Yorkshire is a fast growing destination – and for many good reasonsWelcome to Yorkshire can claim to represent the UK’s fastest growing tourism area. Working with four conference bureaux (Conference Leeds, York & Scarborough Conferences, Conference Yorkshire South and Hull & East Yorkshire Conferences), it is ensuring that business tourism will continue to have its fair share.
There is a buzz in each of these regions, where hotels, conference centres, visitor attractions, sports stadia and racecourses are working enthusiastically with the municipal authorities to upgrade their facilities for incentives and conferences. Sydney Paulden reports on a range of venues that show how rapidly progress is being made in york and Hull.
Further reports from Yorkshire towns will appear in future issues
York is a conference city of culture and comfort
York is a classy city that adds a special flavour to events held there. It has the dominant but elegant York Minster, the ancient Roman Wall that pedestrians can conveniently use to get around town (literally) and it has many old streets and squares where a visitor cannot resist taking a seat for a cup of coffee and a moment or two to feel all’s well with the world.
‘Vintage’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘quality’ and ‘culture’ are all words that attach themselves to your thinking in this city and this cannot be bad for organisers who want their delegates to have a good conference and at the same time feel that the whole experience has been worthwhile.
In today’s economic climate, ancient buildings have been able to take on a new lease of life. They have to earn their keep and they are looked on as assets not only in terms of their heritage but also the income they can generate as venues for corporate events. York has invested in its museums, surplus office buildings, its prisons and even in its iconic cathedral, The Minster, to equip them with what they need to serve as memorable venues for meetings, banquets and hospitality.
One of the world’s most beautiful buildings for a £3k hire fee
You feel privileged to be able to walk into York Minster to admire the architecture. Attached to the Minster itself is The Chapter House that was completed in 1286. In the Middle Ages a chapter house was the place where the church or cathedral held their administration meetings, so it is fitting that it can still be used for serious discussions.
It is octagonal in shape and has six carved seats on each wall with nothing in the centre of the building. This arrangement indicated that at a meeting no one could hold the central position to dominate the discussions. It is used still for meetings of the Dean and Chapter.
The Chapter House can be hired for dinners for up to 130 people and for buffet receptions. There is a lawn outside for fine weather breaks and there is a separate entrance. The cost is in the region of £3k to hire the building plus the charge for the food and beverage.
If it’s culture and tradition that you prefer as the setting for an event, you should visit The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall in York. It is somewhat younger than the Minster, having been built in 1357 as a guild hall, but it is regarded as one of the best preserved buildings of its kind in the world. It could also be one of the most private, because it is approached through a very narrow alleyway off one of the city’s streets and it comes as a surprise to find such a large and imposing building.
A merchant adventurer was someone who risked money by investing in international trade. The Hall was built very much for meetings over 650 years ago and its still serves that purpose well. The timbered Great Hall on the first floor is often used in conjunction with the hall called the Undercroft on the ground floor, with one used for the conference and the other for dining the delegates. In this way it can accommodate up to 180 people for a day without the need to leave the building. But there are gardens if delegates wish to get fresh air or have a smoke.
There are also two smaller rooms, the Governor’s Parlour and the Committee Room which serve well as administration and business centre facilities, or which can be hired on their own for smaller groups.
The venue is furnished with pieces even older than the building and silver and portraits from Elizabethan times. Cost are certainly not excessive, with hire prices around £700 depending on the day and the season.
York Castle Museum is named after the castle that used to stand on this site. It is now a fascinating museum showing the everyday living conditions in times from 19thC Victorian up to the 1950s and 1960s, with recreated rooms in houses, shops and whole streets. There are hundreds and hundreds of historic toys, fashion, pieces of armour, weapons, tools, printing presses, cooking utensils and farming equipment. If client companies wish to rent the museum for their own gatherings, there is bound to be something relevant to their sector of business. But let us hope that it is not the part of the museum that shows what it was like to be locked up in an early debtors’ prison. The building was a prison at that time and one of its most famous inmates was the highway robber Dick Turpin, who was hanged in 1739 for horse stealing. Visitors can stand in the cramped cells and imagine how it felt, especially when they hear how many prisoners were crammed into that tiny space.
Dine with the Flying Scotsman
The National Railway Museum in York gives an entirely different atmosphere. Britain has always been proud and excited about its rail achievements and these are borne out, delighting the schoolchild in every delegate, when an event is held on a railway platform in the company of the Flying Scotsman and the Orient Express. Up to 700 people can be seated for a dinner amongst the exhibits.
There are also six special-purpose meeting rooms and even the possibility of holding a reception or meal in the Valiant, a carriage from a Pullman luxury train.
Listed building steps in as the new top hotel
The most recent addition to the city’s hotel stock is the city’s first 5-star hotel, the Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa, opened in 2010.
In the days when it was built, there were no credit cards and railway tickets were bought with cash. The building was therefore provided with massive vaults and strongrooms to hold the revenue collected over a wide area. These are now the unique setting for the hotel’s extensive spa, complete with pool, steam room, sauna and gym. There are 107 bedrooms and suites of ultimate comfort (speaking from personal experience) and the cuisine matches the 5-star quality of the hotel (also speaking from experience). The fine dining restaurant gives delightful views over York.
