10 Best BIG Venues in London
There was a time when big used to be beautiful. Like a Renaissance painting used to celebrate neo-classical big-ass beauty (erm...literally), Christmas parties in particular were not worth going to if they weren't what was (rather gloriously) referred to as a 'big, brash business-bash!'
Well, times have changed and regular londonlaunchers will know that it's the smaller, more personalised dinners, seminars and soirees that are both prevalent and prominent on the corporate scene these days. Conspicuous consumption has been replaced by conspicuous frugality. Whereas it was all about being bigger, better, brighter and brasher that everyone else, now it's often about who can be the most sophisticated, understated, surreptitious and, frankly, nauseatingly humble. Well, it's all in danger of becoming a little bit self-righteous and inconspicuous for my liking, which is simply not what events were designed to be! Why be a pigeon when you were born to be a peacock! And so it's with more than a little dose of glee that, in 2015, we are seeing evidence that there is still a significant place in the market for large scale, even spectacular events. Take the huge, increasingly immersive annual conferences and fabulously well thought-out and engaging AGM's which are making a concerted comeback - from CES to TED, as well as the huge in-house tech-giant gatherings such as Cisco Systems' European conference and LinkedIn's rather sensational (and recent) get-together at Excel (where they built an entire village complete with a working pub and a double decker bus). Yes, big is back and this time it's serious!
What's more, large-scale summer parties are making a welcome return, especially as corporations look to integrate a more family friendly culture into proceedings. Years ago we put together what turns out to have been a somewhat pioneering event - the 150th anniversary party for Standard Chartered Bank which was themed as a quintessentially British day at the seaside. Back then the Grosvenor House Hotel's legendary Great Room was one of the few viable venues of that size and scale (and there's an actual working ice rink under the floor - it just takes too long to freeze and thaw to use!). We had nearly two thousand guests, an artificial beach, surf machines and a gigantic moving projection map (before projection mapping was even a thing) but the most memorable part was when we made it ‘rain’ at the end with a simulated thunderstorm to get rid of all the guests! Unusually, this particular corporate event took place on a Sunday - something that's fairly commonplace in the USA but almost completely un-heard of in the UK. It was a family fun day and everyone was welcome, resulting in a huge turnout, even if it was a weekend. And before Twitter. That's the power of an exciting large-scale, all-inclusive, everyone's-gonna-be-there event that people actually want to go to! It just works and, these days, there's an added dimension because social media aids and abets that notion beautifully...
Whereas a 500+ event usually meant a sit down dinner, nowadays a sophisticated and multi-faceted street-food scenario can work brilliantly. You might not think it, but the two radically different styles of event actually cost about the same because quality food, drink and entertainment in an interesting (large) space is what costs the money. Not whether you're sitting down or not! As a guideline, for a large, all inclusive and high quality event, you should expect to spend between £65 and £85 per head. Anything less and you're going to have to compromise on something. And that's just not worth it. If you think a great event experience is expensive, try a mediocre one. And then see how much it costs you!
Frustratingly, I know of a top secret project which will tick every box that's ever been ticked (and a few more that haven't been invented yet) whilst bringing one of the most spectacular and innovative venue spaces ever to exist to the heart of the City, on an unprecedented scale - but I can't reveal anything more about it - other than we'll have the world exclusive on it when it happens! When it does, it will revolutionise central London from an international convention perspective, that's for sure, as the City's first super-sized hi-tech event space, hiding in plain sight...
In the age of smaller, departmental events, a return to the days of the big, brash business-bash is long overdue because the scales of economy are huge and the atmosphere created by bringing all departments together, sometimes with their clients or even their families is increasingly appealing as the work/life balance inevitably tilts more towards work than life! Putting it simply, done correctly, a big corporate party is a massive opportunity to send a positive, resounding and sometimes, spectacular message to everyone involved…
So, from awards ceremonies to Christmas parties, from conferences to conventions, BIG is definitely BACK. Here are our top ten large-scale venues for those awkward times when you need a capacity of 500+ (yet need somewhere as inspiring as it is engulfing!). Well, if you're gonna go. Go BIG!
