If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of a city destination, and encourage some blue sky thinking in your delegates, heading to the East of England is an alternative to consider.
Based around the ancient kingdom of East Anglia, the area in its loosest definition is made up of six counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Bedfordshire to form the ‘hump’ on England’s eastern side. Directly to the north of London, the region has preserved much of its unspoilt character, rural landscape, architecture and traditions.
As an event destination, the region offers generally good travel times from London, unique venues, value for money, and a taste of the English countryside and plenty of opportunity for combining an event with outdoor teambuilding activities.
Conference Cambridge, the venue finding service for meetings and events, says its academic venues are a popular choice for national and international association conferences, corporate dining and day meetings, while in the summer they are busy with residential summer schools.
“We like to think that the variety of unique and unusual venues in Cambridge makes it a great place to hold an event, and meeting where the minds are, in one of the most successful centres of knowledge, is a huge draw,” says Manager of Conference Cambridge, Kelly Vickers.
Cambridge’s academic venues can offer a range of added extras to organisers, from help with finding an expert speaker from the University to private tours of ancient libraries, wine cellars and historic rooms.
The venue consortium’s strategic thinking ranges from the macro to the micro, according to Vickers, who says: “On the first hand, we’ve been implementing our Keep it in Cambridge Campaign, encouraging local organisers to use the venues on their doorstep; on the second, we recognise, and play to, the strengths of the ‘Cambridge’ brand internationally”.
Robinson College is the youngest of the University’s colleges and offers a purpose-built auditorium, which, following £70,000 worth of investment, now enables simultaneous presentations across two lecture theatres. The college also offers accommodation for organisers looking to maximise return on investment from training and budgets.
Teambuilding on offer at Robinson College is delivered in partnership with Off Limits Corporate Events. Team+ provides a range of ice-breakers and teambuilding exercises that can be tailored to business objectives, including raft building, rocket launching and human sheep herding.
“There are many benefits to holding a conference in the East of England,” says Nick Milne, Conference Manager. “Cambridge, in particular, is a popular destination due to its close proximity to London, as well as being accessible to other UK destinations. In a short time, delegates can escape the hustle and bustle of the capital and enjoy the picturesque tranquillity of the historic university town.
“For organisers, costs are lower in Cambridge compared to London, meaning bookers will get more value for money and a greater return on investment. We are already noticing organisers gravitate to Cambridge, as we continue to receive repeat bookings from customers based outside of East Anglia, who see the advantages of holding an event in this location,” he adds.
Over in Essex, Carol Jolly, Membership and Business Tourism and Group Travel Manager at Visit Essex, says the bureau’s aim is to raise awareness of Essex and its close proximity to London. “Businesses in London are being encouraged to experience our venues set in rolling countryside or along our coastline, while enjoying a short travelling time.”
Essex offers a range of venues for events of up to 4,000 delegates, including the Ceme Conference Centre, Radisson Blu Stansted Airport and new venue the Grand Pavilion at Hylands House, which can seat 300 delegates theatre-style.
Gilwell Park, set in 108 acres, is said to be able to offer a ‘rural feel while still being easily accessible from both London and the East of England’. The venue can host up to 250 guests for events, has 35 en-suite bedrooms and 30 teambuilding activities, such as zip wire, climbing and archery.
Gilwell Development Workshops offer half a day of classroom-based learning with specialist trainers and half a day on two chosen activities; ideal for combining learning elements with teambuilding during an event.
Another venue able to offer outdoor teambuilding activities to make the most of the rural East of England setting is Down Hall Country House Hotel. “Combined conference and teambuilding events are very popular,” says Director of Sales and Marketing, Anna Snoep. “Our partnership with teambuilding suppliers provide organisations a range of options including quad biking, clay pigeon shooting and archery, which can be tailored to company business goals or objectives.”
Recently, Down Hall hosted an It’s a Knock Out teambuilding activity for a pharmaceutical company’s 120 delegates.
The venue’s four conference rooms are currently being upgraded and four breakout rooms are being created, consisting of two Executive Boardrooms for presenting and video-conferencing; a cafe; and a Creative Hub featuring whiteboards for brainstorming, a Wii Twister carpet and ice-breaker games.
Another venue flying the East of England events flag is the Peterborough Arena. The venue offers 250 acres of outdoor space, seven indoor halls, free parking for 22,000 cars and capacity for up to 100,000 delegates.
The Arena says it has a growing portfolio of public events, including a number that have moved to the venue in search of bigger facilities; one of these being the specialist farming and machinery LAMMA show, which attracted a record 40,000 visitors through the gates in January.
“Peterborough Arena was the new name given to this venue in March 2012,” says MD Keith Dalton. “The successful rebranding and fresh launch was designed to springboard us into the next decade and beyond, as we continue to attract returning users, including conference and public/trade show organisers to the venue.”
Peterborough Arena has played host to the British Motorcyclists Federation Show and BMF Tailend, and organiser Martin Chick says delivering a seamless experience for the visitor is the ultimate goal for any organiser, with the Arena able to deliver this on a number of levels. “The venue offers ease of access from all directions, ample free on site parking, clear signage and stewards and marshalls – and that is even before the visitor walks through the gates,” he says.
Chick emphasises the need for organisers to work alongside the venue on events, something he says the Arena does effectively. “No organiser can hope to produce the perfect event unless they are prepared to work with the venue and vice versa,” he says. “The venue must ensure the organisers are satisfied with the services provided and everyone involved should be working to the same end – delivering a programme, show or event that meets visitor expectations.”
The East of England also has a range of sporting venues for events, including Norwich City Football Club in Norfolk and Ipswich Town Football Club in Suffolk. As one of the largest venues in Norfolk, Norwich City FC can host up to 400 guests and offers 15 function rooms, which are managed by Delia’s Canary Catering. This year, the venue expects over 40,000 delegates to visit the stadium for a conference, dinner or event.
Over in Suffolk, Ipswich Town FC can host up to 350 delegates for a reception in its Sir Bobby Robson Suite or Legends Suite. Other event spaces include the Players Lounge for 50 guests and Premier Lounge for 55 guests.
If you want to escape the big city, heading East may be a solution.
This was first published in the April issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor