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Growing social awareness 'helping alternative venues to thrive'


Oct 22, 2010 | Editors

The growing importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to companies is driving event organisers away from hotels and to alternative venues, according to Dawn O'Keefe.

Ms O'Keefe is the chief executive of Shine, an award-winning conference and meetings venue located in Harehills, Leeds, which opened in September 2008.

Although Shine has all of the top facilities that event organisers are looking for in a five-star hotel, the venue is actually a community interest company. This means that 91 per cent of the profits of the Yorkshire venue are re-invested in supporting entrepreneurs in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Leeds.

When it first opened, many of the organisations making use of the venue were in the public sector, but this is gradually changing, Ms O'Keefe said.

Thanks to the increased awareness of CSR, many large private organisations are looking at using community spaces as a way to help the communities they operate in, she suggested.

"They are looking at different ways that they can give back and one of those ways is by trading with social enterprises like ourselves, where we reinvest profits," she stated.

Many businesses, banks and organisations Ms O'Keefe has spoken to have told her that they are also becoming tired of hotel venues and instead want a conference centre with a sense of uniqueness.

"They are looking for something different, they are looking for somewhere to be inspired [and] they are looking for a creative space where people can start thinking outside the box," she explained, adding that Shine often fits their needs.

"We're not formal and stuffy. We don't have carpets everywhere. It's very light - it's high-quality wood and glass - and it's quite quirky because the rooms are named after the old school rooms."

In fact, the venue even features its own tuck shop, where visitors can gorge on sweets and chocolate, and there is also a chemistry lab, complete with white coats.

"So it's something that's a little bit different from your average hotel," she said.

Despite all its quirkiness, the venue, which is located in a busy residential area, is also equipped with the latest conference and exhibiting equipment.

"In terms of our facilities, we have free wireless broadband, sound systems, laptops, hearing loops and all the things you would expect in a top-notch conference centre," Ms O'Keefe said.

There are 18 different rooms in Shine, which can cater for everything from a two-person meeting to a 140-person conference to a 200-person tradeshow, product launch or party.

The fully-licensed venue has its own catering facilities, providing offerings from sandwiches to five-course dinners, she said, adding that the venue also caters for those with specific dietary requirements.

Thanks to its roots in the community, Shine is also able to offer entertainment options. It works closely with local performance groups, including dance and drumming troupes, to ensure that companies can enjoy unique corporate entertainment.

Although, it's still early days for the venue, Ms O'Keefe is feeling optimistic about its future.

"We have been impacted by the recession and haven't grown as quickly as we would have liked," she explained.

"But, we are going in the right direction. We are growing and we're getting a lot more interest each month."
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