Brum kind of wonderful: the rise of Birmingham and the West Midlands

Birmingham is a city on the rise. The city centre boom kickstarted by the 2015 redevelopment of New Street Station has continued unabated, with HSBC and HMRC making the city their home and cranes dotting the horizon wherever you look.

And with HS2 on the horizon and the West Midlands set to receive almost £800 million in investment ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, it’s no surprise the region has a spring in its step.

Conference Aston

Conference Aston

Paul Bunce, commercial manager at Conference Aston, Birmingham’s largest residential events venue, says “You can see the confidence in the city. Recent investments like HSBC have given people that confidence that Birmingham is a city that can do it.”

The residential events market has been challenging in recent years, but the confidence in the city coupled with Conference Aston’s heavy investment in its 163-room hotel has seen it buck the national trend to achieve success in the mid-week business tourism sector.

That confidence is only set to increase with the launch of a new city centre conference and events venue The Eastside Rooms next year. The new centre, which will feature an on-site hotel, forms part of the Eastside development of the city and aims to combine innovation, industrial heritage, style and a touch of fun. At its heart will be the city’s largest pillar-free banqueting space, capable of seating 1,200 delegates, surrounded by almost 900 sqm of plenary, breakout and events space.

Next year will also see a new 186-room DoubleTree by Hilton open in the city’s de facto business district Snowhill. It will have 190 sqm of event space across four rooms with a capacity of 100, including a breakout area housed in a stunning conservatoire with rooftop terrace.

I stayed at The Edgbaston, a 26-room boutique hotel housed in a Georgian townhouse in the leafy Birmingham suburbs. The hotel has just added an extra 20 rooms, all decked out in a rich art deco style. The hotel is famed for its luxury offering, including its outstanding cocktail list (the clear Old Fashioned is a thing of wonder) and an afternoon tea that has had people flying in from Japan just to sample it.

Flight Club Birmingham

Flight Club Birmingham

Social darts venue Flight Club has just made Birmingham its third UK location, bringing its high-end reboot of an old pub favourite to the West Midlands. The oches are on offer for hire, with the upstairs area available for groups of up to 150 for bespoke cocktails, finger food and high-tech arrow flinging – a perfect way to treat delegates.

It’s impossible to talk about events in the West Midlands without mentioning the NEC, the biggest event campus in the UK by a country mile. The cavernous halls, the largest of which is 25,000 sqm, can be adapted for almost any need or requirement, with your creativity and imagination the only real limit.

The 900-capacity high-tech venue The Vox opened in 2015 to give organisers that extra bit of choice on a campus already groaning with options. The Vox is housed at Resorts World, with its myriad shopping and dining options, including the Insta-friendly rooftop cocktail bar at Sky By The Water, while the Bear Grylls Experience next door is a fantastic incentive add-on.

Philip Reddall, proposition lead, learning, development & progression at John Lewis, explains why the NEC proved the perfect fit for the firm’s Empowered Leadership Event in April. He says, “We had 8,000 people coming from all over the country, we wanted to create an experience on a large scale. We knew we had to create an inspirational event.

“In the end choosing the NEC was a common-sense decision based on money, experience, location and sheer practicalities.”

British Motor Museum

British Motor Museum

Formerly the Heritage Motor Centre, the British Motor Museum’s stunning conference facilities just off the M40 are back on the market having been commandeered by neighbour Jaguar Land Rover for the last four years. Refreshed and rebranded, it feels like a brand new venue. The newly-refurbed flexible conference facilities can accommodate up to 600 delegates, while the venue also offers up to 1,500 sqm of exhibition space and external space for up to 5,000.

Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, home to rugby club Wasps, accommodates large exhibitions and conferences for clients such as Trade Only, Boots and Whitbread. The pillar-free 6,000 sqm Ericsson Exhibition Hall is the largest space, with the versatile Premier Lounge, Ricoh Business Lounge and a plethora of breakout, boardroom and smaller meeting spaces making it a major player in the market.

Up in Wolverhampton, the revival of the town’s football team has seen its Molineux stadium home receive an events boost. Its flagship WV1 space holds up to 550 with views of the pitch and the north of the city, while the 350-capacity Hayward Suite and a number of smaller break-out rooms are also available.

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

The magnificent Grand Theatre is a Victorian gem, boasting elegant, Art Deco style event spaces such as the 100-capacity Encore Lounge and 20-capacity Utopia Suite in addition to the classic three-tier 1,200-seat Grade II listed auditorium.

View from the bureau

Nicola Hewitt, commercial director, West Midlands Growth Company

“Our convention bureau targets new events in line with the West Midlands’ established sectoral strengths, which include business, professional and financial services, life sciences and advanced manufacturing. This strategy enables us to showcase the region, helping to attract investment as well as events.

“The West Midlands attracts a higher proportion of business tourists than any other region in the UK – some 40 per cent of our visitors come here to attend a conference or event. This is a testament to the breadth and scale of our unique venues. The West Midlands is also well equipped to support event organisers with its strong transport networks, accommodation and vibrant business environment.”

Buyer’s eye

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

Lucie Ashley

Lucie Ashley

Radisson Blu Birmingham is a good four-star standard hotel located directly in the heart of the city centre. All of the meeting rooms also have natural daylight and fresh décor which makes them a very welcoming environment.

Malmaison Birmingham is a contemporary and stylish four-star hotel. Perfect for medium-sized meetings with their unique Work & Play concept – capacities range from 10 boardroom to 120 theatre. Bedrooms and suites are all beautifully styled.

Park Regis Birmingham is one of the most distinctive buildings in Birmingham’s skyline. It is a four-star luxury hotel, which has 253 bedrooms and 11 meeting rooms. Level 16 is a unique event space with 360-degree views which can cater up to 400 people and is perfect for any kind of event.

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