What used to be the railway company’s elegantly and expensively wood-panelled Chairman’s Room and Grand Boardroom and directors’ offices are now a range of seven meeting rooms that accommodate from 50 to 120. There is a terrace with a decking area with views overlooking the town wall that is a unique venue for a banquet to seat up to 250 people.
Centrally located hotel and events centre
Next to York’s current central railway station is the building that used to be the station hotel. It is now the 167-room Royal York Hotel & Events Centre, part of the Principal Hayley group. It is a large Victorian building that bestrides a small rise in the town alongside the ancient Roman wall and where many of its array of meeting rooms give views up to York Minster.
The hotel’s Events Centre is purpose-built and has a separate entry. It can accommodate 410 theatre style or 220 for a gala dinner. There are 14 other function rooms and their elegance and charm are reflected in their names: The Oak Room, The Wedgewood, The Crown, The Minster and so on.
York Racecourse is a blend of the old and the new. It is particularly convenient for events, as it has all the spaciousness and accessibility associated with major sports venues, but it is just a few minutes from the town centre. It is believed that the Romans held racing here 2,000 years ago, but there is solid evidence that the city was holding races in 1530 and the first grandstand was built in 1754, with regular additions to modernise through the ages.
However, the present 5-tier grandstand was opened in 1965 and the modern Ebor Stand dates from 2003.
York Racecourse was the choice of venue for Ascot in 2005 when the Ascot course was being remodelled.
All the facilities that come into full use on race days for viewing the races and for hospitality of many thousands of guests are available for corporate hire for most of the year. There are many spaces that range from the Voltigeur Suite in the Knavesmire Stand that can seat 1,000 theatre style to the Ebor Suite and the Members Suite, both in the Ebor Stand, that can each seat 500 delegates. There is no problem in housing a conference and a lunch or dinner for 600 people.
Hull offers some ferry good ideas
Because of its geographical location, it is rare for people to pass through Hull on the way to somewhere else – unless the final destination is the other side of the Channel. In fact, Hull is the departure port for P&O Ferries regular daily sailings to Rotterdam in Holland and Zeebrugge in Belgium. It is well worth considering this route as a very convenient means of gathering delegates on the way to the Continent. Hull is well served by rail and motorways, so delegates from various parts of the UK can assemble in Hull ready to travel as a group.
The port has ample parking facilities if delegates don’t require their cars at the other side and the ferries sail overnight, combining travel and hotel accommodation. Sailings depart late evening and arrive the next morning, so dinner and breakfast can be taken care of during the journey.
Furthermore, today’s ships themselves are able to offer a wide range of f&b outlets and well-equipped meeting spaces, giving organisers the opportunity to hold a welcome dinner and a meeting or a briefing session during the channel crossing.
The Deep offers unfathomed possibilities
Another very good reason for visiting the port at Hull is the visitor attraction called The Deep. When talking of ‘unusual venues’, this has to be in England’s top ten of ‘unusual’ and also of ‘venues’. There is an array of venues where up to 350 delegates not only meet each other, but also over 3,500 fish.
The building was designed by Sir Terry Farrell and has been recognised as iconic not only in Hull and Yorkshire, but internationally - and has even been featured on a Royal Mail postage stamp.
Hull Truck Theatre inspires dramatic results
John Godber, son of a Yorkshire miner, is the Creative Director of Hull Truck Theatre. He is an internationally recognised writer with over 50 plays to his name. He has been able to maintain a high reputation for Hull Truck and to ensure that its facilities are remarkably high quality. In return, he knows that these quality amenities can attract corporate events – presentations, product launches, meetings, exhibitions – that can bring in revenue to support his productions and thus generate funds to continue improving the venue.
The main theatre seats 440 delegates very comfortably, the Studio Theatre holds 134 and can retract the seats to create break-out or workshop space. There is also the bright Inter@act room for up to 30 people, which has its own bar area and there are the Upper and Lower Foyers for break-outs or accompanying exhibitions.
Hull is a small town and there is no distance between the special venues and the choice of hotels. The largest is the 155-guestroom Royal Hotel, for decades a central landmark alongside the railway station. Its Ballroom can accommodate up to 400 people.
There is also the 4-star Portland and a Holiday Inn on Ferensway. I was fortunate enough to stay at Townhouse Hotel that has all the hallmarks of a former private home. I agree with its own description as a 4-star luxury boutique property. It dates from 1846, when it was built for the physician to Queen Victoria. Rooms and bathrooms have been recently refurbished and there is an attractive, surprisingly light dining room in the lower ground floor. It can cater for up to 140 people at a buffet. A private function suite can seat 40 for dinner.
Central source of help for York York & Scarborough Conferences, Laura Freer
Tel: 01904 554472
Central source of help for Hull lHull & East Yorkshire Conferences, Liz Neal
Tel: 01482 486500