Yorkshire’s venues of infinite variety – ancient and modern, large, small and quirky


ITCM visits a representative range throughout the county

For event organisers, Yorkshire is like a giant, upmarket tombola. Dig into any area of the county and you can find a gem of a venue. A year ago ITCM went on a tour and carried out 16 site inspections covering unusual venues; ancient monuments; academic lecture theatres; guildhalls and museums. The procedure has just been repeated in 2011. A further whistle-stop tour of almost a score of different venues, all selected by Welcome to Yorkshire, all ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other – yet not a single repeat visit, all completely different from those previously seen.

And, we are convinced, the same procedure could be repeated for some time into the future, constantly coming across fascinating venues, each with something special and distinctive to offer.
The venues in Yorkshire come in all shapes and sizes. ITCM visited, in the space of four days, a choice of venues in each capacity to suit everything from a Board of Directors to an AGM of thousands.

A Hull of a destination
Hull & East Yorkshire is approached through surprisingly beautiful, flat farmland surrounded by the low hills of the Yorkshire Wolds. Arrival at the city is signalled by the view of that remarkable engineering achievement, the Humber Bridge spanning the wide estuary.
One normally has a view of the bridge from the Hallmark Hotel, where I stayed, but it happened to be a remarkably misty morning and I had to take Paul Nixon’s word for it. He is the General Manager of a property that is still getting known in Hull & East Yorkshire as it has recently been bought by the Hallmark Hotels Group, had its name changed and £3m spent on a total remodelling.
Its 95 rooms have been given a contemporary style and boast 32-in flat screens and free Wi-Fi. The hotel is memorable for its colourful décor and its abundance of natural daylight. There is a dining terrace that makes the most of the views over the Humber. There is a choice of function rooms for up to 200 delegates.

Start with a green pea sorbet
A short drive away I dined at Beverley Tickton Grange. This illustrated the remarkable contrasts that greet a visitor to Hull & East Yorkshire. The Grange, a Georgian mansion, stands in the village of Tickton, near the delightful town of Beverley and dates back to the 1800s. It has been tastefully extended and the owners, Paul and Debbie Whymant, believe in providing guests with the highest quality food – in large quantities. You eat there probably in a similar way to the baronial feats of the time. Its brochure puts great emphasis on its food, not just on the prepared dishes, but also on the actual local farms that supply the ingredients. But the menu can have a sense of humour and surprises, such as ‘pea sorbet’ for starters and piccalilli ice cream with chicken liver. Dessert comprised a medley of sorbet ices made from rose water, lavender, liquorice, oranges and champagne.
There is a choice of function rooms, all giving the sense of a relaxed visit to a country house, but the pride and joy is the Rose Room that can hold up to 200 delegates at a DDR of only £23.95, plus £240 for the room. There is no doubt that the setting adds to any event and encourages relaxed and positive deep thinking. Could there be another contrasting venue round the corner in Hull & East Yorkshire? Of course! I was taken to Lazaat just outside the market town of Cottingham, near Beverley. Its name derives from an African dialect and signifies that ‘all is well’. There are touches of an African style theme.  The Delegate Day Rate is approximately between £20 and £25 and there are five main meeting spaces in the venue that can be configured flexibly, the largest space able to seat 70 delegates. In addition there is a self-contained pavilion in the grounds that can seat up to 350.  Parking is available for 120 cars in three acres of landscaped gardens.

Forensics and fish, meerkats and marmosets
My next port of call was Bishop Burton College. This again was a surprise, as I assumed it was an academic institution with theological connections, only to find it is named after the village of Bishop Burton and not a cleric.
But it is an educational establishment of a very different kind and proved to be an Aladdin’s Cave of surprises.
One of its speciality subjects is forensic science, whilst on the other hand it has one of the largest equine centres in the region. Then you walk into another cluster of buildings and find reptiles, fish, birds – even marmosets and meerkats! There is a big area devoted to the husbandry of pigs and it eventually becomes no surprise to meet wallabies, lemurs and llamas.
But Bishop Burton College also claims to be one of the most prominent colleges for sports. In fact the English Rugby team frequently comes there for training, whilst the Chinese Pentathlon team has already booked it as its training base for the 2012 Olympics.
Organisers can choose almost any type of location to suit any event and there are scores of acres on which to conduct all forms of team building. There are 347 student rooms that can accommodate delegates as required.
After all those visits I had to change my memories of Hull & East Yorkshire, It was almost a world tour and yet it was still only 12 noon.

