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School's out

June through to September is a time for academic venues and teambuilders to earn plenty of summer lovin’, says Paul Colston

Universities usually look forward to a nice long summer break, but although students and lecturers may get that lucky break, at Well Met in Leeds the conferencing department of Leeds Beckett University (like many others no doubt) is among the academic venue-based breed revving up for a packed schedule of summer events business.

From sports foundation and corporate games, to international language schools and music conferences featuring singing for the deaf, the Well Met team expects to welcome over 2,000 delegates to Leeds, filling a total of 8,928 beds this summer. 

Clare Vidler, Well Met’s conference manager, says: “Summer is an exceptionally busy time for us and summer schools and conventions are a key part of our business. The variety of facilities and venues on our estate means we can tailor our offering. 

“For many of our international summer school delegates, this is their first experience of the UK and of Leeds, so we work closely with organisers and partners across the city, to make sure that they get the most from their stay.”

Residential group Go Languages Worldwide is one repeat visitor and, in July, will bring 400 Italian students for a programme of sports activities and drama clubs at Headingley campus. 

Of course there are challenges with this kind of business, such as last-minute changes to student flights, bookings and final room lists, and it needs an experienced venue team to manage all that and the various food preferences.

Dr Carmine D’Orazio, director of Go Languages Worldwide, says: “The excellent facilities and accommodation topped off with great customer service make Well Met the preferred choice for our organisation”.

The Association of British Choral Directors’ convention brings its annual convention back to Leeds this year, having visited last in 2012. The convention embraces 30 events, featuring presenters and exhibitors from across the UK, USA, Lithuania and Ireland.

The event will culminate in a gala concert on 25 August at Leeds Cathedral. 

Rachel Greaves, general secretary for the association said: “We had really positive feedback from delegates and exhibitors in 2012, they liked the site, parking and modern accommodation and everything was within easy walking distance.”

Engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald is a corporate bringing its annual Sports Day for 500 employees to the Headingley Campus. 

Organised by Carnegie Great Outdoors, the 100-acre parkland and sporting facilities will host teambuilding events, including a mobile climbing tower.

And Well Met, like Imago at Loughborough and Nottingham Conferences has a hotel on site to help with demand for bedrooms, three star AA-accredited accommodation at Carnegie Village.

Academic venues in general are designed to cope with large numbers, and provide large open areas for delegates to congregate. 

A campus atmosphere also allows summer schools to benefit from a number of social and sporting activities.

There are usually seasonal packages including full board or half board catering. 

Umbrella marketing consortium Academic Venue Solutions says its data shows its members’ average annual turnover is £2.25m with 18%, on average, coming from summer/language schools.

At Keele University Events and Conferencing two language schools arrive in July, one for 100 and the other for 60 students over a three-week period. Both are repeat business.

Queen Mary University of London runs two language schools for up to eight weeks. Between them, at peak, they have approximately 400 bed spaces and 15 classrooms. 

One college advised us they are starting to see clients choosing other English-speaking countries, which could potentially lead to a decrease in numbers in future years. 

While not an academic venue, the Kent Event Centre also does good summer school business and collaborates with Surrey University and Mid Kent College, which recently brought a conference for 500 school students to the venue. 

Taking students out of their study environment and in to an independent venue with lots of space can freshen up the focus, KEC reckons. 

And KEC’s summer business is not all about foreign language students. One summer event for local school children from 52 Kent primary schools, Living Land, attracts 3,000 children looking to learn more about where their food comes from and to understand farming, animals and machinery. At the most recent event children got to bake their own bread, spin their own yarn, taste food and drink produced locally.

Off Limits

The summer season is also very important to teambuilding specialists Off Limits Events.

Group director Martin Stephens tells CN: “We thrive in the summer season as we provide a wide variety of outdoor events. 

“Holding teambuilding activities outdoors automatically breaks the barriers of being restricted to indoor rules and therefore creates a much more sociable atmosphere, removing participants from their typical environment of being indoors.” 

Stephens says summer outdoor events boost employee motivation, communication and engagement. 

“Seventy percent of our events take place in the summer months with our most popular being It’s a Knockout, Totally Wiped Out, Crystal Quest, and Multi Activity Fun days.” 

So, what does he see as the main challenges with summer outdoor events staging? 

“We all know how unpredictable the British Summer weather can be, and this is one of our biggest challenges when staging outdoor events. 

“This is an element that is out of our control but, we do everything we can to deliver the activity as best we can. The major issue is health and safety, because when running an event on muddy land with pouring rain we must take into consideration a whole host of possible scenarios. 

“We have experience in working in all weather conditions, especially this year with the crazy blizzards, so we are always ready to adapt events and inspire participants to get involved no matter what the weather.”

Stephens says summer events are useful boosters for corporate and team morale moving into Q3 and Q4. “Having a highly motivated team will help achieve those company goals we all have. In turn, this will aid staff morale and retention as employees feel increasingly valued, engaged and motivated to succeed.” 

John Lewis, Boots and McDonalds are three of the brands Stephens and his team have worked with. 

“For some of these corporates we have held large summer fun days, inviting family along too. The (events) provide insight to family members of the company’s values… and clients have seen a great return on investment through large family fun days and outdoor team building days, showing an increase in motivation and communication and an increase in staff retention, all having an impact on increased efficiency and sales.”