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The Cambridge Experience

A few weeks ago Laura took a trip to beautiful Cambridge for a couple of days of looking at the university buildings event spaces, feeling like you’re in Harry Potter and reliving your student days. Here’s what she got up to at The Cambridge Experience…

 

On Thursday I took the train to London and then back out to Cambridge. After the four hour journey, I arrived at the Robinson College, which might I add is the nicest student accommodation I’ve ever been in; much nicer than the shabby Rusholme student flat I lived in. Cambridge University is split into colleges where the students live and study. This is something that took me a while to get my head around as it is such a unique university experience compared to all other universities in the UK. After being shown to my dorm for the night, I did a quick sprits of perfume and a speedy lipstick reapplication before making my way down into the college building for drinks and to meet the lovely Conference Cambridge team.

 

The Robinson College has just opened its new £5million conference and event space. We were lucky enough to have the chance to look around the amazing top of the range event spaces it has to offer. The Crausaz Wordsworth Building has a bright and functional foyer area that is joined onto the kitchens that can be shut off or opened up making this space perfect for drinks receptions and networking. The Plenary room is the largest space in the building and can hold 72 delegates in a cabaret style. This space overlooks an outdoor area that is perfect for outdoor breakout space in the summer months. Upstairs there are many syndicate rooms that all boast natural light and top end AV equipment. They can also seat up to 18 people cabaret.

 

After a look around all the fresh and impressive spaces Robinson College had to offer, we took a trip into Cambridge for a drink in a quintessentially British pub, I mean it would be rude not to take a look at the Cambridge nightlife. How else can we sell the city to our clients if we can’t give an all round view of everything the city has to offer?

 

The next day we started with breakfast and show around of the Møller Centre. The Møller Centre is a dedicated residential management and training centre with a lot to offer to potential clients. The venue has 23 meeting and event spaces the largest seating up to 140 delegates. My personal favourite area of The Møller Centre was the indoor but still outdoor garden that can be used by anybody visiting the venue.

 

Next up was a look around the Churchill College – another one of the colleges that students live at during term time. The Churchill College’s largest space can hold 420 people and the college can sleep 400. In terms of style, this college felt and looked a lot more traditional than the Robinson College, which was a lot more modern.

 

Now for the part I had been most looking forward to and dreading at the same time (balance isn’t my thing and I had visions of me falling out): punting down the River Cam. After a relaxing punt ride in the sun (and no falling into the river thankfully) we had a quick tour of the Kings College Chapel before heading for a delicious lunch in The Kings College itself. As the trip drew to a close we had a walking tour of Cambridge and a look around the Gonville & Caius College.

 

Cambridge is a beautiful city with some incredible buildings making it a great conference and event city. The city is small and compact and every corner you turn there is another beautiful building to greet you. Also, you feel like you are in Harry Potter, so what more do you need?

 

If you’re interested in any of the venues above or want to find out more on how we can help, get in touch!

You can email myself or the rest of the team at theteam@top-venues.co.uk or give us a ring on 0844 8709963.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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A New Experience In London

New girl to the Top Venues team, Laura Maguire, tells us about her first real trip into London doing site visits:

Vine Tree Hotels & Venues promotes a collection of luxury, high quality venues in the UK and Europe so last week Top Venues took a trip to London to go and see four of these venues to help update our own venue knowledge and establish new working relationships to help our clients.

Merchant Taylors’ Hall

Firstly, this venue is stunning!

Located on Threadneedle Street and not far from Bank Tube Station, this venue is very easily accessible. The Merchant Taylors’ Hall has 9 spaces available for events. The largest space is the Great Hall that can hold up to 380 delegates. Looking down onto the Great Hall is The Kings Gallery that can hold up to 30 theatre style. Story has it that this room was made for a king who didn’t like to eat in front of people because he had a rather long tongue which caused him spit a bit when he ate. So he had this room made so he could still look into the Great Hall but eat alone. Across from The Kings Gallery is The Drawing Room, these two rooms can be easily used together. There is a stunning courtyard in the centre of the building allowing an easy flow around the venue. There is onsite catering and a head chef who is happy to cater in any style. The kitchen here is actually the oldest working kitchen in London. The venue treats every event enquiry on its own and creates a bespoke price package that fits in your requirements.


The Landmark London Hotel

Next up we took a taxi to The Landmark Hotel, which is by far the fanciest place I have ever been so far.

