Over the last 20 years, the variety of spaces available to the UK event buyer has become staggering. “Organisers can book anything from a cool, contemporary gallery to an elegant and ornate palace,” says Lisa Hatswell, GM of the Unique Venues of London marketing consortium.
“One of the most important assets available to bookers of unique venues is the value they can add to their event. This could be a post-conference tour around a world-famous art gallery or a board meeting dinner held high above the London skyline,” Hatswell adds, and she should know, given her organisation offers a choice of 86 such venues.
Will Broome, founder of venue-finder Londonlaunch.com, says, today, it’s not so much about taking delegates to a functional venue, rather the need to transport them to another world to free their minds and get them truly engaged.
“Outstanding events have to be nothing less than highly memorable experiences offering rather more than a standard venue, some soggy canapés and a couple of stilt walkers,” says Broome, who urges organisers to break with tradition and seize one of the many opportunities to do something completely different. “It’s all about delegate engagement and this can be achieved by an inspiring environment, interactive content, technology and a dash of unexpected enlightenment,” he adds and picks out three venues in the capital worth a look for that unusual event backdrop:
Covent Garden’s Ice Tank, a blank canvas photographic studio, with a glass frontage and whitewashed walls.
The Matcham Room Theatre in the Hippodrome Casino can cater for up to 200 delegates and has accommodated some of the world’s greatest rock stars from Prince to Dire Straits. Perfect for corporate presentations and demands an entertainment interlude.
The RI, Mayfair’s home of Science, provides a wonderful conference ‘rotunda’ as well as a fascinating array of traditional and modern spaces. A recent Crowdfinders event embraced the scientific theme (calling it ‘The Science of Crowdfunding’) and used the in-house scientists to produce live experiments to ‘blow’ the minds of unsuspecting delegates.
“Such is the choice of unique venues in London,” says Broome, “you no longer have to find a disused warehouse and start from scratch.”
Unusual goal at Stamford Bridge
One for the Blues: The Directors Lounge space at Stamford Bridge is now available for private hire at Chelsea Football Club’s stadium. A chance to hold an event and mingle with rare memorabilia and the trophy collection. VisitBritain kicked off its Events are GREAT Britain campaign in the space earlier this year.
Nottinghamshire-based teambuilding specialists Off Limits host many events at weird and wonderful venues nationwide, including an event at Osea Island Leisure Park for client HB Reavis UK Ltd. The venue is only accessible via the causeway in low tide between the hours of 1.20am and 5.20am, giving the team a four-hour window to transport its Totally Wiped Out event to the Island.
“Events at unusual venues can sometimes be trickier to accommodate, but are the most memorable for making an unforgettable impression,” says Off Limits director Martin Stephens.
New Place is a meeting room up in the trees within 32 acres of Hampshire woodlands (pictured above right). All the facilities of a historic Grade I listed manor house venue are also on hand, including 40 meeting rooms, 100 guestrooms, a cricket pitch and a 4×4 driving arena.
Bringing the Cornish beaches to Burton
The beaches of Cornwall and the atmosphere of the Premier League were brought to life at the FA HQ at St George’s Park in Staffordshire, for a four-day event created for brewer Molson Coors in September. Plans for the brewer’s Carling, Doom Bar, Coors Light and Staropramen brands were unveiled to 500 sales staff and key customers and the centre’s ballroom was transformed into a beach scene, complete with sand, umbrellas and beach bars to reflect the brewer’s Cornish favourite Doom Bar’s plans for next year.
The sports training facility was turned into a miniature football stadium, with bars serving Carling and seats for fans to hear more about plans for the brand’s rekindled relationship with the Premier League.
Alpesh Mistry, UK Customer marketing director at Molson Coors, said: “The size and versatility of St George’s Park meant we could deliver immersive and unique experiences. We also had the space to present our portfolio to our teams all in the same space, at the same time.”
Other examples of unusual venues to consider for creative would include London dance theatre Sadlers Wells, which has a 1,500-seat auditorium and Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Experience, named Unique Venue of the Year at the Scottish Event Awards. Its event spaces have experienced a 27% increase in revenue, with delegate numbers up 55% over the past year.