Meeting success

MEETinLEEDS’s Harriet Boatwright says conferencing and event activity should be commercially successful and impact strategically

Ask any university conference and events team what they do and you are likely to hear about the importance of putting heads on beds and maximising profitability. Understandably every university wants to maximise the usage of its physical resources – its accommodation, catering, sporting and academic estate are key assets that need to work 365 days a year. However, at a time when each university is also seeking to ensure a distinctive position in both the recruitment and research marketplace, it’s also important to ensure that conferencing activity is, where possible, making some form of contribution to the core strategic plan of the institution. 

‘You need a team that can make this happen. MEETinLEEDS provides brilliant advice and guidance for all aspects of our conferences’

Established over a century ago, the University of Leeds has a diverse collection of hugely attractive buildings and cultural spaces, all available to MEETinLEEDS, the University’s conference and events arm. Led by Beverley Kenny, Head of Catering, Conference and Events, the team of 10 is responsible for everything from sales and marketing, to conference and events delivery, whether it be a one-day meeting or a fully managed residential conference, attracting international conferences with delegates from around the world. MEETinLEEDS provides a service for external organisations, as well as supporting the University’s academic community. 

Contributing to the Strategic Plan

The focus for the conference and events team at the University of Leeds has certainly shifted over the past five years to be tuned carefully to how activity contributes to the University’s ambitious strategic plan to grow its research income to £200m by 2020. We have challenged ourselves with the question; what ways can we support the University’s drive to enable interdisciplinary research, to reach a greater international audience and to ensure it is making a positive impact? Consistently referring back to this has enabled us to focus our efforts on collaboration and partnership with the academic community.

In 2010, MEETinLEEDS launched the ongoing ‘Team on Tour’ campaign, in which the team meet with faculties and schools within the University to help develop relationships and communicate the services we offer. This campaign has led to real advocacy for the conference service around the University and kept us front of mind for academics planning conferences. Our academic community continues to help inform the services we provide, ensuring we meet their needs and develop services in response to their requirements. Recent conference activity highlights the ways in which, as a conference team, we contribute to the successful delivery of the University’s strategic plan.

Demonstrating International Reach

Our University is committed to increasing its international reach, ensuring the impact of its education and research is globally relevant. Through our conference activity, MEETinLEEDS enables academics to highlight their work on an international and global stage. 

Head of the Theoretical Physics group in the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Dr Almut Beige recently worked with MEETinLEEDS to host a leading international conference, which attracted participants from more than 30 countries.

‘What ways can we support the University’s drive to enable interdisciplinary research, to reach a greater international audience and to ensure it is making a positive impact?’

She said: “Holding a leading international conference on Quantum Information Processing and Communication, the QIPC2015, in Leeds raised our profile significantly. Having never organised an event of this size before, chairing the QIPC, it could easily have become very overwhelming. Sharing the responsibility for the conference with MEETinLEEDS was crucial for its success. It allowed me, as an academic, to concentrate my efforts on putting together a well-balanced programme committee and obtaining an impressive list of speakers. From helping us to put the bid together and weekly update meetings in the run-up to the conference, to the smooth running and mopping up afterwards, I felt complete confidence in MEETinLEEDS.”

Facilitating Interdisciplinary Working

Interdisciplinary working and a commitment to creating and enhancing collaborations in education, research and innovation, remain a priority for the University. Through the conference service, we provide a framework of support to enable co-production, promoting discussion and enabling decision-making.

A recent partnership will see MEETinLEEDS managing a seminar series on behalf of our School of Healthcare. Speakers and participants from diverse groups (service users, carers, professionals working in the third sector and academics) will come together to build a network of expertise, which will inform the values and practices of mental healthcare.

Pamela Fisher (Principal Investigator), sociologist at the University of Leeds, said: “MEETinLEEDS has been excellent in responding flexibly and creatively to complex issues related to this multi-disciplinary project, which involves the universities of Leeds, York, Oxford and Huddersfield as well as multiple third-sector and publication organisations. The professional service provided by MEETinLEEDS is exemplary and will be central to the success of the ESRC seminar series.”

Enabling Outcomes, Delivering Impact

ABOVE: Beverley Kenny, Head of Conferencing, Catering and Events 

It is the role of MEETinLEEDS to provide an enabling environment allowing academics to focus on the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge. Earlier this year the University hosted a two-day MEI conference, MEIBioEng15.

Jane Wilcox, Medical Technologies Reporting and Information Systems Manager, University of Leeds, said: “The output from the workshop is a report, which is expected to influence the plans for delivery of medical engineering research, innovation and translation being developed for the period 2015–2020, by the sponsors and other funders and will input into considerations for support for translation and impact by HEFCE.

“Sharing the responsibility for the conference with MEETinLEEDS was crucial for its success’

“In order to facilitate these crucial conferences, you need a team that can make this happen. MEETinLEEDS provides brilliant advice and guidance for all aspects of our conferences – the fact that we could direct people to them with any registration, travel or accommodation queries was a huge relief. Not to mention the workload that they took from our shoulders dealing with all of the invoices, equipment sourcing and on-the-day management. In short, these events could not have taken place without their input.”

Conferencing in the sector has an important role to play and must not be marginalised as a commercial activity alone. A conference service needs to share the vision and drive of the institution and understand its role in the delivery of the core strategic plan. MEETinLEEDS has continued to see significant growth in conference income and remains fixed in our commitment to realising the University’s ambitions.

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