As a conference and events destination, the North East stands out for its connectivity, enviable natural beauty and the energy and welcoming nature of the people. Recent big infrastructure investments have also made the region’s offer to organisers even more attractive.
Two big events are coming to Tyneside, as NewcastleGateshead prepares to host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 and the World Transplant Games in 2019.
Delegates from London can travel direct from Kings Cross in just over three hours to Newcastle or fly from Heathrow in 70 minutes, while those travelling from over the Scottish border can do so in an hour.
While distance might remain an issue for some, the other side of the coin is that delegates can get away from it all and use the abundance of open spaces and rugged coastline for teambuilding activities. This is a message Kelsey Summerfield, director of sales at Slaley Hall in Hexham, is keen to push.
The hotel is so keen to take the hassle out of travel that it offers guests transportation to and from the airport, which is 25 minutes away.
Slaley Hall is set in 1,000 acres of Northumberland countryside and Summerfield points out: “We’ve been awarded No.1 Golf Resort in the North of England for the third consecutive year and our onsite adventure company is on-hand to create and deliver teambuilding activities, such as 4×4 off-road driving.” The rooms also recently benefitted from £1m of investment.
Summerfield is one of those who recognises industry recruitment in the region can be a challenge. “That is why,” she says, “we’ve invested over £130,000 into employee accommodation, allowing our staff and international hospitality students to live on the estate. The new accommodation, launched in mid-February, features 30 bedrooms and means our employees can also enjoy the surroundings of Slaley Hall and the leisure facilities on site as an additional incentive.”
In October 2016, NewcastleGateshead gave the region’s events sector a boost when it won a government competition to secure and deliver the Great Exhibition of the North in summer 2018. The £10m programme will celebrate innovation and creativity, through art, culture and design across the North and provides an opportunity for meeting planners to align their conferences with the exhibition.
The exhibition also opens up an opportunity to create a delegate social programme.
Next year large international associations coming to the city for their annual conferences include the European Thyroid Association. Delegates will be following the roots of Thyroxin, developed on the banks of the River Tyne. Shortly after that, 700 delegates will attend the British Educational Research Association at Northumbria University.
The Boiler Shop, nestled in one Newcastle’s most historical sites, is a refurbished industrial Grade II* listed warehouse, now a flexible event space. Constructed in the 1820s for the Robert Stephenson & Co. Locomotive Works, The Boiler Shop was the birthplace of the famous Rocket steam locomotive.
With capacity for up to 800 delegates the venue is full of engineering history.
Other major venues in the destination include Sage Gateshead, Metro Radio Area, St James’ Park and Newcastle Crowne Plaza – Stephenson Quarter and they all join NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau at International Confex at Olympia London, 1-2 March, to showcase the city’s full offering to conference and event organisers.
Five things to do after hours:
Combining food with fun, Lane7 is an exciting boutique bowling alley set in the heart of Newcastle. Offering an authentic American BBQ menu the venue also offers, karaoke, pool, ping pong and mini golf.
2) BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Cementing itself as one of the UK’s most prestigious galleries by hosting Turner Prize 2011 and attracting a record 150,000 visitors, BALTIC showcases contemporary art from across the globe with a changing programme of events. It also offers stunning views of the NewcastleGateshead cityscape from the level 4 viewing platform and level 5 viewing box.
3) Life Science Centre
Life Science Centre is a science village with meetings space. Science is explored through hands-on displays and demonstrations. It’s also home to a 4D motion-ride and planetarium, attracting internationally claimed events including Maker Faire UK and Animal Inside Out. In the winter, its outside space is transformed into an open-air ice-rink.
4) Newcastle United FC
As well as housing some of the best events spaces of any stadium in Europe, Newcastle United Football Club provides an experience even if it is not matchday. Samantha Doyle, area sales manager, Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, at St James’ Park reports conference revenue up 27% year on year and attributes it, in part, to “a noticeable increase in the number of conference agents choosing the North East as a destination”.
Doyle also reports a steady flow of bookings from public sector organisations such as the NHS and DWP.
St James’ Park’s Bamburgh Suite is the largest function room in the North East, seating 1,000. Another draw is free parking and a city centre location, even if the Gallowgate Club suite is named after the town gibbet, where felons would be hanged.
5) Catch a gig at Metroradio Arena or Sage
Enjoy a music gig at the region’s two biggest music venues. Sage Gateshead, sat on the River Tyne, is home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia and offers a wide range of music genres, while Metroradio has seen the likes of Take That and Adele all take to the stage.