Organising history

Emily King gives some insight into some of the UK’s most historic venues.

Historic venues may be few and far between in today’s modern-building environment but they certainly are not a thing of the past when it comes to organisers’ client demand.

Each historic venue, be it a palace, museum, manor house or hotel, will offer an element of exclusivity and a uniqueness that is not always possible from the modern venues we’ve become accustomed to for conferences and meetings.

Trinity House, Hull, recently asked its clients why they prefer to stage events in historic venues as opposed to a contemporary space. From this they have produced the following list: Photogenic architecture, generically themed spaces, experiential events, and atmospheric buildings.

Not only do historical venues have an air of splendour and extravagance but they are also often draped in ornate and regal furniture, ceiling art, and vintage chandeliers. Their décor and architecture is something to be rivalled.

For the journey

Lisa Roberts-Jones, head of agency VenueHub, believes you should “take your delegates on a journey,” and historic venues give delegates, the opportunity to take a journey to embrace the history of the building and have an uncommon experience.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, is one venue that oozes history and rich décor and can provide a unique conference experience. Retaining much of King George IV’s original 1820s decorative style of red dragon wallpaper and palm tree pillars, the red drawing room can seat up to 40 delegates for a reception and meeting.

Meanwhile Banqueting House, London, is another conference venue boasting grandeur and magnificence. As a part of the Historical Royal Palaces charity portfolio, the venue’s main hall has the capacity for up to 380 delegates and provides an impressive ‘Westminster’ backdrop to any conference.

And history need not come at a price as Rockingham Castle can also host delegates in its Walker’s House or The Great Hall for £45pp.

Historic venues, such as museums, can be the perfect fit for certain specific ‘on topic’ events.

“Not quite a blank canvas, historic venues add tangible value to the organiser, by utilising the environment that is there and enhancing key elements,” comments Mark Rose, strategic client director at Zibrant Live!

The National Railway Museum, York, is currently hosting an exhibition focusing on the celebrity of arguably the world’s most famous locomotive – The Flying Scotsman. The event spaces at the museum feature six meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 140 delegates.

Likewise, the National History Museum in London is a venue steeped in learning and exquisite relics that can not only provide a dramatic backdrop, but be themed to suit certain events completely.

Built as what Lucy Meehan, senior events manager at the National History Museum, calls a “cathedral to nature”. The venue is certainly not short of talking points for delegates and diners in its midst.

The HMS Victory, part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, is another venue (ship) with a world-famous history that for the right clientele can be a show stopper. It mainly hosts drinks receptions and dinners and can holds up to 100 delegates at a time.

High tech in-house equipment is probably one of the last things that comes to mind when we think of historic venues.

However, Edgar King, events manager at Trinity House, reports that for technology, historic venues need not be restricted. “Historic interiors can be enhanced with the use of modern technology when used in harmony with the surroundings, but in many modern venues there is often only the technology to recommend.

“Use of subtle sound, lighting and Wi-Fi throughout is a given in this day and age, and in an historic venue these elements are usually incorporated to support client requirements as well as enhance the ambience.”

Access all areas?

Access to the venue is key for organisers to think about, as restricted access may be something that deters organisers from choosing a historic venue.

Gilbert White & The Oates Collection, East Hampshire, built as a stately home in the 18th century, has been adapted to include disability access to the venue, although it can be difficult to get to the outdoor space in bad weather. 

Joanna Harris, project manager at CWT Meetings and Events says there were challenges transporting delegates to the Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe. “The coaches had to park and also collect them on Southwark Bridge, which is not the best walk if the weather is bad.”

King agrees that issues such as access “become less important than the sense of occasion and inspiration that the heritage venue provides”.

The HMS Victory  presents another challenge for access, sitting as she does on an operating naval base and all delegates have to have security clearance for the event.

Rose adds: “there are many elements that need to be considered when booking a specialist venue, and the one main factor that Zibrant looks at initially are the access times.

“Many historic venues are open to the public and don’t close until 5pm, and when you have delegates expecting to come in at 7pm, this leves precious little time to create a ‘wow’ environment.”

As many historic venues are home to museum artefacts and ornaments, another concern is that the venue and its contents remains undamaged during events and meetings. Therefore, make sure insurance is on your radar.

Albeit there are restrictions, historic venues have the potential to transform a conference from bland to wow.

“Organisers use historic venues for several key factors, one mainly being the power of the venue itself to draw people to wanting to partake in an event being held in a special environment,” concludes Rose.

So make your special historic venue work for you and your event and work with the heritage grain to write a new piece of event history in your conference book.

Emily King

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Emily King

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