Meetings & Events: London venues

Escape the bland boardroom at one of London’s many unusual MICE venues. Tom Newcombe looks at some of the best options

Head to London’s affluent St John’s Wood and you will find Abbey Road Studios, the famous recording home of The Beatles. The venue – and the equally famous zebra crossing – has stood almost unchanged for around half a century – if you ignore the scrawls of graffiti, adorning the outside walls, from millions of fans across the world.

It’s still a working studio for many top recording artistes but the glamour and money of A-list musicians is mixed with the shirts and ties of the corporate world as the venue offers event spaces and incentive days for employees.

Abbey Road is not the only facility hiring out spaces to the corporate sector MICE events, as London is increasingly offering distinctive, interesting venues that will make a refreshing  change from the usual hotel ‘pillar-free’ ballroom or the standard conference space.

Moya Maxwell is chairman of listings website Unique Venues. She believes the trend for spaces with “the all-important ‘wow’ factor” will increase this year and beyond. “2015 has only just begun, but I have already noticed some nuanced trends starting to reveal themselves,” says M

axwell. “One is the increasing demand from corporate clients for experiential, bespoke live events. Buyers are now, more often than not, looking for unique experiences, and are willing to pay extra if they feel they are getting stand out, added-value for their money.”

In the incentives and team-building sector, Claire Okrafo-Smart, global account director at event management firm Zibrant Live, believes employers are starting to move away from cash bonuses and instead exploring travel incentives.

“The shift in approach has a psychological factor to it, as organisations have found that cash rewards are treated in conjunction with salary and spent on day-to-day expenditure and bills,” says Okrafo-Smart. “A travel incentive gives staff the opportunity to experience something they might otherwise not be able to do.”

However, Okrafo-Smart says the content needs to be kept relevant to the employee and should be viewed as a way of training staff as well as rewarding them. “Incentive providers need to invest greater resources in understanding their clients, developing a comprehensive package to deliver a unique experience,” she says.

Here, Buying Business Travel takes a look at a selection of London venues for memorable events, starting with the Fab Four’s studios of choice…

Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road studios is arguably the most famous recording studio complex in the world. It has been at the heart of the music industry for more than 80 years and has been the location of countless landmark recordings.

The studios’ flexible spaces can accommodate the full spectrum of business events, from boardroom meetings to large-scale conferences. Perhaps its most remarkable aspect is the incentive offer which lets employees record a song at the studios.

Up to 130 delegates can sing in studio 2, where The Beatles recorded around 90 of their songs, with the help of engineers and professional vocal coaches to record one of many Beatles songs from their back catalogue.

Post-event, each delegate receives an audio version of the track, pictures from the event and a video montage of their recording session. Abbey Road Studios head of events Jeremy Huffelmann says the experience can be “a fantastic team-building platform – studies have proven the psychological and social benefits of singing. We regularly see teams connect on an emotional level, which, in turn, makes them a stronger working unit.”

Sky Garden

The Sky Garden is located at the top of London’s 20 Fenchurch Street – the Rafael Vinoly-designed skyscraper better known as the Walkie-Talkie. Its Sky Garden is located across floors 35-37 and features the highest garden space in London. It can host receptions for up to 450 people, and comprises two restaurants – the Fenchurch Seafood Bar and Grill, and the Darwin Brasserie – the 360-degree Sky Pod bar and three event spaces.

Arcelormittal Orbit
In the summer of 2012, London was gripped by the Olympic Games and at the start of nearly every piece of TV coverage, focusing on the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, there was a spectacular sculpture dominating the skyline. At 114.5m tall, Arcelorm

ittal Orbit is Britain’s largest piece of public art and is intended to be a permanent legacy of London’s hosting of the 2012 games.

At the top of the structure in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a two-deck viewing platform, which is available to hire for day and evening events. Both decks combined can host a reception for up to 250 people standing. For companies looking for team building and incentive events, the Arcelormittal Orbit offers abseiling experiences, costs based on group size, date and time.

Next to the Orbit is The Podium, home to the East Twenty Bar and Kitchen and East Twenty hospitality suite, which accommodates 40-80 people, and overlooks the Olympic stadium and London Aquatics Centre.

ZSL London Zoo
At ZSL London Zoo, companies can take employees on a series of team-building events such as I’m A Delegate… Get Me Out Of Here! within the 36-acre site in central London. This activity, which lasts up to four hours, sees teams solving clues, completing challenges and deciphering codes to find hidden treasure. The cost is £59.50 per person, based on 20 delegates, but the price reduces the higher the number of delegates that attend.

The zoo also offers animal encounters and other experiences for smaller groups. Companies can hire meeting space and catering services.

Churchill War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms, located in the heart of Westminster, are the extensive underground bunkers from which Sir Winston and his government worked during the Second World War while sheltering from the London blitz. The basement storage area, converted for use in 1938, was where Churchill delivered his iconic speeches during the worst of the bombing.

The venue offers three different rooms – the Harmsworth Room, the HCA Auditorium and the Switch Room – for meetings, fine dining, conferences and evening receptions. It can accommodate from 20 (in the Switch Room, boardroom-style) up to 350 people (using the entire complex).

Guests can walk along the corridors Churchill used, looking into the War Cabinet Room and Map Room, and the venue also offers extras for events, such as waiting staff in military and 1940s dress.

London Aquarium

Located next to The London Eye and across the river from the Houses of Parliament, Sea Life London Aquarium is an eye-catching central location for award dinners or networking events. The Aquarium offers exclusive use of the aquarium for 50-200 guests. There is entertainment on offer, with divers in the shark tank communicating with guests outside via underwater whiteboards. It also offers a glass ‘shark wall’ and a glass floor, where guests can see sealife such as turtles and stingrays glide by.

The venue also offers multiple branding opportunities, including plasma screens throughout the complex. The main space, Atlantic Cove, has a movable wall in the centre of the room to allow for greater layout flexibility.

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