The Landmark has 11 event rooms, the largest holding up to 512 delegates theatre style. The Landmark Suites are perfect for small meetings but unfortunately they don’t have natural lighting, which could be a draw back. The hotel has around 300 bedrooms that can also be used for small meetings. It has 4 restaurants and bars for guests to dine at or relax with a drink or two. The Landmark is easily accessible as it is located opposite Marylebone rail and underground station. Although this is a beautiful 5* hotel personally I wouldn’t pick it for a stay as it’s not my style but for an event it is perfect.

 

Lord’s Cricket Ground

Lord’s Cricket Ground has a mix of very traditional event spaces and modern space. The Pavilion is very traditional and has a strict dress code of suit trousers and jacket, which is not negotiable. Across the pitch from the Pavilion you find the Media Suite that can seat 75 delegates. This space is very modern and would be perfect for events where there is a trainer teaching the delegates. Lord’s also has various spaces that can be used for conferences and meetings. However, there will be some disruption to when events can take place over the coming year due to the rebuild of The Warner Stand. The venue also has a museum on site, which is home to the world famous ashes. It’s an odd feeling when you are at Lord’s because you are in the middle of London and yet feel like you aren’t in a city at all.

 

The Arch

The Arch, my personal favourite of the 4 venues.

This venue is 7 townhouses converted into one hotel, which gives the hotel some lovely quirks. For example, there are hidden staircases to nowhere and if you look down the corridor through the houses, it’s not straight because of when it used to be separate houses and all the rooms are different shapes and sizes. Another reason I fell in love with The Arch, besides it’s beautiful rooms, suites and bar/ restaurant area is the hotel is opposite Madonna’s house. This sent me into a bit of Madonna frenzy that resulted in me taking multiple photos of her house (I can assure you I’m not a stalker!). The hotel has a few beautiful areas for events, including the quirky and luxurious Martini Library. This space can hold 14 in a boardroom for meetings or is perfect for welcome drinks and/ or a sit down meal. Everything about The Arch has been carefully thought about by the owner. He has taken all the things he dislikes from his experiences of staying at hotels around the world and done something so that his hotel doesn’t have that. For instance, apparently he hates the little cartons of milk you get in most hotels as part of the tea/coffee offering in the rooms and instead has a small bottle of fresh milk in the mini fridge for guests to use.

 

Whilst only being in London for only a day I can certainly say it’s been a great experience and opened my eyes to venues I wasn’t aware of and can use moving forward for our clients. Being able to view them first hand makes it much easier to understand what the venues can offer in real terms and realistically explain to our clients details on why they work for their events if they fit the bill.

If you’re interested in any of the venues above or want to find out more on how we can help, get in touch! You can email myself or the rest of the team at theteam@top-venues.co.uk or give us a ring on 0844 8709963. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Blogspot: Making an Event ‘Exceptional’

Ok people, here it is, our next blogspot. You may think we’ve already covered Making an Exceptional Event. However, this time we’re looking at it from a different angle…and looking at making an Event Exceptional! Happy reading….

Guest Blogger: Jilly Jones

Exceptional events happen because of the people involved. Right from the initial enquiry, it is vital to establish the event objective and to ensure that the venue can deliver and is the right ‘fit’. To be ‘mis sold’ to at this stage by an over eager events manager that may mistakenly believe that their venue and staff can supply what they want will end in disaster. For example hosting a corporate conference with a serious business element in a ‘family friendly’ leisure environment during school holidays may well have an adverse effect on the success of the conference.
Tools such as ‘Trip Advisor’ and ‘VenueVerdict’ help event organiser to properly research the venue and identify any particular strengths or weaknesses which may be addressed. Investigate any awards that the venue may hold, to identify the strengths of the venue and how this in turn may benefit the event. Awards such as Gold Standard in the Green business tourism scheme will contribute to assessing the carbon footprint of your event. Likewise venues holding awards for customer service will leave your delegates delighted.

 

From this stage on it’s up to the events manager and the client working together to ensure the success of any project. The planning is an integral part of the process. Objectives must be clear and understood by all of the parties involved.

A degree of marketing strategy in the planning process ensures that the audience (whether that be your internal or external customer) is considered fully and will be communicated to in the way in which is convenient. For example, to send out hard copy invitations and information to any delegates that may be field-based will end in catastrophe! Effective communication must exist not only prior to your event, but also during and post event to continually evaluate the event objective. ‘Goody bags’ remain a very popular part of the event: your delegates leave with a ‘momento’ and this can be a great way of ensuring that further branded material and follow up information is distributed.

