Do you really know all the wonders that England has to offer? Not if you haven’t been to Telford & ShropshireSydney Paulden rectifies a serious omission in his world-wide travels
The Credit Crunch will have had at least one good and lasting effect if it turns event organisers’ attentions to the glorious opportunities they have overlooked in the UK.
I can say from a personal point of view that travelling more in the UK recently I have been astonished at how much I still have to learn about my own country.
In spite of living all my life in Britain, I have only recently been to Telford and looked around some of the fascinating places and venues that Shropshire has to offer.
It is difficult to imagine another location in England that has in such close proximity a stock of quality guestrooms, its own dedicated conference and exhibition centre, a range of unusual dining facilities, such an array of interesting museums and visitor attractions - and all situated in beautiful countryside without traffic congestion.
I drove around the whole area alone, making every call on time in a packed 3-day itinerary.
Rooms with a view
My base was a member of the Q Hotels group, the Telford Hotel & Golf Resort. I arrived at night. When I entered the breakfast room in the morning I was first of all unable to reply when asked my room number, not because I had forgotten it, but because I was struck breathless by the view across the Severn Gorge.
‘Don’t worry’, said the lady at the desk, ‘I’m used to it. New guests always stop awhile to take in the view.’
Ironbridge, a World Heritage Site, is not only central to the landscape in the whole area, but is the reason why this is a world-famous attraction for anyone interested in industrial history. Shropshire was a major source of coal and became a centre of industry in the 18thC when the method of smelting iron using coke instead of charcoal became commercially viable.
Telford & Shropshire Conferences, the region’s convention bureau, has launched a campaign called Dare to be Different to raise the area’s profile as a MICE destination.
The 4-star Telford Hotel & Golf Resort is a major asset. It has 170 acres of grounds and Q Hotels has made a recent £10m investment in it. It is a 114-room blend of an original manor house converted old barns and low-rise new-build extensions.
The manor was the home of Abraham Darby and now, as Darby House, offers 9 exclusive bedrooms as well as a function room that, when its furniture has been removed, has been transformed into an unusual recreation and fun room for groups, with relaxing chaises longues and Nintendo Wii games.
The hotel’s Coalport Suite, which has vehicle access, can cater for 350 delegates, whilst three smaller function rooms have been created from what used to be the upper area of squash courts; the lower area is now an extensive new spa.
The property’s own golf course is a 6,741-yard par 72 and was the scene of Ian Woosnam’s first major tournament victory when he popped over to play from Wales.
Snooker, cheerleaders and midwives
A gem of a facility is the International Centre, Telford, one of the UK’s top 10 convention centres. It is a purpose-built conference and exhibition hall that has a track record of success in an astonishing range of events and exhibitions for up to 4,000 attendees.
Recent events held at the Centre range over Pro-Retail, the UK Snooker Championship, the UK competition for the Champion Cheerleaders, a Midwives Convention and a conference of Petroleum Suppliers, where huge petrol tankers were on display in the halls.
‘The décor of the facility is purposely very neutral,’ says Jo Parton, the Sales & Marketing Manager, ‘so that clients can customise it to suit their own event.’
Meet among masterpieces
A totally different, extremely valuable asset in Shropshire just minutes drive out of town is the 1000-acre Weston Park. It was the home of the Earl of Bradford and I drove hundreds of yards through manicured gardens to reach the mansion.
Run by a charitable trust, it has a range of superb function rooms that can be hired for private gatherings. The walls display priceless masterpieces by artists such as Van Dyck and Holbein. Weston Park also has 28 bedrooms for use by client companies.
In spite of its splendour, Weston Park is not a snooty venue. It has been the home of the V-festival for five years, attended by 85,000 festival goers and bands such as Oasis, Coldplay and Razorlight.
In June there are outdoor performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Old coaching inn
Dotted around the Shropshire countryside are old inns that have been lovingly preserved and serve excellent food. One rather unusual one is Old Orleton that was built as a coaching inn in 1767 on the Holyhead Road, for travellers en route to the ferries to Ireland. The arrival of the railway virtually made the inn obsolete as far as coaches were concerned and it is now a tiny 8-room hostelry alongside the Wrekin, the steep hill that suddenly appears on the scene as you drive there.
Magnificent museums for all interests
In the luscious countryside is the RAF Museum Cosford, which is also the home of four massive halls that serve as two museums. Three of the hangars house as many as 70 historic aircraft. There is an auditorium to seat 208 people and there are liberal spaces around the exhibits for cocktail receptions. These can be alongside Spitfires, Hurricanes, Vulcan, Valiant and Victor bombers.
Half a day to several days – whatever time there is in an itinerary – can be enjoyably and productively spent in the 10 museums within a 6 sq mile area based on Ironbridge. They mostly have dramatic settings by the rushing Severn torrent, on the edge of the Gorge and in view of the original iron bridge.
The museum Enginuity celebrates invention and manufacture and contains exhibits actually shown at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. The original Boardroom of the Coalbrookdale Company that mined coal and smelted iron is still there and available for hire for a modern-day meeting.
Totally in contrast to the indoor exhibits and interactive attractions of Enginuity is the Victorian Town at Blists Hill. Here there is an old-fashioned Lloyds Bank where visitors can purchase pound, shillings and pence old currency for use in the town. At the pub you can buy a pint of beer for 7d or you can pop into the chip shop for fish and chips, cooked in the Victorian way in beef dripping, and eat them out of a twist of paper as you stroll through the recently added Canal Street.
There is a print shop still using Linotype, parties of people hoeing amongst Victorian plants, a haberdashery shop displaying bibs and lace and old-style dresses.
Blists Hill has a working foundry and ironworks and a small farm where the same breed of hens lay real eggs as in Victorian times.
The whole town can be rented for entertaining up to 2,000 people, complete with about 30 attendants all in authentic Victorian suits and dresses.
Central locationA new direct rail service from London Marylebone takes only 2.5hrs. Birmingham and Manchester, with their international airports, are only 45 mins and 1hr 40 mins by road via excellent motorway links
ContactTelford & Shropshire Conferences convention bureau promotes over 40 venues and services. It has a bid unit and provides event organisers with free support, including venue finding, accommodation booking, site inspections, social programmes and travel advice.
For full information on any aspect of MICE events, contact Sarah Bird, Business Tourism Manager of Telford & Shropshire Conferences. Call 01952-567 560