1. Battersea Evolution. One of London’s most awe-inspiring venue spaces, the mighty Battersea Evolution is effectively a palatial pop-up in Battersea Park. With the world’s most impressive automated star-cloth ceiling and more space with unrestricted views than any other venue in Central London, Battersea Evolution is the ultimate blank-canvas events space. Oh, and it has bumper cars too, of course!
2. The HAC. As one of the City’s finest and most versatile green spaces (as well as corporate events I’ve been to both Rugby Sevens and even a cricket match here), the Honourable Artillery Company is one of the few remaining greenfield sites in Central London aside from the Royal Parks – and that makes it very special. Market leaders in spectacular large-scale parties and events, The Ultimate Experience transform this tranquil City oasis into a buzzing hive of fun-fueled activity and celebration for both the Summer and Christmas party seasons, creating a spectacular themed environment in the most unlikely of places…
3. Building Six. Set within the iconic O2 in North Greenwich, Building Six even sounds like a Hollywood movie! As a series of vast interconnecting spaces, this venue is almost unparalleled in it’s versatility. The main room has everything – a stage, a supercharged sound system as well as an intelligent lighting rig – even a body kinetic dance floor (whatever that actually is!). With terraces, a mezzanine level, a viewing gallery and an abundance of VIP areas, Building Six is fast becoming an icon within an icon.
4. Ministry of Sound. As the original iconic ‘Superclub’ , Ministry is an awesome event space which will ensure that your event or conference has the best light and sound set-up in London! With an abundance of uber-cool urban space and lots of breakout areas to make use of, this amazing series of event spaces will mean that your event really rocks!
5. The Mermaid. An excellent example of a classic conference venue that somehow keeps reinventing itself, The Mermaid was originally a theatre back in 1959 and is now a state of the art riverside City conference venue on a grand scale – sort of the Madonna of the events venue world!
6. Swan Wharf. It’s rare these days to discover a proper, authentic, industrial urban space. Especially one that feels so real because it’s remained (somehow) largely un-touched. Well Swan Wharf has it all – exposed brick, girders, glass, vast open spaces, a cool courtyard and multiple levels for up-market urban entertainment.
7. Tobacco Dock. With more than 50 individual rooms equating to some 16 thousand square metres, Tobacco Dock is an historic London dock warehouse steeped in history and oozing atmosphere! The Great Gallery is an inspiring oak-beamed space of 1,300 square metres and is perfect for a wide variety of edgy events or cool product launches.
8. The Landmark London. The only hotel on our list because of it’s stunning Winter Garden atrium which has to be one of London’s most magnificent modern event spaces. As the location of MI9 during the War (Airey Neave was questioned here following his escape from Colditz to ensure he hadn’t been turned as a double agent – I went to school with his Grandson who passed on some amazing stories!), The Landmark has a series of large-scale event spaces to compliment it’s spectacular centerpiece.
9. The Roof Gardens. A modern classic and still one of the best venues in town, the Roof Gardens has a massive capacity for a surprisingly wide variety of event types. From rooftop conferences to rooftop cinema, rooftop receptions to rooftop car launches (you’ll need a crane though), this versatile and lavishly beautiful venue will never, ever disappoint!
10. Studio Spaces. This former E1 nightclub combines industrial good looks with two truly blank canvas event studios. Perfect for everything from fashion shoots to conferences, this raw urban space benefits from exposed brickwork, super polished concrete floors, and industrial artifacts left over from it’s pre-club days as a factory..
and talking of factories, a bonus at number eleven:
11. The Bomb Factory at Osea Island. For the most magical large venue experience, you simply can’t beat the awe-inspiring Osea Island. Set in the crystal clear Blackwater Estuary, near the pretty little fishing town of Maldon, just beyond the M25, Osea Island is your own private hide-away complete with a 1,000 capacity conference venue, intriguingly known only as The Bomb Factory. This former World War Two top secret torpedo factory has been gloriously restored and transformed into what has to be the most exciting new dedicated destination-venue to explode on to the London scene this Century! If you want to take your delegates somewhere fascinating, exciting and ultimately inspiring, then take our word for it and go to Osea Island. It’s that simple. It’ll blow you away…!