CN editor Paul Colston reacquaints himself with the north east.
NewcastleGateshead, as anyone who attends our industry trade shows knows, boxes above its weight as a meetings destination, with the convention bureau getting its messages out loud, clear, and usually in yellow.
The biggest challenge is getting organisers to visit the area. I recently spent 24 hours in the city and witnessed how it is applying its science strength to win some big conference business.
Two big examples: the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference, the largest conference of its kind to be held in the UK, comes to NewcastleGateshead in 2018 with 900 delegates, the same year the British Sociological Association brings its conference to the banks of the Tyne.
Despite convention centre plans being knocked back by the council in recent years, the city is building meetings infrastructure at a rapid rate, including new hotels and a science park which is sure to draw big conferences, and further strengthen the vital commercial-academic link between the city’s universities and business tourism.
And, with the redevelopment of the Quayside and other areas of the city, the food, drink and entertainment offer is as varied as never before.
…Arriving at Central Station
Newcastle Central Station is accessible via Virgin Trains in under three hours from London and the new four-star Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter is a short walk away.
It offers 251 bedrooms and the main Stephenson Suite can host 400 delegates. Its acoustic panels were taken from the design of the Royal Albert Hall. A further eight meeting rooms have capacities from 12 to 160 delegates and the Hawthorne’s brasserie and Gin Bar are good hooks to keep delegates on site.
The railway theme is continued across the road, where The Boiler Shop, a Grade II* listed building from the 1820s, is being refitted for modern events and will offer a capacity of 800 when finished.
On to the International Centre for Life, which offers banqueting and a conference centre. Its award-winning Science Centre and the Times Square outdoor space add to the event package. The main suite accommodates 380 delegates and tours of the exhibits, a 4D motion ride and the Planetarium are further options.
My choice for dinner was the Hotel Du Vin, which offers a boutique meeting experience and rooms with views of the Tyne to die for. I enjoyed the monthly wine Masterclass, a regular fixture at the hotel.
There is no shortage of eateries and fine dining establishments down by the Quayside, where prices are reasonable and quality high.
Next morning and the first stop is Newcastle Science Central, a science, business, living and leisure hub rising near to the university and due for completion in 2017.
The urban innovation centre offers a glimpse of future collaborative working and its first research tenants are already working on solutions for tomorrow’s cities.
From seeing tomorrow, today, I made the pilgrimage to St James’ Park. Sadly this football-mad city’s heroes are languishing in the Championship, although the conference suites are definitely Premier League quality.
The ‘third cathedral’ has capacity for 1,000 delegates for dinner, and the Bamburgh Suite is one of the largest dining spaces in town. Other themed rooms celebrate some of the club’s greatest stars.
Next, along to the Metro Radio Arena run by SMG Europe, the biggest conference venue in the North East of England,with an auditorium that holds 10,000. A blank canvas dream, the arena is flexible for all sizes of exhibitions.
On to lunch at Six@BALTIC, where the bird’s eye view from the rooftop restaurant is one to savour. The centre’s galleries and rooms can also be used for events and there are outside spaces for summer parties.
It is a short walk over to the Sage Gateshead, the £70m Sir Norman Foster building.
This international centre for music is fully-equipped for conferencing, with two large auditoriums and smaller meeting rooms and ample dining options. Sage Gateshead is also ‘wired to the world’ for all kinds of broadcasting.
Still with time before the late afternoon train back to London, I looked in at the Discovery Museum, whose Turbinia Atrium is a fantastic space that can be used for receptions with a full length boat installed, while the Great Hall, is a majestic art deco space for up to 350.
I didn’t get to the Great North Museum: Hancock or the unique Beamish Museum, but both are well set up for events after hours.
Enriched culturally, culinarily and for conferencing , I travelled back south in the knowledge that the appliance of science is proving a rich new seam to mine in the former capital of coal.