Very British Bridlington
Bridlington, just a short drive along the coast, presented another totally different aspect. It is a British seaside town in architecture and atmosphere and its centrepiece, as far as event organisers are concerned, is The Spa, owned by the East Riding Council. Stretching along the seafront, it is very much the traditional entertainment and leisure centre, but it was brought right up to date with a £20.5m investment in 2007 within the European Regional Development scheme.
A site inspection is like touring a town within a town. The main facilities are the Royal Hall and the Spa Theatre, two spectacular spaces with few rivals elsewhere in the UK. The Royal Hall dates back to 1932 and, with its wide balcony, it can cater for as many as 800 people at a banquet or can seat 1,700 theatre style. The Spa Theatre, in Edwardian style dating from its rebuilding in 1907, is two tiers of plush red seating able to accommodate 675 delegates or spectators.
The Spa offers regular shows and concerts and is a favourite venue for AGMs, as it can seat hundreds of delegates in comfort and then provide them with a good meal.
But clients also book the Spa for smaller events, as there are the Bay View Lounge, the Promenade Bar, the Boardroom and the Harbour Suites for groups of 18 up to 150.
The sum of £225,000 was spent on the Spa’s kitchens which seem futuristic to a layman visitor. They can serve hundreds of meals to delegates within 8 minutes. There are three giant ovens that can steam, braise and roast and which are controlled by just three chefs, whilst up to 50 waiters and waitresses distribute the dishes rapidly.

Liz Neal - Hull and East Yorkshire Conferences:  01482 486 500 www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com/conference/

2012 interactive visitor guide

Splendid Scarborough
Further north on the East Coast is the North Yorkshire resort that has been popular literally for centuries, since recognition of its health-giving waters as early as 1626. It has two bays with extensive sand beaches at the foot of dramatic cliffs.
The main focus of the town is Scarborough Spa. It is a majestic sandstone building that has stood on a prime location on the South Bay seafront since the 1880s. It definitely grows more splendid with time.
Scarborough’s Spa hosts a big proportion of the events held in town, from conferences and AGMs and exhibitions to weddings, banquets, concerts and award ceremonies. The venue has in-house catering specialists, an in-house technical team and its own 10-piece orchestra.
There are six main function areas. The Grand Hall, resplendently Victorian, can seat up to 1,850 delegates and large exhibits can be brought in directly from the car park at the rear of the building. The Ocean Room, true to its name, has windows along its full length giving views over the water. It can seat up to 700. The Theatre, a Victorian facility but with the latest technology, can seat 570.
In addition, to be used as self-contained venues or in conjunction with the others, there are the Promenade Lounge, the Vita Dome and the Sun Court Suite. The grandeur of the facilities is not matched by the prices, which are very modest. Scarborough Spa can quote £20 as a Day Delegate Rate.
There is a wide choice of hotels convenient to the Spa, some with easy access via a Victorian funicular up the cliff. Delegates can obtain special passes to reach them from the venue.

Emma Rollason-Taylor - York and Scarborough Conferences: 01904 554 459 www.visityork.org/conference/

York’s centuries of hospitality
Having inspected venues such as York Minster, the new 5-star Cedar Court Grand Hotel and the Railway Museum last year, I thought I knew York, but the next 24 hours proved me wrong as I was introduced to another batch of fascinating facilities.
My overnight stay was in the Hotel du Vin. This property is a contrast in itself, because, a Grade II listed building, it was once an orphanage and is now one of the city’s chic rendezvous. It has an excellent cuisine with a lot of emphasis on service and presentation and, naturally, the hotel is themed on wine. You can choose from over 650 bins! Little wonder that it can claim 92% occupancy since opening as a hotel four years ago.
Hotel du Vin is a good base for an incentive visit, with all the historic sights of York’s city centre at walking distance. It is also a favoured venue for small, exclusive meetings, even for clients from as far as London and Edinburgh.
It has three indoor function rooms, Balfour, Ouse and the Library Lounge all with décor to suit the hotel’s cultural flavour, plus an inner Courtyard that provides a unique setting for a brainstorming session.
There are 44 guestrooms, all suites and all individual, but offering the finest linen and mattresses, deep baths and powerful showers and all with wine themes. I stayed in the Veuve Clicquot. It was a quirky room, with the bath in the bedroom. The hotel owners have been very bold in their design, with massive murals. Outdoors, in the garden/courtyard, is a cigar-smoking area under tree, but with underfloor heating for the comfort of the smokers.
The following day was another mix of contrasting venues, from the most modern to the oldest imaginable.
The York Barbican was nothing like its name suggests. Far from being a Roman relic, it is a modern sports, conference and concert centre. It is owned by York City but managed by SMG (UK) Ltd, the international venue managers that are also responsible for facilities such as The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle.
For some reason it was unused for a period of about six years and was then given a £2m renovation to transform it into a very flexible venue. It has a tiered auditorium to seat 1,500 and four other spaces able to configure as seven rooms if required. Capacities range from 25 to 80 theatre style. There is a sport hall that can serve as a dining area for a large conference.
The Hospitium in York could not be a greater contrast. Its name derives from the fact that it was a guest house providing hospitality for visitors to the nearby St Mary’s Abbey in the 14th Century. The abbey is now a picturesque ruin, whilst the Hospitium is still providing hospitality. It is a black and white half-timbered listed building in the beautiful Museum Gardens. Since its refurbishment in 2008 it has been a popular venue for weddings and for meetings and receptions.
It is particularly convenient for events, as on its upper floor up to 100 delegates can sit in a completely clear space, whilst the ground floor can be used for registration, coffee breaks and lunch.
Another fascinating unusual venue in York is the National Centre for Early Music. This was a derelict church that is now Grade I listed and playing a valuable role in preserving and spreading the enjoyment and appreciation of the earliest music. It has a piano, two harpsichords, an organ and a set of chimes. Since the year 2000 it has supplemented its income by offering its premises for meetings of up to 180 guests. It also has a separate small boardroom. There couldn’t be a more inspiring and relaxing location in which to present food for thought.

