Independent school of thought

CN looks at a new initiative and the potential for unlocking independent schools meeting space.

With the university venue market growing steadily and well represented at the industry meetings market, not least through the Venuemasters marketing consortium, there is another untapped ‘education’ market waiting to be realised in the independent school sector.

The UK’s independent schools have long been popular with international students, not least during the holidays when summer schools often takeover some of the prime school real estate for lessons, meetings and activities.

What is a unique grouping of exceptional venues is often excellent value for money but remains largely untapped, due a lack of a central events marketing body able to promote this offer.

The figures are encouraging: The UK has 1,200 independent schools and they boast some of the best venue facilities the country has to offer.  With booking agencies and buyers (both corporate and association) on the look out for fresh opportunities, it could be a perfect storm as many independent schools now look beyond the world of educational fees for their income. In the current economic climate and the lowest fee income since 1994, the sector increasingly is eyeing up other potential income streams in order to maintain some of the finest assets in the country, from sports fields, to grand reception rooms and increasingly modern and well-equipped bedrooms.

Provided the holiday/term time conundrum can be worked around, independent schools could be seen as an events venue elephant in the meeting room. These schools, many of them literally best in class, offer world class facilities alongside accommodation.

Aside from Summer schools, the most enterprising of the independent schools are already dipping their toes in the waters of residential lets, weddings and ceremonies at times when the students aren’t around.

More statistics: Independent schools in the UK offer 600 swimming pools, 800 sports fields and 500 sports centres, alongside 600 concert halls.

These are all assets that too often lie under-utilised and even dormant for a thirdof the year.

Could universities like Warwick (with its Warwick Conferences brand) and Loughborough (with imago), which have enjoyed success letting their facilities for conferencing, provide a ready-made blueprint for the UK’s independent schools to unlocking their commercial potential?

One organisation with a strong track record in the sector, School Trunk, clearly thinks so and is launching  a subsidiary, Beautiful Schools, which will host an online search and matching service, showcasing schools’ assets to the MICE industry for the first time in a single managed portal.

Says Dorothy McLaren, founder of Beautiful Schools: “We realised that the schools’ sector presented a huge untapped resource for the meetings market and have developed a new online search and matching service. This portal will showcase the schools, which offer some of the best facilities the country has to offer and we look forward to exposing their potential to the MICE industry over the coming months.”

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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