Old venues, new tricks: a look at heritage venues

While suitable space and location are likely to be top of any event booker’s checklist when venue hunting, they’re not the only things to consider. Some people want to sprinkle a pinch of history over their event. There is no shortage of heritage venues across the UK, so what’s out there, and do they comply with modern meeting requirements?

Amelia Hopgood, operations manager at FreemanXP EMEA, has worked on projects at several heritage venues.

“Overall heritage listed venues can make a great choice when it comes to hosting an event – depending on what the client is trying to achieve; the character of older venues can help to bring the event concept to life,” she says.

Are old buildings suitable for modern events; is electricity up to standard and do they have adequate disabled access? Hopgood says most do meet modern regulations, adding “older venues have undergone some sort of restoration over time and now operate as dedicated event spaces, so we’ve found that they meet all regulations relating to things like electricity, disabled access and health and safety.”

FreemanXP says a heritage venue adds a sensory dimension to the overall experience. They’ve often got a lot of character.

So what is the expert’s tip? What venues does Hopgood rate? “Take Old Billingsgate, which once housed a fish market. It includes features such as vaulted ceilings and arched white beams. The juxtaposition of old and new works well.

“There’s also the 125-year old Olympia London – the iconic circular structure located in its Olympia National and Olympia Grand spaces has a modern feel about it and acts as a great backdrop for events, and then there are options like Pillar Hall where its ornate fittings and Corinthian pillars are ideal for those seeking an option that references the venue’s heritage.

“Outside of London, World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace is perfect for outdoor events – our Freeman colleagues worked on the BBC’s Countryfile Live launch show last summer – highlighting that the venue is very much on the industry’s radar irrespective of its age,” she adds.

Cutlers’ Hall is a Grade II* listed heritage venue situated in the heart of Sheffield city centre and was first built in 1624. The present hall, the third, a Grade II* listed building, was built on the same piece of land in 1832 and is regarded as one of the finest livery halls in the north of England. The venue hosts a wide variety of events, from in-house prestigious events such as the Cutlers’ Feast to association conferences, corporate events and exhibitions to name a few.

Jointly with nearby Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and film location for Pride & Prejudice, the venues hosted a high profile Physics Conference together in 2016. Dr Nicole Larson, who attended the conference, described Chatsworth as ‘breathtaking’. She commented: “I especially loved the mini tour of the displays at Cutlers Hall. The very large ornate pocket knife is quite possibly the coolest thing I have ever seen.”

Michelle Clarke, senior events manager at Marriott Breadsall Priory Hotel and Country Club in Derby, says heritage venues make great meeting spaces.

“As a former priory to the Austin Canons, built in the 13th century, Breadsall Priory has an incredibly rich and interesting history and offers a lot of character, which meeting organisers see as a wow-factor.

“Most typical meeting spaces have the same look and feel. We have priory rooms that date back to 1260, so our guests find it quite interesting that they can have a piece of history right in front of them.

“There’s also an essence of grandeur owing to the traditional castle-like look. We recently hosted a corporate party, which had a Game of Thrones theme. The organiser chose Breadsall specifically to encapsulate the setting.

“Outdoor areas tend to attract weddings and teambuilding events, and inside we have character function spaces that are well-suited for internal conferences and meetings.”

Liz Young, head of events at Historic Royal Palaces, says that their motto is ‘tradition with a twist’. She says: “One thing we are working hard to communicate is the sheer versatility of the palaces. Across the six sites – Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland – we are able to cater for so many different types of events from gala dinners, award ceremonies, indoor and outdoor receptions, conferences, fashion shows, product launches, and even teambuilding activities.

“Each palace offers a different atmosphere, and has strengths in different areas. “Young highlights that there are inevitable restrictions. She says: “Clients are understanding when it comes to restrictions on things such as the use of glitter and naked flames. In choosing a heritage venue, clients are already aware that there may be certain restrictions in order to protect the palaces, and it is our job to work with them and our suppliers to successfully meet their demands and objectives within our conservation guidelines.”

Compliance with modern standards, however, is no issue. Young adds: “The majority of our event spaces offer disabled access – either by being on the ground floor or via access to lift facilities. Some of our venues feature cobbles, which can be problematic for guests with mobility concerns. In this instance our teams will help by planning alternative access routes.”

Scotland is renowned for its historic castles. A good example of this is 15th Century Borthwick Castle, winner of the Hotel Interior Design Award at the Northern Design Awards in 2016, following its extensive renovation project.

The 600-year-old castle, located near Edinburgh, is capable of hosting a range of events from intimate board summits to large scale conferences and parties. There are three large reception rooms located on different floors of the castle which can accommodate up to 85 people for a gala dinner in historic surroundings while offering every modern comfort.

For larger events, Stirling Castle has a number of accessible event spaces suitable for banquets, receptions, seminars and meetings. The Great Hall, built in the 16th Century, is Scotland’s largest medieval banqueting hall with a reception capacity of 400.

Lucy McCaul marketing and communications manager for business events for VisitScotland says, “Scotland has a number of stunning historic venues ranging from medieval castles to former Royal yachts, all offering meeting and event planners even more choice alongside modern venues.”

Liverpool’s maritime history comes alive at Titanic Hotel and Rum Warehouse Liverpool, combining echoes of a bygone era with contemporary luxury. On a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is located in the Grade II listed North Warehouse of the 19th century Stanley Dock, which once stored rum and tobacco imported from around the globe.

The buildings have been restored to take full advantage of the original warehouse dimensions, brick and ironwork and beautiful dock views.

Versatile events facilities in The Rum Warehouse cater for everything from corporate conferences, product launches, sporting events and awards dinners, to weddings and intimate lunch meetings.

Titanic Hotel and Rum Warehouse is already Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards Hotel of the Year and has plans to expand on its success this autumn by transforming an adjoining part of the mammoth warehouse into a unique event space, The West Bay.

It is comforting to know that if you are looking to utilise a UK heritage venue for your meeting, that you can rely on modern comforts.

Martin Fullard


Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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