Emma Rollason-Taylor - York and Scarborough Conferences: 01904 554 459 www.visityork.org/conference/

The Smart Hub of Leeds
Leeds was the next call on my Yorkshire pilgrimage and again provided two entirely different types of venue. About four miles outside the city, convenient to the airport, is Weetwood Hall, a 17thC mansion. In more recent times it has been a First World War convalescent home for wounded soldiers and then a student hall of residence. It is now a 4-star conference hotel with as many as 36 meeting rooms. The largest can seat 200 delegates.
The highlight of the hotel’s facilities is its Smart Hub Data Conferencing Suite. It requires a personal visit and a demonstration to present all of its advantages, but, in brief, it permits delegates in the room to work with and interact with delegates who are not on site. They can, in fact, be anywhere else in the world, but all participants, home and away, can make notes on the same computer projected documents and discuss ideas and suggestions as if they are all together in the same room.
It stands in gardens and woodland of nine acres, ideal for team-building activities. Car parking, of course, is no problem, which gives it an immediate plus. The facilities indoors and out are so extensive it is like a self-contained village. In the grounds there is the Stables Pub in a cobbled courtyard, a novel option for delegate dining.
Weetwood’s 106 guestrooms, all recently refurbished, provide a wide choice, with two offering 4-poster beds and a luxury suite with a rack rate of £135.
Day Delegate rates are from £29 to £45, whilst 24-hour rates range from £129 to £145. Charges are per room and not per person, making it a value-for-money venue for incentives, when partners are invited.
Close by there is a fitness complex and a golf course, where facilities are available for rugby, hockey, cricket and football.

It is easy to Meet in Leeds
Located in the town centre is the extensive campus of the University of Leeds that can claim 32,000 students. It offers conference facilities under the brand of ‘Meet in Leeds’ and it is the largest venue in the city. Residential conferences are restricted to the non-term periods of the year, but day events can be held at any time. It has held events for up to 1,200 delegates and can seat 550 at one time in plenary session, with the space to feed them as well.
The Storm Jameson Court, named after the author who studied at the university, is a brand new accommodation block with 460 bedrooms finished to a high standard. It is aimed very much at the association conference market. Room rates are within most budgets, being about £46 per room for bed and breakfast. The room design is reminiscent of a ship’s cabin, with curved wall and lots of clever storage areas. There are 23 rooms fitted out for handicapped people and the Canadian Paralympics team has already booked into the university ready for the 2012 games.
China has also made a booking for 2012 for over 200 athletes – and is rumoured to be bringing its own tables to practise table tennis.
The university’s Refectory for quite a period in the past was one of the UK’s most favoured venue for pop concerts, starring The Who, The Rolling Stones and other top groups.
A big attraction for teams is The Edge, one of the country’s most comprehensive sports and fitness centres. Its state-of-the-art facilities include sports halls, a giant 25m, 8-lane swimming pool, three dedicated fitness studios, squash courts and a climbing wall. Entry to The Edge is free for delegates.

Northern Ballet’s new facilities
A particularly unusual but very relevant venue is the Northern Ballet in Leeds. It is housed in a building only just one year old, which is located in what can now be regarded as the cultural centre of the city, its close neighbours being a theatre, the School of Music and the BBC studios.
The Northern Ballet facility is multi-storey and consists of seven dance studios that can house conferences or events. Each floor is arranged so that there is a studio on one side, admin offices on the other with networking space between. It can boast Europe’s largest indoor rehearsal area. Groups can have the added benefit of using the company’s extensive stock of costumes for themed parties or team building.

