Getting smart about scaling up

It’s official: Newcastle is Britain’s smartest city, dominating the digital, tech, data and life sciences
sectors as the nation shifts its focus northwards.

Topping the UK in the 2021 global Smart City Index, Newcastle’s gaming cluster is the country’s fourth largest – a fact noticed by the BBC, which is developing a £25m tech hub there.

The Newcastle Helix development has evolved into an internationally renowned innovation cluster that's home to the UK’s National Centre for Ageing and the National Centre for Data while elsewhere, Newcastle University's Urban Observatory provides the largest set of publicly available real‐time urban data in the UK.

This growth demands that the city’s conference facilities keep pace so in 2024 the Sage ICC, a new 12,500‐capacity international arena, conference and exhibition centre, will open its doors as part of the £350m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme. Located opposite the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the site will include a 187‐room Novotel with high‐tech meeting rooms and conference facilities, plus a 140‐room ibis hotel.

Paul Szomoru, director of business events, NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau

Paul Szomoru, director of business events, NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau

Paul Szomoru, director of business events at NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau, says the new development will address the gap the city has faced.

“We have known as a destination that we lacked facilities of a certain scale,” he explains. “We have always punched well above our weight in terms of the quality of the events that we have attracted and hosted brilliantly.”

And the response to the plans has been enthusiastic, he adds. “There is a real excitement about wanting to see it open and welcome those larger audiences in. It is an incredible location on the banks of the Tyne that is going to rival international destinations and bring benefits to the whole of the UK.”

Where to meet

“Apart from the amazing Geordie welcome, Newcastle is in a brilliant location – it is very easy to get to and we have a fantastic range of venues with the BALTIC and the Sage Gateshead as the two jewels in the crown,” says Szomoru.

Newcastle University can accommodate up to 750 theatre‐style while the Northumbria University campus boasts a purpose‐built theatre and ballroom for up to 1,800. The Laing Art Gallery is an inspiring backdrop for a reception for 550 and the Biscuit Factory offers an ideal blank canvas in an industrial setting.

Where to stay

In recent years, there have been a number of new openings, particularly in the Quayside and city centre, including the £25m 140‐room Innside by Melia Newcastle which offers event spaces for up to 245 people. Motel One Newcastle is a budget hotel with a designer feel on one of the city's oldest streets while Jesmond Dene House offers elegant luxe along with meeting space for up to 120 delegates just 15 minutes from the city centre.

What’s new

More than 40 new bars and restaurants opened in 2021, including Hard Rock Café Newcastle, the legendary restaurant chain’s first North East venue, following a £2.5m revamp of the Quayside’s historic Guildhall. ABOVE at the Vermont hotel is a new all‐weather rooftop bar that's well worth investigating, as is Roof Thirty Nine, an intimate spot for cocktails above Fenwick Newcastle.

What to do

Celebrate the region's history at Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, or check out Junkyard Golf for a new crazy golf experience in the city centre. Plus Alnwick Castle, which stood in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, has a wealth of off‐site options including dinner in the world's biggest treehouse or the chance to give broomstick flying a go.

"Newcastle has proven to be a fertile ground for a conference investigating innovation, creativity and the future of technology"

Herb Kim, Thinking Digital

What they say

“Newcastle has proven to be a fertile ground for a conference investigating innovation, creativity and the future of technology,” says Herb Kim, who organises the annual Thinking Digital conference. “With the regional innovation economy continuing to grow led by Accenture, Sage, Newcastle University, Virgin Money, Procter & Gamble, Nissan among many others, Thinking Digital has enjoyed strong local support since its foundation in 2008 as well as attracting delegates from around the UK and the wider world. The city’s mix of modernity, friendliness and old‐world beauty has kept delegates returning for over a decade.”

The Society of Maritime Industries held its annual conference at the Sage Gateshead in March for 200 delegates and Marketing & Communications Manager Katie Lafferty said the venue, which hosted a gala dinner as well as the convention, was a huge hit. Attendees stayed in the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead (where a delegate rate was secured) as well as the Malmaison Newcastle and the Crowne Plaza Hotel Newcastle ‐ Stephenson Quarter.

The conference included an exhibition for the first time, "partly because the concourse at Sage Gateshead provided the ideal space", says Katie, adding that the supply chain in Newcastle ‐ from printers to stand builders and electricians ‐ was a particular bonus. With the tech support and catering facilities on site of the highest standard, feedback from delegates was overwhelmingly positive. "It had everything we were looking for, from a team who couldn't do enough to help us to amazing hotels and great transport links, so overall it made the experience so much less stressful than it could have been."

Who to contact:

Caroline Reed
Conference Development Manager
E: [email protected]