Aside from being great tourist attractions, some of Britain’s finest castles, stately homes, museums and art galleries take on another guise as atmospheric venues for conferences, meetings, and other corporate events. There aren’t many countries where event planners can choose from a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of Europe’s most renowned university cities, and a former royal yacht for their function and know that the venues are well versed in the needs of the events market, down to the last detail.
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The country’s unique venues are matched by the fact that they are never far from cities boasting a superb range of meeting facilities and hotels of all standards, as well as nightlife, multi-cultural dining, and extensive shopping facilities.
A landmark convention centre is at Liverpool’s King’s Waterfront. Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool has a 1350 seat conference hall and a 10,000 seat concert and sports arena.
The city’s top heritage attraction, Albert Dock, is home to the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Within the converted redbrick warehouse, you can soak up the colourful history of what was once the focal point of one of the world's greatest ports. After visiting hours it is possible to hold receptions for up to 500 guests split across three different floors and move around the exhibits, which include maritime paintings and full-sized vessels.
With the expansion of regional aviation and airports, access to venues outside London is not a problem. Manchester, 54km east of Liverpool, is just one of several UK regional cities that boasts an airport with international status. Within an hour of runway touchdown, visitors can be admiring the 1875 capacity state-of-the-art auditorium of The Bridgewater Hall, the city’s world-class venue for orchestral music. And there's the dramatic spaces of a waterside visual and performing arts centre, The Lowry.
Other developments around the country benefit the events market. Staying in the North, in lively Yorkshire, the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television at Bradford lies just seven miles from Leeds Bradford International airport, which has direct connections with numerous European destinations.
In addition to three cinemas, the largest for 300, the museum boasts a number of different spaces outside of visiting hours. Why not hold a gala dinner or product launch beneath the glazed atrium, a suitable centrepiece? Or hold a team-building event scripting and filming a television programme in a fully-equipped studio – part of a £3m interactive gallery that opened in July 2006 to explore the world of television.
Alternatively, the traditional setting of the Kodak Gallery seats 80 for dinner and 200 for receptions, while for something a little more informal, cartoon favourites grace the Animation Gallery, which accommodates 60 guests.
Picture your event among the gleaming steam engines and carriages of a bygone age. The National Railway Museum in York is 45 minutes drive from Leeds Bradford airport, or just a few minutes walk from York railway station (two hours from London). Two of its three exhibition halls housing the world’s pre-eminent railway collection can be hired for corporate functions. The Great Hall, a former engine shed, will accommodate receptions for up to 1000 and presentations for a 350-strong audience. It shoulders Station Hall, which resembles a goods depot, and presents an ideal partner for a sit-down dinner for up to 800.
From York seize the opportunity to explore some fine North Country scenery behind a giant of steam. A programme of steam train excursions takes passengers on rolling routes through the Yorkshire Dales to Carlisle, or north-east to Newcastle.
Moving to Southern England, one of the country’s most iconic stately homes is close to the university city of Oxford. The importance of Blenheim Palace is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Set in acres of beautiful parkland and renowned for its hand painted ceilings, porcelain collections, and tapestries in each room, it is the home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.
Groups can make use of the extended and refurbished conference and banqueting facilities, which comprise four small rooms for four to 18. The 55-metre long library also entertains 300 guests. The Orangery, which is not open to the public, is an elegant high ceilinged space for dinner for 228 guests, while drinks for up to 500 in the fabulous great hall can be complemented by a private tour of the palace or even a military tattoo or fireworks over the lake.
In central Oxford itself, an hour outside London, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy is the oldest museum in the UK. The grade one listed building offers a modern lecture theatre for groups up to 100 in size, plus the Randolph Sculpture gallery. It contains fine examples of Greek and Roman classical sculptures and throws open its doors for 50 for a formal dinner and 200 for a reception. The Mallett Gallery, a paintings gallery, is also available. The gallery space added many new facilities, including a rooftop restaurant.
Moored at Leith near Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh has one of the most unique venues anywhere, the former Royal Yacht, Britannia. With the same elegance and standards of service that she displayed when she sailed to every corner of the world, events are held in the State Apartments.
Few backdrops rival the drama of a castle and one of the most impressive is Stirling Castle. Located between Edinburgh and Glasgow in the midst of Braveheart country, the castle, linked with Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce, will open up its 16th century great hall and chapel royal for banquets for 300. It has launched new hospitality packages with a heavy Scottish or medieval theme.
At the other end of the country, beside the English Channel, stands Dover castle. Here the location is close to the channel tunnel, so ideally placed for European clients. Its centrepiece is a massive 12th century stone keep, able to accommodate 120 for drinks receptions and 90 for dining. Add more colour with themed medieval banquets, wandering minstrels, and the spectre of real and imaginary ghosts.
Offering similar capacity, the secret wartime tunnels, deep within the cliffs, lend themselves to internal company events and team building. Make the location sparkle here, maybe through a 1930s-1940s cabaret with a traditional wartime dinner of ‘bangers and mash’ and ‘spotted dick’ served in mess tins.
For more culture with team building elements, look no further than wine tasting. The La Mare Vineyard & Distillery on the Channel Island of Jersey offers tastings and light-hearted competitions with vineyards, orchards, a winery, and a distillery as backdrop.
Or why not head to Bath, one of the UK’s top tourism destinations. Thermae Bath Spa allows bathing in the thermal waters. Facilities include an intimate environment for a small group.
To find out more about these and other unusual venues, contact VisitBritain. Its worldwide network of offices provide a one-stop-shop for businesses considering or planning an event in Britain. It offers free and impartial advice on the wide range of venues, facilities, and services throughout the UK, as well as event ideas and contact information, the latest product news, networking opportunities, familiarisation visits, assistance with site inspections, bid support for international association conferences, and a wide range of support material, from images to comprehensive destination publications.
For more information go to Visit Britain Business