The pros and cons of using the UK’s thriving academic venues

Academic venues make for a markedly different option to standard hotel meeting spaces.

For a start, many UK universities have been around for centuries and boast stunning historic buildings or lush parkland settings for their modern conference and AV facilities.

On top of that, academic venues can also offer links to academics working in the institution, as well as access to purpose-built teaching space.

When it comes to pricing, many academic venues can offer a flexible approach to how they quote, with options ranging from student accommodation up to four-star hotel accommodation.

Nonetheless, the word “university” can still have connotations for some clients as Adwoa Mintah, executive assistant at Page Group, found when she booked King’s College for the firm’s 2019 Christmas party.

“When I sat in front of the directors and told them I’d booked an academic venue, they all started laughing,” she says. “They asked if we would be going back to university. I had to reassure them we wouldn’t be going to the Student Union. It was a small hurdle.”

Page Group used the eighth-floor space at Bush House on the Strand in London, with its rooftop terraces and views of the Thames and the city.

Mintah adds: “Afterwards the marketing director said we should go there every year, it was wonderful.”

Ask the expert

Lucie Ashley, senior venue sourcing executive, Ashfield Meetings & Events

Lucie Ashley

We source a vast number and wide variety of venues for meetings and live events for our global clients in healthcare each year, and academic spaces have lots of advantages for an industry so governed by compliance regulations. Not only are academic venues often appropriate to the content of the meetings for many of our clients, who might be educating healthcare professionals, but they are regularly found within large grounds, enabling additional activities to take place if the programme requires. In addition, our pharma clients appreciate the corporate and social responsibility element of this type of venue as it enables them to contribute to a non-profit organisation as part of holding their event.

When we look for the ideal location, we tend to search through the eyes of an event planner, so the suggestions we put forward are always aligned with the objectives our clients are aiming to achieve with their meeting. Here are just a few academic venues we’ve recommended for various reasons.

Royal College of General Practitioners, London (also known as 30 Euston Square) 

Set in a Grade II listed building in central London with great accessibility from St Pancras/Kings Cross Railway station, this venue is managed by one of London’s leading hospitality providers, Searcys. It’s also headquarters to the Royal College of General Practitioners (an internationally renowned professional membership body and charity at the forefront of patient care). This is a great factor when sourcing standalone venues for healthcare professional-led events as we sometimes struggle to find compliant-friendly spaces.

Cambridge Colleges

One of our leading global pharmaceutical clients often holds events at many of the universities in Cambridge (approximately 30 in total to choose from). We find that they choose a university over a hotel, partly to them being more cost-effective, and also because one of our client’s main offices is in Cambridge, therefore often delegates don’t require accommodation. Obviously, one point to be aware of is that meeting space availability can be limited during term time.

Etc venues, London

Etc venues are vibrant, state-of-the-art tech award-winning conference spaces. Most are located in London but also in Manchester and Birmingham too. These venues are all purpose-built and cater for different sized meetings. Their unique spaces and contemporary feel differentiates them from a lot of other academic venues and creates an innovative ambience, conducive to fresh-thinking and generating inspirational ideas.

Case study

Daniel Skermer 

PA Forum Learning and Development Conference, October 2019

The conference at Aston University in Birmingham city centre offered an action-packed day complete with motivational and inspirational speakers, industry expert panel discussions and skill-developing seminars. The event was designed to leave PAs inspired and give them something tangible to take back to the office. And, as organiser Daniel Skermer explains, the choice of an academic venue was key to the event.

“The facilities they have are fantastic and the team is a dream to work with. Everything was on point. They really did go above and beyond.

“We have people come from all over the country for this event, so the Midlands location was perfect. It was great to highlight to the PA community how much space there is in an academic venue and how great it is to support your local community. You know the profit is put back into the university – it’s how we can help to give back.

“One thing that is quite key is that we are trying to change the perception of the role of a PA. They can be so busy that in an organisation the PA’s learning and development is the last to be thought of. Bringing them together like this changes that perception – it’s something they can take back into the office. I think holding the event at an academic venue helps with their bosses allowing them to come out – it gives it weight and credibility.”

Venue updates:

  • The De Vere East Midlands Conference Centre (EMCC) on the University Park campus at the University of Nottingham has announced a £2 million investment to modernise the venue with a remodelling of the atrium, plus refreshed meeting rooms and banqueting spaces
  • Warwick Conferences has made a step to enhance delegate welfare with a refurb of its Scarman lounge area. Following feedback, the lounge has been designed to offer delegates a retreat from their event or meeting.
  • Five new academic venues have joined the Academic Venues Solutions consortium, bringing the total membership to 52. The new members are Warwick Conferences, Wolverhampton University, Events @ No6 (Royal College of Pathologists), University of Liverpool in London and Cornwall Plus.
  • Y Twyni, the newest building on Swansea University’s Bay Campus, is newly available for meetings, events and exhibitions, with a range of flat floor spaces that accommodate up to 800 people and new collaborative working spaces.
  • Imago Venues, the conferencing arm of Loughborough University, has been awarded the Investors in People (IIP) Platinum Accreditation – IIP’s highest accolade, awarded to less than 2 per cent of all organisations
  • In November, the University of South Wales launched the first-ever Event Organisers Wales, a monthly networking event for those working in the event industry in the South Wales area.
  • Construction has started on the 150-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Keele University’s Science and Innovation Park in Staffordshire, due to open in autumn to provide accommodation to support the university’s growing conference business
  • Conference Aston in Birmingham, has proven its catering credentials with a trio of awards following a £100k investment. The venue has received its second Sustainable Restaurant Association star, the Food for the Brain Accreditation and also scooped Best Catering Service at the national Academic Venue Awards.
  • Prince Philip House in London, the home of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has been granted an extended licence and has announced summer availability for the 250-capacity terrace, as well as new spring and summer flexitarian and vegan menus.
  • NTU Events and Conferencing was crowned Best Business Events Venue of the Year at the annual Nottinghamshire Hospitality Stars Awards 2019.
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