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‘BH Live gives us the freedom to compete in a challenging market’


Steve Piper, Director of Bournemouth’s BIC and the Pavilion Theatre, looks forward after a successful first year

Steve Piper has been Director of Venues at BH Live for six months, so he has experienced the second half of BH Live’s first year of trading. ‘The figures are not finalised or published yet’, he says, ‘but I can say we’ve done OK and we are pleased.’

BH Live is a charitable trust set up by Bournemouth Borough Council to run six conference and leisure locations. Those of immediate interest to conference executives are the BIC (Bournemouth International Centre) and the Bournemouth Pavilion theatre and Steve is responsible for marketing them.

BH Live is an NPDO. As you may well be aware, that stands for a Non Profit Distributing Organisation. ‘This means’, explains Steve, ‘that we are tasked with generating funds, but they are re-invested in the properties to keep them up-to-date, competitive and very much alive’. The Council did not want these facilities to be any kind of possible financial risk, but at the same time it recognised their importance to the local economy. ‘The venues, for example’, says Steve, ‘bring tens of thousands of delegates and visitors to the town and feed business into the hotels, the restaurants, the shops and the taxis.’

Steve was previously Managing Director of the Brighton Centre. ‘It was a similar job’, he agrees, ‘but what attracted me to BH Live was the fact that although it is a charitable trust, it is very much a commercial operation and we are free to seize on any opportunities to develop the business.’

He recalls that when he first joined Brighton, the UK could boast only a handful of big venues of that kind. ‘The competition was mainly Bournemouth, Harrogate and Blackpool. Now, centres and arenas have sprung up in so many other locations around the UK and competition is very fierce. It is a real challenge to compete in this market and it is great to have the freedom of movement and decision-making that BH Live gives us.’

At BIC 6,500 delegates can meat and eat. It has the main hall plus four big break-out spaces. For smaller gatherings the Pavilion has a theatre auditorium to seat 1,400 and a ballroom that can accommodate 500. It is a Grade II listed 1920s Art Deco building that is very popular.

‘Our main bread and butter business is with associations, unions, government gatherings and medical conferences. We have large numbers of international delegates, but the client organisers are mostly based in the UK,’ he says. ‘Our first year proves that the right way forward was chosen and we know we have the basis from which to grow even more.’

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