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unique venues of london

Memory lane: Unique Venues of London at 25

This September, Unique Venues of London is celebrating its 25th anniversary. We take a look back at how events have evolved in that time with insights from their member venues and some of London’s suppliers.

Back in 1993, Ian Lovat Fraser, founder of Unique Venues of London, called upon other venues to come together and form an association, which has played a pivotal role in supporting some of the capital’s most iconic buildings. Essentially, he says, this is down to the suppliers and venue managers: 

“Their willingness to always say ‘yes’, no matter what the client request, has been a factor which has been influential in both the success of the association itself and contributed to the growth in popularity of using unique spaces to host events of all kinds. The daring attitude of these pioneering venue managers is to be celebrated and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings, in both creativity and flexibility.”

Certainly, the evolution of catering within the industry has brought with it plenty of creative changes.  As dietary requirements have developed, so too have the catering services.  Events manager at The Wellcome Collection Events Spaces, Daniel Caleb, notes: “During a recent event, the client decided they wanted a vegetarian Swedish menu and we’ve even had to provide vagina cupcakes for an erotica book launch!”

He adds that technology has also enabled essential insights into food spend and wastage; “We’ve recently launched a system where we can upload our menus onto a tablet in our reception area, so any guests with allergies can see the full list of allergens contained in each dish. In a bid to reduce food waste and keep costs down, we also now use an electronic system which keeps track of food waste and allocates a cost to this, so we can monitor and reduce the surplus.”            

When it comes to the client-supplier relationship, operations manager at Natural History Museum, Nigel Mullins, highlights how this has evolved over the last 25 years:

“We introduced 6- and 12-month reviews with all of them, to catch up on what they were up to and what they were doing within other parts of their business that we could also think about implementing. And more importantly asking them for feedback about us. Are we doing things right for you?  Are you having difficulties in delivering an event here? Do we need to check any of our processes and procedures?  We can better support our partners when they come in to do events, because we have that ongoing relationship with suppliers, which makes it easier for them to work here.”

“Now we consult suppliers and create an open dialogue whereas 25 years ago we were still learning, and it was less of a two way relationship.”

The role that health and safety now plays in the events industry is also much more prominent. Richard Wilson, director at White Light, says health and safety now plays a much bigger role in events compared with 25 years ago: “We are facing different types of challenges and clients are more risk averse nowadays.  During the BA Concorde launch, the pilot flew down the Thames to avoid excess cloud cover and give onlookers a show.  There’s no way that kind of a stunt would be permitted nowadays – quite rightly, health and safety plays far too much of a role.  We have to be more creative within the parameters of limited budgets and higher expectations but the innovations in technology have enabled us to take the event experience into the next level.”

When it comes to unusual events over the last 25 years, chairman of Moving Venue, Richard Beggs, has seen it all: 

“Last December we catered at LSO St Luke’s for the very worthy Save the Rhino charity and I was rather surprised to walk across the room and see Prince William arrive.  No announcement, no royal recognition and minimal security. He just sat down with friends, had a great dinner, a jolly good evening and went home to Kensington Palace. It just proves that in this day and age, there can occasionally be a little privacy for our monarchy.”

“We also catered for an event for the president of Mexico. To accompany the cheesecake dessert, we proposed a tequila granita as a frozen accompaniment in a shot glass. All of the menus were sent to Mexico for approval and our idea was so well received The president asked if we could use Tequila from his own ranch. So, we used the president of Mexico’s tequila to make his granita.”