Nicola Lockwood - Conference Leeds: 0113 220 6351 www.conference-leeds.com/

Jurys Inn Sheffield offers 9 meeting rooms
Jurys Inn Sheffield is a hotel conveniently located very close to the Sheffield railway station, but is actually on a steep hill, so, with luggage, a taxi is advisable. Driving there is no problem, as there is parking close by.
With 259 bedrooms, it is the largest hotel in South Yorkshire and a popular conference venue, not least because its Day Delegate Rate is only £25 to £30. On the lower ground floor in a dedicated area there are nine meeting rooms, all around an open space where delegates can sit, network and even smoke. Coffee and tea are permanently on tap. Corporate clients frequently book this whole sector of the hotel exclusively.
The hotel has a stylish moderately priced restaurant, whilst the large Il Barista bar is great for quick snacks and casual conversation.

Kelham Island’s unique spaces
About 900 years ago the people of Sheffield created Kelham Island in the middle of the River Don. It is fitting that it is now the site of the Kelham Island Museum that preserves evidence of the industriousness of the city. If you enjoy coming in close contact with massive marvels of heavy machinery, then a visit here is a must. There is the legendary 12,000 bhp River Don Engine that was built in 1905 to power steel rolling mills at Grimesthorpe Works and only stopped doing that job in 1973. Visitors can see – and hear! – the engine working at full steam.
There is the giant egg-shaped Bessemer Converter that was in use until 1975, converting iron to steel with the process dating from 1856.
But there are also lots of more generally appreciated exhibits, such as the silver-plated penny farthing with a red velvet saddle; a clock made in 1740, notable for a piece of steel that was one of the world’s first example of this new material; and a number of cars including the Charron-Laycock coupé that raced in 1921.
Surprisingly, the museum has a spacious upper gallery that can set 250 and which frequently sports a disco and bar. There is also access via a ramp so that vehicles can actually be driven up to it. Completing the hospitality facilities is a shop specialising in corporate gifts and awards. The Kelham Museum can provide an unusual venue for hospitality and events with an unrivalled flavour of Sheffield.

Motorpoint Arena is one of England’s largest
The Motorpoint Arena, named after the sponsoring car showroom company, is close to the centre of Sheffield but able to seat 13,500 people. It has hosted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and is the prized for concerts by international pop stars and comedians appealing to a massive audience.
It is a multi-purpose sports arena and events venue and it is the home of the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team. It has been the stage for the AGM of the Women’s Institute, a production of Phantom of the Opera and a UCAS education and careers exhibition. In January 2012 it will draw many thousands of spectators to the European Figure Skating Championships.
There is no doubting the success of the arena in many sectors and its management is always ready to consider large events of any kind.

Chatsworth House is an unrivalled venue
I was a little surprised that my last call on the itinerary organised by Welcome to Yorkshire Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. I was really astonished when my Sheffield taxi driver asked for the address and postcode. I was able to give him the phone number and I heard him ring to ask for its street number. I then told him that he would understand why I was smiling when we got there.
We drove through some of the UK’s most glorious countryside, the Peak District, and then he also saw the joke when we looked up a beautiful valley and were presented with the huge outline of one of England’s greatest stately homes, Chatsworth House. Standing by the River Derwent, it is still the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, but it has also been the home of Mr Darcy in the television production of Pride & Prejudice.
It is a popular visitor attraction and is frequently thronged with tourists from all over the UK and the rest of the world.
However, corporate clients can be assured of privacy in the Stables block dating from 1760. The atmospheric Racing Room can seat 20 people, whilst up to 70 can be hosted in the Hartington Room which has all mod cons, including a Smart Wall.
The Day Delegate Rate is as low as £40 – and Chatsworth House is known for the way its chefs and bakers specialise in innovative dishes from local produce.
Groups can also be booked into exclusive tours of the property, whilst 1,700 acres of land should be enough for any kind of team-building activity.

Gemma Tissington - Sheffield Convention Bureau: 0871 700 2214 http://conference.welcometosheffield.co.uk/

Contacts for Yorkshire’s conference regions that hosted ITCM:
Liz Neal - Hull and East Yorkshire Conferences: 01482 486 500 www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com/conference/
Emma Rollason-Taylor - York and Scarborough Conferences: 01904 554 459 www.visityork.org/conference/
Nicola Lockwood - Conference Leeds: 0113 220 6351 www.conference-leeds.com/
Gemma Tissington - Sheffield Convention Bureau: 0871 700 2214 http://conference.welcometosheffield.co.uk/