Paul Colston reports from the heart of the Midlands on how Coventry & Warwickshire are re-imagining their manufacturing and meetings heritage
Coventry is a city that has reinvented itself many times, reflecting changing industrial trends: from ribbons and watch-making, through more recent motor and bike manufacturing. Its central position and venue assets, both ancient and modern, have witnessed a renaissance, and one of the strong planks of this new-look for Coventry and its surrounding leafy county is the events sector.
The concrete jungle of brutalist architecture in Coventry, circa 1970, was, like the city’s Olympic swimming pool, modern for its day. Now the shopping precincts have been repointed and bright new student apartment blocks touch the skies.
While the Cathedral and the black and white Elizabethan houses stand testimony to past times, Coventry’s current leaders have their eyes firmly on the future, on festivals and on winning the 2021 City of Culture bid.
There have been bold new investments in research facilities, including The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) established in 2010. The centre provides a template for a new paradigm of meeting place where research comes together with commerce. Events are important to this new synthesis and organisers will like MTC, which has rapidly expanded to cover not only R&D but also training, advanced manufacturing management and factory design.
The high-tech vibe can add good value to those looking to tap into the manufacturing research ethos. Event spaces can cater for from 4 to 400 delegates. All rooms have large flat panelled HD displays and can be paired by HDMI, USB or VGA cables.
Another example of the old and the new cohabiting side by side is the Motor Museum in Coventry, which marks its 25th anniversary in 2018. While the exhibits – including many old Jaguars and locally made motorbikes – may be museum pieces, the veue’s new events spaces again knit the local industrial heritage with modern demands for meetings and events.Delegates have a fascinating backdrop for any drinks reception.
The Ricoh Arena had a management shake up this summer as its owner, Wasps Rugby Club, fully digests the stadium side of the business.
Where once Coventry Football Club used to provide a significant income stream, events are now the big deal at the Ricoh, with A Listers of the international concert world making regular stops.
Conferencing and exhibitions, backed by modern halls, a hotel and even a casino, have turned the site into a resort and Ricoh’s latest investment in a partnership with CityFibre has boosted its internet capacity and speed and connected the venue to Coventry’s Gigabit City fibre network. A 10 gigabit per second internet connection is now capable of streaming video content to tens of thousands of people simultaneously. A 10-year partnership with technology company Ericsson has laid the infrastructural foundations for the ultra-fast connection via its Small Cell as a Service technology.
Nick Eastwood, CEO at the Ricoh Arena and Wasps, said: “This connection will make the Ricoh Arena one of best connected events venues in the UK.”
Showcase Cinema de Lux
A silver screen symbol of Coventry’s smarter venue infrastructure is the Showcase Cinema de Lux (pictured left), which opened in Walsgrave this June. A full refurbishment and rebrand has brought new quality sound and comfort options to event organisers as well as cinema-goers.
The XPlus screen stretches 16m wide and 7m high and there is a new-look lobby and Lounge Bar and hundreds of free parking spaces, make the venue worth considering for receptions and presentations.
Over at Coventry University Technology Park there is a choice of 30 multi-functional meeting spaces within five buildings able to accommodate from two to 2,000 delegates, and at competitive rates. The events team can plug in clients to the local academic world for speakers and expertise and the facility is close to Coventry station.
In the shire
Away from the industrial and digital revolutions, the Warwickshire countryside provides many meetings oases ideal for boardroom blue sky thinking and overnight conferences.
Ragley Hall celebrates its 60th anniversary and recently hosted the Battle Proms for their 8th annual concert, while Ettingham Park is another country retreat ideal for weddings and smaller meetings designed for intimate discussion.
Coombe Abbey Hotel expands the country home offer even further, with fine dining and medieval banquet options as weekly regulars, as well as separate events spaces and a huge marquee area popular for conferences, weddings and other large events. Its Courthouse can offer a separate event centre within the hotel, which also offers smaller meeting rooms.
And, if you want to go the Full castle Monty, then nearby Warwick Castle has historical rooms for event hire, as well as options around the extensive grounds and open spaces.
