted major sporting events from Olympic Football to European Athletics and next year St James’ Park will stage Rugby World Cup matches, including New Zealand and South Africa; cementing our reputation among the very best places to hold major events. From a four-day conference for hundreds to month-long festival attracting thousands of visitors, it’s the overall destination experience that makes the difference.”
Szomorou says the bureau’s main strategy for proactively targeting events focuses on:

  • National and international associations (in subject areas where we have academic excellence through both Newcastle and Northumbria universities in particular)
  • Corporate and industry events in the three sectors aligned with NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s inward investment work. They are: Science & Healthcare (Life Sciences); Marine & offshore energy; and Creative & digital.
  • The bureau also actively targets trade associations and non-profit organisations.

NewcastleGateshead is emerging as one of the most vibrant creative clusters outside of London. The opportunities for conference business are particularly strong in software development, technical support, gaming and creative services. The sector accounts for almost 1,800 businesses, employing over 8,000 people.

The conurbation is one of only six UK Science Cities, and NewcastleGateshead has won a growing reputation for life sciences, healthcare and sustainability. Over 250 companies operate in the sector in the North East including GSK and Procter & Gamble, employing over 6,500 people. NewcastleGateshead is also a major centre for the renewable, offshore and subsea energy industries in the UK.


One iconic venue in the city is St James Park, home of Newcastle United FC, where event caterer Sodexo has introduced The VenueMenu app for smartphones allowing guests to pre-order food and drink 24 hours before a match up until half time.

“We are delighted that we are the first stadium in the UK to use VenueMenu,” said Chris Reed, Retail Catering Manager North Region at Sodexo Prestige.

Rivals Sunderland FC’s home, over on Wearside, The Stadium of Light, also offers event facilities while stadium caterers there, 1879 Events, also offer the National Glass Centre for organisers to consider.

While organisers wait for a convention centre and the Crowne Plaza to be built, those looking for large conferencing facilities can use Marriott’s Gosforth Park property near the racecourse, in addition to The Sage.

If it’s a touch of boutique independence, and some fine dining that your delegates need, then Jesmond Dene House is worth considering. Set in a leafy area of the city, 15 minutes from Newcastle International Airport, the Grade ll Listed mansion hotel situated in the wooded valley of Jesmond Dene holds a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013. It has 40 bedrooms and suites and an AA 4 red star rating, as well as three rosettes.

And, if your delegates prefer a rural retreat, Northumberland is on the NewcastleGateshead doorstep, offering country houses and mansion properties a plenty.

At Alnwick Castle, there is a treehouse for event hire, while Matfen Hall and Slaley Hall offer spas and championship golf courses as part of their rural exclusivity. The 600-year-old Lumley Castle, in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, is a 53-bedroom hotel, and dates back to the 14th century.

Doxford Hall, near Morpeth, can take up to 300 in its main conference rooms and has 40 bedrooms on site. There is even a maze to keep delegates on their toes. It is well located just off the A1 so transport links bring it into consideration for national meetings.

 Part of Doxford’s ownership group, is Eshott Hall, close to Alnmouth Train Station. Very secluded, it is an ideal hideaway for high level meetings. And, if you fancy a quick drive north, the group offers Ednam House in Kelso and Dalhousie Castle, near Edinburgh, the oldest inhabited Castle in Scotland.

Northumberland is one of the country’s undiscovered counties for conferencing. With a little imagination, you can organise events in the heart of great natural beauty at some wonderful properties with real character.

This was first published in the June issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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