BDC at 30

Dominic Jones, CEO at Islington’s Business Design Centre, looks back on a big slice of events industry history at the iconic North London venue as it marks its 30th anniversary

Over the past 30 years the area of Angel in Islington has changed beyond recognition. The main catalyst for change 30 years ago, stimulating the future prosperity of the area, was the opening of the Business Design Centre in October 1986. For the first time since the old ‘Aggie’ (former Royal Agricultural Hall) closed its doors in 1939, the Angel became a destination, attracting people from far and wide and generating business for local bars, restaurants and shops.

I am extremely proud of how the BDC has contributed to the positive changes to the local area through the events we have held, millions of visitors attracted to the venue and also our work with the council and Business Improvement District. I am also proud of how the venue has developed, the events we have seen take place and succeed and the organisers and staff who have been part of the BDC journey.

Looking back over 30 years, the variety of events is astonishing, there have been many highlights, and of course a few lows. The BDCs first two bookings were the National Graphics Exhibition and Apple World which took place at the end of 1986 successfully. In January 1987 the BDC took the opportunity to present itself to the exhibition and conference world by hosting Confex.

Tim Etchells was one of the BDCs first big clients. After setting up his own company Single Market Events in 1988, he made his first booking, The Television Show, at the BDC in 1989. Tim saw that the BDC was a great venue for launching events and the relationship continues to this day; we have seen launches of his property, wine and other trade and consumer exhibitions over the years.

In the beginning the BDC wasn’t attracting as many exhibitions or people into the building as the owners had hoped so they decided to organise their own events. One of these events, the brain-child of Andrew Morris (one of the owners of the venue), was Designer Sunday. This ran for the first time in March 1987 and was a fantastic success, running for many years and attracting thousands of people to the venue.

Top Office followed, another BDC-sponsored event, followed by an architectural lighting show, and then in 1989 the Contemporary Art Fair. This became The London Art Fair which went from strength to strength and is now firmly established as one of the key events in London’s cultural calendar. New Designers was another event launched by the BDC that continues to this day. Through these events the BDC started to catch the eye of organisers; the regeneration of Angel had begun and the success story began to gather pace.

The momentum continued, BDC Events was formed, which went on to launch some hugely successful events in the BDC including Country Living Spring and Christmas and The Cycle Show. More and more organisers began to book the venue.

While the BDC in the first half of its life was mainly seen as an exhibition space over the last 15 years the conference side of the business has established itself in its own right. The space independently holds its own as one of London’s primary conference venues benefitting not only from continuous investment in infrastructure and technology but also of course the massive regeneration of Kings Cross which lies on our doorstep.

The conference team has successfully developed this side of the business beyond recognition. In this period turnover for conferencing has increased by over 200% with huge credit going to the now BDC executive director of venue sales, Max Bull, who has been running the department over this time.

Conference business at the BDC has never been busier and we’ve had some wonderful success stories among our recent clients. Terrapinn, who run six events with us over the year, have just transitioned their Aviation Festival to take over the full venue for three days in September and several of our technology led events have done the same.

It’s been an interesting year so far with some of our longstanding clients securing their conference dates for up to three years in advance. I think this is indicative of the conference climate at the moment, the space in London is limited and organisers are still keen to ensure the best rates and subsequent long-term success and growth for their events.

With some of the most creative clients in our calendar we are privileged to see some really innovative uses of the space here. Creating engaging face to face experiences is still high on the agenda and together with our on site partners, I think this is really being achieved. Conferencing clients include Terrapinn, Droidcon, Incisive Media, Devoxx and Haymarket.

In 1997 Dominic Jones was appointed sales director and in 1999 he became chief executive of the BDC aged 31.

Opened in 1986 with National Graphics Design Exhibition list of some of the events that have taken place over the past 30 years include:

New designers
CBI Conference
Czech House (London 2012)
Exhibition News Awards
Comic con
Country living
Mclaren dinner
Alternative miss world 1989
Kirov ballet

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.


Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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