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What makes our universities great places to host events?

Sponsored: By Natalie Williamson, General Manager, Academic Venue Solutions

Posted by Julian Owen | May 15, 2018 | Catering & hospitality

Our universities are fantastic places. They harbour a multitude of historical features, facts, people and events. They are places known across the world, and are brand ambassadors for the cities, towns and regions they represent. The universities that are actively marketing themselves as conference and event venues, are exactly what they say they are. They are places that people meet to discuss, agree, disagree, confer and debate. Essentially, they are the perfect meeting destination.

So, in essence here we have great places to host events. They are not the brand-led venues that we see on our high streets, they are first and foremost seats of learning, and secondly places to meet. And the staff and support that are responsible for the operation of making the learning work, are also the people who make them work as event venues.

So, why are event organisers now starting to look at what our universities offer?

One thing that makes academic venues so different to their competition, is that they are often numerous types of venues in one location. Universities are often spread across a huge rural campus or city centres, and might have an original 19th century teaching building, located adjacent to a newly-built lecture complex with breakout and refreshment spaces. 

Natalie Williamson, General Manager of Academic Venues Solutions, the consortia that promotes the leading collection of academic venues to the meetings and events industry provided one view: “Most academic venues can offer something different from the standard hotel meeting space. For the most part, universities have been around for many years and while they boast state-of-the-art conference facilities and all the latest AV, many of these facilities may be located in the most architecturally stunning historic buildings or be set within acres of beautiful parkland.”

The kudos of academia

Okay, apologies for the title. However, this is an important reason as to why so many organisers decide on academic venues. 

Steve Crawford, Chair of the Board of Directors, and Conference Centre Director, College Court at the University of Leicester provided his view: “In academic venues learning excellence happens. This is a fact. We find that our conference team are approached by colleagues in teaching departments when they need the expertise to organise their research symposium or association or institute conference.” 

For organisers looking at universities, colleges or training venues this is a real opportunity and advantage to link with teachers, researchers at all levels to add to an event.

Crawford added: “For example, a HR conference could benefit from a keynote speech from an expert in management training, or a sustainability event, might want to tap into some ecological, global warming or green technology research. The possibilities are endless.”

Event organisers often think all academic venues are just student bedrooms, but many now have at least a multi-purpose teaching and conference space with some offering bespoke 4-star equivalent rooms as part of their package. 

Williamson added: “As part of the Academic Venue Solutions proposition we can boast access to over 53,000 bedrooms. And not the kind of accommodation you may have experienced when you were a student. 

In today’s academic establishments, almost all the rooms have en suite facilities, and have superb catering that can feed any number of delegates, with quality cuisine. It’s a marketing message we are always talking about.”

To complement all of this the conference and events facilities are attracting awards and recognition across the board. Elm Grove Conference Centre, at the University of Roehampton, London, is amongst the 93 buildings which have been shortlisted for this year’s RIBA London Awards 2018. MEETinLEEDS have been nominated for Best Academic Venue and Best Sustainable Venue by the Conference and Hospitality Show Awards. 

As the conference season starts to get into full swing around the UK, the conference management and events teams are starting to plan ahead to the summer months, where large scale conferencing, summer schools, exhibitions and events really take centre stage. This once niche sector in the meetings industry is really making its mark!

For more, please visit academicvenuesolutions.co.uk

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