Creativite and innovative ideas that will engage your audience and keep them talking about the event long after they return to the office benefit the longevity of any event. Keep things simple by inviting external professionals who can deliver those special touches such as facilitation and entertainment. This adds value and rewards delegates who have committed the time and energy to attend.

About the Author

Jilly Jones is Business Development Manager for Farncombe Conference Centre and Dormy House

on the Farncombe Estate and in her words ‘One of the most beautiful estates in the Cotswolds.’

 

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New unique venue to open in London!

Exploring London Underground’s ‘ghost’ stations have been very limited to just a few small tours each year. However, this is about to change as The Old London Underground Company’s founder Ajit Chambers has been given permission to open up a number of the  abandoned stations as tourist attractions and venues.

The first project being undertaken is at Down Street station, 80 years after it was closed to passengers. During the Second World War, the station was used as an underground bunker for Winston Churchill and his war cabinet. The plan is to bring back that moment in the stations history in an interactive exhibit open to all.

Another station Ajit is looking to reopen is Brompton Road, who already has plans approved to transform the station from an antique Underground to a thriving tourist attraction, including a climbing wall and a rooftop restaurant.

Not only are these two stations being bought back to live, Ajit has proposed he open a further 26, so keep your eyes peeled for these unusual new venues!

London Underground Abandonded Stations

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A Dickensian Christmas Market

(Event management experience and words from a Top Venues Intern)

Dressing for the part!

As part of the International Events Management course that I am currently on each student is tasked with attending a week long placement working on a real life event, helping out from the preparation stages to the management of the event whilst it’s on. I was assigned the Dickensian Christmas Festival held at Lightwater Valley in Ripon North Yorkshire which is a Victorian themed four day event that offers a huge range of high quality contemporary and traditional merchandise. Originally I was apprehensive as one of the first things I learnt about the event was that everybody involved dresses up in traditional Victorian Clothes and stays in character whilst the event is on. On top of this the event is aimed at elderly cliental and I wondered whether this would put me outside of my comfort zone.

Upon arrival at the event venue, Lightwater Valley Amusement Park, the events manager gave us a brief description and history of the company and the event we would be working on. The event has been running for 7 years and has grown in size each year; it now has over 100 stalls exhibiting over the four day period with thousands of people visiting during that time. As well as high quality services and merchandise the festival also offers entertainment with carol singers, a school choir, bell ringers and a magician all featuring. The event has a real Christmas feel to it with the whole thing being Dickensian themed, the decorations and the opportunity to meet Santa and his Reindeer. The Dickensian theme extends to the exhibitors and the people working on the event such as myself, during the course of the event I wore a fetching traditional Victoria outfit consisting of a waistcoat, neckerchief, jacket and top hat.

The first couple of days spent at the event were focused on the exhibitors and it was my job to ensure they all arrived and got set up in their area as smoothly as possible. Having spoken to the event manager I learnt that a huge amount of planning had already gone into the event for something as basic as the layout, the whereabouts of each exhibitor had been meticulously planned for a number of reasons. The first was the type of stall; they had to ensure that stands selling similar things were not placed near to each other. The second was the exhibitor’s requirements as each exhibitor had different needs, some required electricity and so had to be placed round the outside of the halls or marquees to ensure this could be accommodated. Some required additional tables so they could correctly display all their products.

Before a single attendee had walked through the doors I had already experienced numerous problems which gave me a real taster of what it’s like to be hands on at an event. The first was a dispute between two exhibitors over boundaries; each exhibitor is given a certain space which they must stay within and a gentlemen selling shortbread believed that the lady next to him was taking up part of his space. Having consulted the regulations and the master plan for the event I was able to reach an agreement that both exhibitors were happy with and the conflict was settled. The next problem came from a gentleman in the corner of one of the marquees who wasn’t happy with the space he had been given, in a large exhibitor event such as this there are sometimes people who don’t turn up or have to cancel, in this case I was able to swap the man to a table which had been cancelled leaving him pleased with the new space he had been given.

Once the event had begun I was assigned the task of ensuring the entertainment went smoothly, something I was very happy about as it is something I can see myself doing in the future. I greeted the entertainment as they arrived, relayed the information to them regarding where and what time they would be performing and ensured they had everything they needed. Again I was faced with the kind of problems that arise frequently during events involving live performances; some of the acts were running late and so with the help of the event manager we shuffled round some of the other performances to ensure that there was no area left quiet for too long.

