Event central: meeting in the Midlands
We are all familiar with the North-South debate in England, but one crucial region that gets pulled between the two is the Midlands. The region is ripe with not only venues, but agencies too.
How does agency drp find the level of talented event professionals in the Midlands that otherwise might be drawn to London? Dale Parmenter, CEO of the drp Group, says: “There is a wealth of talent across the Midlands, we get fixated that London is the only place to find great people. However, there are many who also want to relocate out of the capital, with a handful of our team going through this process. The talent shortage in our sector is a UK-wide problem and, as an industry, we need to invest more in education and awareness, as to what fantastic career opportunities are available. Hence why we have established the drp academy to grow and develop our people.”
What makes the Midlands a great destination for event organisers, is it just a matter of transport? Emma Kennard, operations manager of drp venuepot says: “The Midlands is a great location to hold events. With the train, road and airport access, it’s an easy location for everyone in the UK or internationally to get to. Your budget can go further in the Midlands, too, so you’ll have more money to spend on delegate engagement. There are a good number of hotels in the city centres for larger events. The plans for the NEC are an exciting addition, that will further add to the benefits of holding events in the Midlands.”
What is the venue mix like? Kennard continues: “Although we have some great venues in the Midlands, with a good mix of traditional countryside properties and urban ones, we’re really missing the range of venues you get somewhere like London. There are limited high-end luxury hotels in the Midlands and there is a lack of unusual, unique venues like warehouses, when you’re looking to organise larger events of 250-plus.
With the regeneration of Birmingham, there are some cool quirky venues that have popped up for smaller numbers, but the variety of venues for larger events is still elusive.”
So, what is the organiser view? Steph Eayres, MD at London-based Story Events, maintains location is important, but not the be all and end all, but the venue must impress for the journey to be worth it.
She says: “When choosing a venue in the Midlands our first important consideration is location, we need to be sure that it is accessible from major rail stations and/or airports to ensure guests can get to and from with ease.
“Once we have highlighted a few venues that fit the location brief, the next major consideration is the venue’s look and feel; does it fit the client's brief; is it in keeping with their brand; and does it meet their event objectives? Once this is confirmed the third most important point would have to be service; it doesn’t matter how accessible or beautiful a venue is, if the service isn’t up to scratch, then your guests will remember nothing else.”
What top three things does an event organiser look for? Madalina Marincas, project manager at Opening Doors & Venues, says: “As with all areas of conference management, we believe communication is also key when it comes to venue selection. If we have a choice of two or three venues that, on face value, are equally suitable for a conference we will extend our assessment to the openness and clarity of their communication.
“A willingness to adapt to our client’s catering requirements also ranks high. Nothing is set in stone, especially when it comes to conference food and with the wealth of options available.
“Most importantly, the space must work for the client’s event design and ensure an ease of flow for our delegates between the areas used. We always look to create an environment conducive to active sharing, networking and engagement, and it starts with the venue’s internal layout.”
When one thinks of venues in the Midlands then it is usually the NEC Group's sites that people think of first. The venue, the largest in the UK, needs little introduction, but there is no harm in refreshing one’s memory on recent, and planned, improvements. HS2 is planned to run nearby, meaning access from London will be quicker than ever before. The venue is also working on a £4.5m improvements project, which has begun with a redressing of the exteriors of Halls 1 and 5.
But it doesn’t have to be just big venues. Small and mid-size venues are well stocked across the region, and academic venues, too, are well represented.
Steve Crawford is conference director at Leicester Conferences, the conference and meetings arm of the University of Leicester. He says location is the priority for most event organisers, but that local heritage and culture can also be a popular draw.
He says: “It is essential to be close to transport links, especially when so many larger clients are bringing in their employees from across the country the Midlands enables a central point to make travelling easy for all attendees. It’s all about how easy a venue can be found, the facilities it can offer and the experience they will receive while on site.”
Emma Boynton, head of sales and marketing at Imago Venues, the conferencing arm of Loughborough Universtiy, underlined the value of the industry. She said: “As an award-winning academic venue with great access from road, rail and air networks, we provide the Midlands with a flexible choice of venues for anything from small meetings to campus-wide events for thousands. Through visitors to our venues, we contribute £9m GVA to the local economy and support 190 full time jobs locally. We also continuously innovate and are about to open our brand-new Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel. A world first with 20 altitude bedrooms and a nutrition lounge, its focus is on improving performance for both sporting elites and corporate teams to deliver at their absolute best.”
From big city venues like the ICC, Aston University and Nottingham Conferences, to purpose-built rural retreats and landmarks like Warwick Castle, the Midlands is consolidating as event central.
This consolidation was realised in July when Chancellor Philip Hammond committed a further £270m to the West Midlands in order to fund future technologies. Hammond said: “The £270m investment for the West Midlands will support innovators across the region to create the technologies of the future and the better, highly-paid jobs we all want to see.”