On the outside looking in

We Brits have short memories. It was only a few weeks ago when we were complaining that winter had gone on for too long and that it was high time for summer to get underway.

After the last few weeks of sunshine, which culminated at the beginning of July with extremely high temperatures across the bottom half of the UK, we are once again complaining, this time that it’s far too hot and we need a quick return to cooler temperatures.

It’s not that we don’t like the heat, it’s just that it makes the day-to-day task of going to work even more of an ordeal than normal. With the warmth come lethargy and the profound desire to be somewhere else.

What must it be like to have to go to a conference, meeting, exhibition or any one of a number of different events during the summer?

Certainly it would be unfair to criticise indoor venues, many of them are air-conditioned or designed with comfort in mind. However, there are many venues up and down the UK that come into their own during the summer months.

Open-air venues comprise a diversity of different facilities, from showgrounds and racecourses to golf courses and country houses. All of these offer the same accommodation that one would normally associate with their indoor counterparts with the added attraction of having plenty of outdoor space that can be used for a variety of activities.

One such is the East of England Showground in Peterborough. Owned by the East of England Agricultural Society, the venue has been in use since 1966 and is, naturally enough, the home of a number of the society’s own events including the July and Autumn Shows and the Christmas Festival.

The Showground is also available to organisers for conferences, "product launches":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/product_launch_venues.asp, parties and other events.

“We have five hospitality suites that can accommodate between five and 550 people,” says marketing and press officer, Kate Moore. “In late summer 2007 we will be adding a 5,000 square metre exhibition hall in response to demand from many of our existing clients.”

Moore underlines that the combination of good quality indoor facilities with 250 acres outdoors ensures that the venue will be able to host any kind of themed event.

A good example of this is Truckfest, the show dedicated to road haulage and trucking. The open space at the East of England Showground naturally provides ample room for the large number of vehicles that the show attracts.

“It’s ideal for events that want to be a little different,” says Moore. “On the corporate side of things there is the space for imaginative team building events while it is ideal for exhibitions which may not work so well within the confines of a traditional exhibition hall.”

This is a point echoed by the managing director of the Yorkshire Events Centre, Heather Parry.

“An outdoor venue really is a blank canvas,” she says. “Organisers really can be as creative as they like.”

Situated just on the outskirts of Harrogate, the YEC contains modern indoor exhibition and conference facilities that are used all year round. To this is added 250 acres of open space that, like those at the East of England Showground, are regularly used for a variety of different events.

“The big event of the year is the Great Yorkshire Show, the biggest show in the region, that attracts nearly 135,000 visitors every year,” says Parry. “At the other end of the scale we have local companies and other organisations that run their summer parties and fun days here. A recent customer was a local firm that held a barbecue for 500 of its employees and their families.”

Whereas indoor events can be slightly formulaic because of the demands of limited space, outdoor venues allow organisers to explore a world of possibilities.

“There are, of course certain areas where outdoor venues score,” says Parry. “If a company is launching a car, for example, it makes sense to have space for the guests to see the car being driven. Also, large manufacturing exhibitions often spill out with some exhibits that may not fit well inside the exhibition halls or that need to be shown actually in operation.”

There is another aspect of being outdoors and that is that, quite simply, people like being outside.

“A lot of our corporate customers have a more formal morning and then use the afternoon to go outside for some kind of team building exercise, the find that the fresh air often brings clarity of thought to the participants.”

The notion of a formal event followed by a more light-hearted component is one that Pegasus is now heavily promoting.

Pegasus is a collection of 13 racecourses run by Racecourse Holdings Trust. Launched last month, the umbrella organisation is marketing the courses as venues that can host the whole range of events. All of them have conference, meeting and banqueting facilities and a number have exhibition halls. Naturally they all have significant outdoor space.

Kempton Park is one of the venues involved in Pegasus. Marketing manager, Nicky Wiseman agrees with Kate Moore and Heather Parry that the sheer amount of space available to prospective organisers gives them a significant blank canvas to work with.

“We are actively promoting Kempton as a place where organisers of all kinds of different events can couple the formality of our indoor space with the possibilities offered by the huge acreage outside,” she says. “Whether it’s a team building element of a company’s conference, a "product launches":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/product_launch_venues.asp or outdoor exhibition, there is very little that we can’t do. We’re not restricted by walls and ceilings.”

An interesting innovation is Kempton’s combining the corporate events it hosts with its actual primary function, namely horseracing.

“The course has recently opened a floodlit track which means there will be flat racing all year round in the evenings,” says Wiseman. “Clients will be able to turn business into pleasure by holding their meetings and other events during the day and then enjoy an evening’s racing, it’s already proving popular with our customers.”

At least at Kempton there is indoor space from which one can watch the racing if that bane of outdoor events, the British weather takes a turn for the worse. However, the fact remains that if you are lucky with the climate, your event could be significantly enhanced by the addition of an outdoor component.

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