Whilst there I was involved in all aspects of the planning and management of the festival from the setting up of the stalls to organising the entertainment during the event and I left with a real sense of satisfaction that I was taking some invaluable experience away with me. Working on this event has given me a great insight into how events work from an operational point of view and the problems that are faced by event planners during the course of a live event, the best thing I will take away from the past week is that events truly are unpredictable and it’s the way you react to the things that occur that define you as an event manager.

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Center Parcs – Something a little bit different!

I decided it was about time I made the trip to Nottingham’s Center Parcs (the largest of the venues in the group) to see what all the fuss was about in relation to using the venue for events.

I’d been to the ‘village’ over ten years ago, purely on a leisure basis and I have to say, while I loved the place for leisure, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would work for business events.

In my head I had the picture of a large event space and facility that, by day, was a resting place for those families that wanted to get away from all of the activities on site, and by night, would turn into an event space similar to that of the cabaret acts you’d find at those well-known leisure seaside resorts we all know about.

How wrong was I!

I got to the ‘village’ (which is what the staff lovingly call the resort) early afternoon to be greeted by fake snow on the way in, lots of fairly lights in the trees and Santa’s reindeer on the roofs of the buildings dotted around the place. It reminded me of Christmas. In fact, it basically is set for Christmas which is fair enough considering we’re close enough to December.

My site inspection consisted of walking around all of the facilities, which actually didn’t take as long as I imagined it would, past real reindeer and Santa’s grotto through the ‘square’ (a street with all the food outlets) through the indoor leisure spaces including ten pin bowling, indoor badminton courts (that can double up as exhibition space or a large space for corporate dinners or awards ceremonies). I was then taken through ‘The Venue’ which is the private event space that is totally separate to any of the leisure space and consists of one extremely large floor space that can br subdivided into smaller rooms.

Center Parcs - Santa's Reindeer!

With its own bar and foyer area and located in an area that the general public don’t tend to frequent, this space is perfect for keeping the business, business and moving into the leisure side as and when you need or want to.

It’s location in the middle of woodland with its man-made lake (which looks as natural as any normal lake), beach and plenty of options for both food and activities provides the perfect option for a venue with a difference!

With easy access to the M1 motorway and fab new rates of £39.00 for a day delegate meeting rate (from Jan 2013) or from £79.00 to include 2 activities, it makes meetings more affordable and interesting.

Accommodation can be provided in the lodge facilities onsite, a little bit higher in price but then, you get a lot more for your money than staying in a standard (if there ever is such a thing) hotel.

So all in all, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the venue options and choices that you have for mixing a bit of business with pleasure. Consider it for your next meeting, if you’re travelling, as all of the sites have meeting facilities onsite and with a new location opening in 2013 near to Woburn Safari Park, it will provide options up and down the country.

(plus it’s well worth the visit, even if you only want to sample the spa facilities – something I’ll certainly be returning for!)

Happy Christmas from Centre Parcs! (and me)

 

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A Conversation About Venue Finding Agents

Whilst sat having a break at a venue expo show recently I overheard a couple of ladies having a conversation about whether it’s better to source venues themselves or use a venue finder.

There are lots of opinions about whether venue finders are good for your business or not. I suppose it very much depends on the venue finders’ business ethics and what their main aim is. There are some agents that are only in business for the money. Those agents don’t care about the end result for the client and their event, they only care about the final amount of their commission or charge. These agents, in some ways, make it harder for the smaller or more caring agent and in other ways make it easier. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Getting back to the two ladies. Part of their discussion was that it was nice for them to see what’s on offer in person (relating to the venue Expo) rather than use a third party, as their colleague had done. Another thing they mentioned was that having the opportunity to see the venues themselves they could see what the actual rates were.  At this point I very nearly interjected their conversation to say that the agent obviously hadn’t done their job properly if they hadn’t shown them what the rates would be normally or explained to them in details about what an agent’s role to the client is.

For those of you who are unsure (and in my opinion), a venue finding agents’ job is to get an understanding of what the client’s requirements are, search and source options that fit their requirements, negotiate rates for the client and then present them so the client has an understanding of what there is on offer that best suits their event and the best rates available to them. In my eyes, if an agent hasn’t looked at and summed up the best options for their client then they’re not doing their job right.

For me, sourcing the right solution for the client is not totally money orientated. It’s based on the satisfaction of knowing that I have found the best solution for my client based on their budget and requirements. It’s also about getting to know my clients in such a way that I can easily source venues for them for all of their events and build up a relationship where they trust me and I understand them. The money is a part of it, yes, as it’s how we earn a living but it isn’t the most important factor.

