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Fun in the sun: taking your event outdoors

With the ‘Beast from the East’ banished from whence it came, delegates will be longingly looking out their windows just hoping that their next conference or meeting will take place in a plush meadow, among the birds. So why venture outdoors? 

Liz Taylor, MD, Taylor Lynn Corporation says outdoor events open up a whole new set of options. She says: “It enables you to be especially innovative with your event content as you are not as constrained by the design of your venue, and have the luxury of large spaces to be creative with. Meeting outdoors seems to re-energise people. The natural daylight and sense of spring arriving gives delegates an extra boost of productivity.

“My belief is that you are either outside or inside for your event. There are no half measures, so incorporate the odd downpour into your plans from the beginning. You have to embrace the nature of the British outdoors. With the weather being the main issue, I plan for the worst with fun ideas. At a recent ‘festival’ themed event we used branded cagoules as place markers at the tables. Company branded wellies and umbrellas are a given. And branded thermos cups with a carb-loaded snack was a popular addition to a cold winter’s day.

“My advice with marquee events is choose the best quality with high performance flooring. Ensure paths are clear of ice or snow and gritted. Heat is important. Adapt the menu to suit a chilly day outside. Casual dining works particularly well with fish and chip vans serving Britain’s favourite food. Gourmet pizza ovens, Asian-inspired dishes or simply quality pie and mash served in branded trays are ideal.”

What fail-safes are in place?

Howard Lewis, general manager, De Vere Wokefield Estate

Rain is a fact of life and is something we are very used to catering for. We always have an experienced team on hand who work with event bookers to ensure a suitable wet weather option is available. We have 45 modern, flexible and tech savvy indoor meetings rooms, as well as facilities in our new Restaurant & Bar to cater to indoor pizza and cocktail making classes, so creative teambuilding activities can continue to take place whatever the weather.

Liz Young, head of events, Historic Royal Palaces

We always make sure that any event taking place in our outdoor spaces has a wet weather plan to cover all eventualities and ensure the event can still take place. When hosting clients outdoors at Hampton Court Palace, for example, we can arrange for The Great Hall to be our back-up space, making sure everything can be transported indoors if the weather changes. We ensure we have flexible lighting and staging schemes in place that will work in both spaces, and we maintain close communication with our suppliers and contractors on where to deliver equipment should the weather take a turn for the worst.

What should event bookers consider?

Robert Wetherell, head of venue hire and catering, Natural History Museum

In addition to the usual factors such as attendee numbers, budget, catering styles and production elements to consider, event bookers should look to venues that surprise guests and speak to their senses. The Natural History Museum offers gallery tours, private exhibition viewings and exclusive talks delivered by the in-house scientists on a choice of over 30 topics, helping adults engage with world-renowned collections.   

What event types work well outdoors, what type doesn’t work so well?

Liz Pilling, corporate events commercial manager, Center Parcs

We are passionate about getting delegates outside in the fresh air as we are so aware that during the working week it can be difficult to factor in time spent in the natural environment due to workloads, family responsibilities and so forth. Not only will they reap the benefits of time spent in our forest environment engaging in a fun activity – reducing stress and boosting self-esteem to name just two, but it also encourages team bonding and promotes team morale. 

Breakout sessions and pre/post dinner receptions are also a great way for delegates to enjoy the warmer weather during the spring and summer months, as well as taking advantage of the beach, lake and natural environment we have on offer. 

Tanya Clark, events office manager, Ashdown Park Hotel

Our country house property lends itself very well to country pursuits such as clay pigeon shooting, archery and falconry. Quad biking also works very well as it’s challenging, fun and showcases the property.

Taking the teambuilding view

While venues are the ones with the space to use, the majority of events that take place outdoors make use of a teambuilding activity. There are a great number of strong suppliers in this area. 

How can weather affect a teambuilding activity; what fail-safes are in place?

Lizzy Dring, director, Right Angle Events, says: “We aim to build in wet weather contingencies with the majority of our events, whether that be giant marquee pop ups, to flexing the event to come inside. For example we have an indoor crystal challenge as well as an outdoor one. One of the beauties of our Crime Experiences is that they are completely weatherproof and inclusive. 

“On glorious days we have crime scenes outside, surveillance activities and covert challenges. On the other side, if the heavens open we can flex the event to come inside. There are a few events that are harder to bring indoors, such as laser clay pigeon shooting (although we did that in thick snow last year!). What we tend to do if the activities must be outside is to provide shelter (with heating if required) and ponchos to keep guests a little dryer. 

“We often find the weather doesn’t affect the enjoyment, as long as there is a warm cup of tea or something stronger at the end! We always suggest bringing suitable clothing for rain, snow or strong sunshine.” 

On changing trends, Off Limits Events director Martin Stephens tells CN: “We’re seeing an increase in enquiries from clients requesting outdoor teambuilding events even during the colder months. We even delivered our popular It’s a Knockout event in February to 150 delegates and even with freezing temperatures the client had an absolute blast. Taking your event to the great outdoors provides a completely fresh energy and a renewed boost for delegates.”

Ben Parkinson, co-owner at Blue Hat Teambuilding outlines what he expects from venues to be able to effectively deliver a successful teambuilding event. He says: “It’s quite simple really. Good access to the main space and a proactive operations team ready to do whatever it takes to make the event work. Sometimes access to an additional room to prepare equipment if we can’t get into the main room until a few minutes before the event is to begin. And co-operation from the operational teams where we might need them to remove furniture from a room so we can set up in limited time whilst delegates are out the room on a coffee break or lunch hour.”

What does Parkinson say event bookers should consider? He adds: “Most bookers book the venue first and then think about the content of the event. We’d say it’s much smarter to do it the other way around. Too often we’re asked to shoe-horn an activity into a tight space. It’s much better to decide what you want to do first and then find the space that best fits. There are over 25,000 venues in the UK, so there’s always somewhere appropriate if you know where to look, even if it’s fairly last minute. The simpler the event is to physically run on the day for the organising teams, the better it will run in terms of delegate experience.”

Off Limits

Octopus Group approached teambuilding gurus Off Limits to book a fun, summer themed event that blended with their creative, innovative brand values. The Wild West themed event at Marlow’s Farm in Buckinghamshire was the perfect backdrop to the hedonistic and timeless event. The vast, outdoor space enabled the agency to incorporate activities such as cattle herding, rifle shooting, blindfold tepee building, lassoing, quick draw and bucking broncho. The outdoor environment was more than just a summer festival for employees, the space was colourful, stimulating and blended with the themed tepees and hay bale props. The Group commented: “Off Limits Events hosted our Wild West team building activities for our annual summer festival, Rockostock. They did a splendid job and the spacious, outdoor venue made our event exciting.”