England's iconic conference venues

Mar 31 2014, 16:14 IST
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The recreated dining room for servants has an interesting ambience and is often hired for small group meetings. The recreated dining room for servants has an interesting ambience and is often hired for small group meetings.
SummaryThe cities of Bath and Bristol have many iconic MICE venues offering bespoke experiences

Within three hours from London, are two destinations in England that are well positioned for MICE events with unique venues that are as diverse as interesting. Bath and Bristol are two cities that might be just a 15 minute train ride away, but as destinations both offer distinctively different attractions that remain quintessentially English. The many historic locations of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath are venues that will find no match anywhere else in the world – in terms of the atmosphere and character of the place, which are perfect for intimate high level meetings. For a city that takes great pride in its historical architectural legacy, there is no dearth of interesting offbeat locations for holding conferences with modern facilities.

The Grade 1 listed Assembly Rooms dating back to 1771, can host events of varying sizes. Its many halls (Ball Room / Tea room / Octagon / Card Room) can accommodate large events in its Ball Room, while the Tea Room can host smaller gatherings. Impressive crystal chandeliers dominate each room, lending a touch of grandoise to any event. The Fashion Museum that is also located in the building, is an absolutely unique location for a drinks reception or product launch. The museum has one of the finest collections of garments in the world – from the Victorian era to modern times (including dresses worn by Princess Diana), and rest assured there can be no shortage of conversation points here.

While thousands of visitors throng the Roman Baths during the day, from seven pm onwards the 2000 year old site can turn into an almost surreal location for hosting a reception. The Pump Room that is a fashionable restaurant in day time, famous for its afternoon teas, is a dinner venue of distinction for a corporate event. Catering at Pump Room and Assembly Rooms is done by well known catering company Searcys and a lot of meticulous focus goes into the client's requirements for an event.

Located in Sydney Gardens, Holburne Museum is rented out only for bespoke experience. With its enviable collection of rare artefacts – from Renaissance masterpieces to porcelain, miniatures, gems, and other bric-a-bracs, it is an ideal location for corporate events with few delegates. While a large section of the exhibits are on permanent display, the museum also holds many temporary exhibitions, so for repeat customers, the venue always offers something different. Curated tours of the exhibits are organised by the museum for these corporate guests.

No 1 Royal Crescent, one of Bath's most famous historic buildings, is yet another location for intimate corporate gatherings, suited particularly for cocktails and canapes. John Wood's residence, which also has living quarters for the servants, gives an interesting insight into the lives of the haves and have-nots of that era. The recreated dining room for servants has an interesting ambience and is often hired for small group meetings.

For a city that is famous for its thermal baths, it is rather unthinkable to visit it without taking a dip in its world famous waters. The Thermae Bath Spa, with its multiple pools, offers its guests the opportunity to go in for a relaxing treatment or take a swim in the rooftop pool soaking in the fascinating skyline of Bath's magnificent architectural edifices. The historic Cross Bath, across the road, can be rented for exclusive private events. Corporate delegates can also participate in activities like learning a cocktail masterclass at Circo or pickup the art of vegetarian cooking at Demuths Cookery School. MacDonald's Bath Spa Hotel is a popular conference hotel in the city. This property, along with Royal Cresent Hotel, are among the best known hotels in the city located in heritage buildings.

Bustling Bristol

Located a short train ride from Bath, Bristol is a bustling city with a different environment of its own. The fact that the city has always attracted artists and performers has attributed to its bohemian atmosphere. It's divergent attractions – from historic sites to modern marvels, has made the city a MICE destination with a difference.

The At-Bristol Science Centre is an unusual conferencing space overlooking the cathedral on one side and the planetarium on the other. One of the highlights of organising a corporate event at the science centre is the dining options available in terms of food offerings, and painstaking effort put in by the team of chefs in providing organic, locally sourced culinary delights. The planetarium space can also be hired after public hours, so you can have a meeting or a wedding under the stars. A non-profit organisation, the money made from conferences helps fund scientific workshops and classes for young children in the region.

Brunel's Great Britain could well be one of the most unusual locations for organising a corporate event. The ship that was launched in 1843 and has seen many important events, rests on a dry dock - a sea of glass. For Indian MICE groups, the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, would undoubtedly be an exciting venue, particularly since on August 25, 2014 the grounds will witness the India-England one dayer. It will be a big day for the county club which hosts only one international match a year, with 16,000 spectators expected to turn up on that day. The conference facilities at the county club can host upto 300 delegates, apart from breakout rooms for 80 people. All meeting rooms overlook the cricket grounds. While on an international match day no conferences are allowed, on the fourth day of a county match conference delegates can get to watch a match after the meeting gets over.

A popular conferencing destination, the many hotels in Bristol, and in the outskirts have a focused strategy for the MICE segment and are looking at expanding their market base. Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel is a heritage building that has an astoundingly beautiful conference hall with stained glass ceiling, statutes and balconies (the venue was earlier Michael Cain's restaurant). The Grand Thistle is a 205-year-old structure in the old part of Bristol, the hotel has been getting some business travellers from India. The Bristol Hotel (a member of upmarket The Doyle Collection) on the waterfront has nine conferencing rooms. The Aztec Hotel and Spa has 22 meeting rooms. This property has also introduced the interesting concept of Conference Cafe that serves throughout the day fresh pizzas, soups, ice cream, smoothies and a tuckshop for sweets. The innovative concept of Pods will be introduced soon, where people can have small meetings. Old Down Manor in the outskirts of Bristol city is an events and wedding venue of distinction, in its own country park, a farm shop, and a cafe that turns into a popular restaurant in the evening. Clay pigeon shooting, archery, and team building exercises are corporate activities organised by many of the properties.

Berwick Lodge was built in late 1890s and has two dedicated conference rooms - from 20 to 80 people. It is popular for both day and residential conferences. Thornbury Castle, the only Tudor castle in England that has been turned into a hotel, and has its own heli-pad. The Tudor Hall and the Baron's Sitting Room are perfect locations for high level corporate meetings. The fact that Henry VIII visited the castle twice, once with Anne Boleyn, has been attracting guests from around the world, including high-end experiential travellers from India.

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