I get a buzz knowing that I’ve done the best for my client and that their experience, not just of my service but of the venues, is beyond their expectations.

So, coming back to those agents that don’t care about the end result, and why this makes my job easier in some ways. Basically, they prove to me the reason why I do a good job and I have clients that have used me time and time again. A personal service! That’s what it’s all about. Getting an understanding of what my clients’ needs are and making sure those needs are catered for. Something that a lot of the bigger fish don’t and can’t do.

As for those ladies. I think that really they were just happy about the fact that they had managed a day out of the office (something us agents can help with when sorting out site visits to venues). It’s great when you can see lots of venues under one roof and certainly saves time but I don’t think they fully appreciate the time and effort that goes into venue finding and the fact that knowledge and good relationships with the suppliers are the key elements to the find. I’m happy to leave those ladies to do their own search if they want to and will continue to work with those clients that really do appreciate my help. However, should those ladies ever get in contact, I’d also be happy to help them too!

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Confec Green 2011

Having been to numerous forums where suppliers (i.e. venues and companies who supply to the industry) and buyers (i.e. those who buy into the venues etc) meet together to create new contacts. I was pleasantly surprised with the format for this forum.

For once, I was sat at the table and suppliers had to move to come and see me rather than the other way round.

It was a relatively small group of both suppliers and buyers but that meant you were able to get to know more of the attendees and people mixed equally rather than gathering into little groups as is often the case with these events.

The attendees spent around a day and half at the 5 star Andaz Hotel in London, situated right next to Liverpool St Station.

After what seemed to be a relatively short day we were whisked away to the newly opened 5 star Corinthia London Hotel. What a fantastic hotel! Having made the quick show-round before dinner I was extremely impressed with the quality of everything from the entrance hallway to the suites and the two different restaurants the hotel offered.

The Corinthia London Hotel has every right to make its claim on being the flagship of the group. It should also make claim to being one of the best five star hotels in London at the moment.

The Andaz Hotel is another lovely five star hotel but has a completely different feel and style to it. A mix of old and new, traditional and modern, it really is a bit of everything. With the different buildings that have been collaborated over the years I’m not sure if it’s a little bit like a maze, although after a while you do get your bearings.

One of its’ little secret’s (although not for too much longer) is the Masonic Temple that was discovered after years of being hidden. A wonderful space for small events that really want to show off.

Both the Corinthia Hotel and Andaz Hotel have their own quirky features and would certainly cater for many different events for any kind of client.

Back to Confec Green, I certainly found the event to be useful with some really valuable contacts and would definitely consider attending the next event.

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St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – The New Kid on the Block

I was recently in London around the Kings Cross area meeting with a venue that can offer Conference and meeting spaces.

Whilst there I remembered that I was extremely close to the brand new 5 star hotel – the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

The ‘all singing all dancing’ hotel has had a lot of press and is the newest addition to the Marriott Family of Hotels here in the UK.

Known to some of those not in the events and conference industry as having ‘the stairs’ that Spice Girls filmed their ‘Wannabe’ song.

The hotel is now a five star luxury hotel with direct access to St Pancras train station and have a number of conference and meeting rooms available onsite.

Unfortunately, I was unable to meet with anyone to show me the rooms but I had a sneaky peak around the hotel myself anyway.

On my arrival outside of the hotel I was greeted by doormen with bowler hats on – looking rather nice! Normally I would feel a little intimidated by such greetings but the doormen welcomed me into the hotel with warm smiles and hellos.

The lobby area of the hotel is a fantastic, light and airy space covered by a glass ceiling that links both sides of the hotel together. One side with the bedrooms and conference spaces, the other with the restaurant leading onto St Pancras Train Station.

With a modern touch the hotel still retains its character and charm and feels very comfortable to be around.

Despite not being able to see the conference rooms I had a sneaky peak down the corridor they were based and was pleasantly surprised to come across ‘The Stairs’. It actually felt almost like they shouldn’t be there as they look like they should open up into a large and grand hallway. Instead, they just split the corridor to the conference rooms up a little. Still impressive even if they were a little hidden.

With 9 meeting rooms and up to 7 breakout rooms, the hotel can accommodate up to 550 for an event. It also has been filled with tall ceiling heights, plenty of original features and a mix of modern and traditional decoration, this hotel feels every bit like the lap of luxury it claims to be. Certainly not for everyone with the prices, this venue is perfect if you want to impress your clients and one place I’ll certainly be putting forward in the future!

Watch the video to find out more…

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