Organisers may have to joust for a space in the calendar, due to its public commitments, but around these hours there are options.
If your conference or event is on a larger scale still, then Stoneleigh Park’s National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre, which sits on 800 acres of events space, and specialises in large exhibitions, could be the venue for you.
It has been steadily modernising its vast halls and more old buildings are due to make way for further renovations and state-of-the art meetings spaces.
As our supplement illustrates this month, academic venues are fast becoming some of the most innovative options for meeting planners, with considerable investment taking place at these venues across the country.
One of the largest of these is Warwick Conferences, situated on the University of Warwick campus, it has long been at the vanguarg of innovation and with a new venue baby (The Slate) and a smart rebrand, the organisation continues to make good on its philosophy of ‘anything is possible’ slogan.
A £750,000 renovation to flagship venue Scarman to create a number of ‘unique’ feature rooms as an alternative option to the traditional meeting room environment is further evidence of Warwick Conferneces moving forward as the whole campus grows exponentially.
Head of conference centres Richard Harrison says: “Delegates can now experience first-hand the spirit and vivacity of our brand through spaces such as ‘The Kitchen’, which inspires creativity over relaxed activities such as lunch and coffee, with rooms featuring both a meeting room and home-from-home kitchen.
“Additional alternative layouts that facilitate learning and collaboration include lounge-style layouts, chalkboard walls, and fun breakout spaces with activities such as table tennis. These unconventional spaces are the first of their kind in the academic venue market, and are designed to encourage creativity and break down boundaries by offering a more informal delegate experience.”
Renovation is also soon to be rolled out at Radcliffe and will, says Harrison, be tailored to experiences which reflect the aspirations of 21st century clientele. “The traditional meeting room concept comprising four walls, a flipchart and some food, is a thing of the past as clients look for more experiential learning.
“Academic venues are often perceived to be a ‘budget’ option, yet new visitors are always amazed at what we have on offer when they visit us for the first time, hence our 73% retention rate.”
The modern meetings milieu being created on the Warwick campus is likely to lead to more corporate business, to add the bread and butter association conferences that already make use of the facility, but it also stands as a symbol of Coventry’s new stake on events as the city changes its culture.
Who: Furniture Re-Use Network
What: Adapting Through Change (annual conference)
When: May 2017
Where: QHotels Chesford Grange, Kenilworth
Grange Attendee numbers: 160
The Furniture Re-Use Network required a venue to hold a two-day annual conference, with exhibition space, a gala dinner and overnight accommodation. The network also wanted a venue with the option for attendees to use the spa and health club facilities. The aim of the event was to share knowledge and expertise.
Speakers from organisations such as John Lewis, DHL Enviro Solutions and IKEA helped cover topics including politics and economics, philosophy, public communications and campaigns. Issues including volunteering, retailing and operational best practice were also the focus of discussions.
The event format included a mixture of plenary sessions, panel discussions and interactive networking ‘converstations’, using the Prospero Suite and Director’s Suite at the hotel. Breaks were taken in the new Conference Café, overlooking the landscaped gardens and included an invitation to visit exhibitors and network.
Lesley Prescott, head of operations at Furniture Re-Use Network, said: “We hold an annual event to enable our members and stakeholders to power ahead with our common goal of supporting society through re-use. The face-to-face networking that takes place at events is essential as it gives members and experts a chance to exchange information and to build relationships.”
Furniture Re-Use Network measured the effectiveness of the event via a member survey. “This year 95% of respondents stated they would attend the conference in the future, with 64% selecting ‘very satisfied’ when asked about the venue,” Prescott noted.
“The effectiveness of our annual conference is also measured through repeat bookings and new member sign-up, with external attendees being able to attend on day one. In terms of how content influences our measurements, we introduce new awards each year to reflect new goals established at the conference,” she added.
Prescott said the hotel offered all the facilities needed under one roof. “We required a space that included a self-contained conference space, exhibition space, overnight accommodation, a health club and spa facilities.
“We needed a central location with good transport links. The venue itself had the latest technology and Wi-Fi capabilities, which was important to us, along with the ample parking for our attendees arriving by car.”