By James Bennett, chair, Conference Oxford
A quick look through the news and gallery pages of the redeveloped CN website shows an array of different industries showcasing themselves in spectacular conference venues. These purpose built arenas are naturally very appealing for conference organisers; with ample space, parking, and the latest reliable technology all in one place – but could it be argued that what is gained in efficiency is lost in character?
One problem with these gleaming conference venues is that they all seem the same; the same as the venue down the road, the same as where the last conference was held. I believe that choosing a venue with history, prestige, and most of all character can elevate a conference from the mundane to the memorable.
The University of Oxford and its colleges offer everything that a conference organiser desires – including this all important character. What better conversation starter is there than the fact the conference dinner is being held in Christ Church’s (or even Hogwarts’) Great Hall? Which delegate’s bedroom may once have been the domain of Margaret Thatcher, legendary athlete Roger Bannister, or even Hugh Grant?
This is not to mention the value of being in a venue that is still being used as a seat of learning and at the cutting edge of expertise in any number of fields. For the growing number of scientific industries based in the UK the value of showcasing themselves in laboratories that are not just state of the art but shared with academics making breakthroughs is huge.
Aside from the prestige offered by hosting a conference in Oxford, the space can also be tailored to fit any event. The trouble with the one-size-fits-all venue is that this size does not always fit that well. In Oxford the number of colleges and venue spaces available means that any number of delegates can be comfortably accommodated – without any wasted space that is paid for but not utilised.
One argument against a multi-venue location such as Oxford for large conferences is the extra level of difficulty involved in dealing with many different venues. However, this issue has been resolved by Conference Oxford’s new bespoke offering – which coordinates the different venues involved in a conference to make it easier for all.
As Dr Sally Evans, chief medical officer of the Civil Aviation Authority, who has been instrumental in the organisation of the International Congress of Aviation and Space Medicine (ICASM) taking place in Oxford in September said: “The service offered by Conference Oxford was invaluable in making sense of the college system and in directing the Congress organisers to those colleges capable of providing accommodation for a large number of attendees.”
Conferencing is often about the new – sharing new insight and initiating new networks. This drive to the new should not involve ignoring venues with history and heritage however – and organisers would be well served to put ‘character’ high on their list of conference requirements.