Will's Week

London's coolest urban spaces

London's coolest urban spaces

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It's no secret that an interesting (and, better still, cool) venue space results in a higher percentage turn-out and, perhaps more importantly, better levels of delegate engagement. Our extensive research tells us this but, let's be honest, so does common sense! What's even more revealing though is that the more traditional institutions - banks, management consultants, legal and accountancy firms are acutely aware of this fact and 'uniqueness' is now second only to budget in the planning process. Interestingly, location, which used to be the number one consideration, now comes in third. It has been established that people can travel. Dare I say it, it's now accepted that people will even walk a few hundred yards from the nearest tube - if their destination is exciting enough, of course.

Ten years ago I remember doing site visits at warehouses, makeshift art galleries and even an NCP car park, all of which were keen to jump on the bandwagon and double up as corporate urban event spaces. The idea was novel, but the problem was that these stark, concrete, urban sites were anything but conducive to staging events. Largely speaking, they looked edgy and urban chic but they lacked amenities and the environment was not welcoming by any stretch of the imagination. They often had no power (certainly not enough in any case), no running water, no heating/air conditioning, no basic production kit, no lighting and in nearly every case, no loos! Funnily enough, in the early days of Londonlaunch, we helped stage an event for a huge American brand in an 'under the arches' urban space, which was 90% perfect. Except they only had 3 loo cubicles. For 300 people. We got away with it by doing a deal with the bar next door (on the night!) and the event was a spectacular success but I wouldn't make that rookie mistake again (never put form over function) and wouldn’t suggest anyone else risked that again in a hurry either. Incidentally, this event was a master-class in capitalising on the urban environment, with break-dance troupes and non-toxic graffiti artists spraying the (cellophane - covered) brick walls. The American client was bold, adventurous and, as a result, absolutely nailed this press launch on every level. But he needed deep pockets.

Putting it bluntly, until quite recently, the production job (and cost) required for the 'luxury' of holding an event in such an un-luxurious (oh, the irony!) space, was huge and far outweighed the benefits. 

However, things have changed. In fact, people are buying property in key locations with the primary objective of promoting them as event spaces. This alone is testimony to the fact that events represent a large and viable industry in their own right and that urban spaces are becoming mainstream as the ROI of events is more widely and universally recognised (due to a potent combination of client confidence, trade expertise and a burning desire to make a positive and memorable experience of each and every event).

Unique events are now accessible, affordable and, above all, doable. In fact, there's an argument for not holding an event unless you are determined to achieve all of the above. And remember, what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook. Which is a good thing. But beware, on Facebook, a great event with shit food is just a (very high profile) event with shit food! Never give your audience a chance to latch on to a negative experience because they will. That's life and there’s no reward without risk. Ever. 

But it doesn't have to be that way because there are some awesome and authentic urban venues popping up on the scene. Take Studio Spaces for example. With two incredible and well-located sites (E1 and E2), these former warehouses have been renovated specifically with the fashion and events industries in mind. They're perfect for a wide variety of events from conferences to car launches (the sides of the venue open automatically and you could drive a tank in if you wished) and even simple/cool receptions and Christmas parties. Their E2 Studio is a magical old-school warehouse space in uber-cool Shoreditch which lends itself perfectly to their Studio 54 themed Christmas party initiative. Like drum and bass (Skrillex is a great comparison), what was once niche and a little bit underground is now mainstream and sitting pretty in the London venues 'Top 40' because of its undeniable brilliance.  Whilst such venues have been popular with record companies and FMCGs for some time, Accenture recently staged a conference here, which clearly demonstrates a seismic shift in the entire events infrastructure. The formulaic and sleep-inducing approach which reigned supreme for so long no longer applies and, in the age of social and digital media, big corporate brands are now pushing the boundaries ever further with confidence and enthusiasm. City institutions like that don't mess around either, so the need to make your event memorable and stimulating is both universal and very real. The number one priority.

When staging an event in an urban space though, there are three core considerations. Firstly, the venue has to be logistically appropriate. Secondly, the correct licensing has to be in place (alcohol and late licenses – never take a view on this) and perhaps most importantly (because with the right budget in hand, you can buy the first two), it has to be authentic. If it's not a warehouse, tunnel, power station, sewer, tram shed, loft, disused underground station (coming soon to londonlaunch.com!), air-raid shelter, nuclear bunker, pump room, factory, dungeon or aircraft hangar, it won't have the desired effect. Ok, so sewer may be a step too far, but you might be surprised by what you find on londonlaunch.com!

The Old Vic Tunnels at Waterloo is a great example of an authentic urban space now available for all sorts of events - they even have an organic floor! Or how about Shillibeer’s, the North London former tram shed (where the actual modern day bus was invented by George Shillibeer, no less!) which we launched in July, following a spectacular refurbishment.  The perfect fusion of indoor and outdoor urban spaces, and modern amenities - you can see the video of the launch event here (I’m the one dressed as Victorian Industrialist, George Shillibeer, complete with false moustache! 

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Another current favourite is Tobacco Dock, the ultimate brick-built urban events multiplex with as much scope and diversity as you could ever muster. In it’s entirety, this place is a self-contained mini urban fortress close to the City. It’s perfect for everything from car launches to apocalyptic zombie activity days (and anything in between, of course).  Lantern’s Studio in Canary Wharf is a cool one too. You’d never know this large urban-style dance studio was there and with its unlikely location it’s becoming hugely popular. They even have Elton John’s grand piano as the centerpiece! Perfect for anything from West End Musical rehearsals to conferences, this urban space is a great example of the expanding diversity of central London’s venue landscape. Talking of large urban spaces with a musical theme, don’t forget Fabric, one of the world’s most famous super-clubs, which is a surprisingly brilliant space for corporate events. They’ve staged lots of them so are hugely experienced too and well worth considering if you want to give your delegates something to savour!

Smaller urban event spaces are available too. Following on from my NCP reference earlier, there’s a great little place called Frank’s Café, which is essentially a timber construction with a canvas roof, on top of a multi-story car park in up and coming Peckham! Needless to say, the views are stunning and the scene is unlikely and therefore memorable! Oh, and transport isn’t an issue because you can park too (obviously!) Or how about the super-cool IceTank in Soho, which is essentially a glass fronted white box on two levels, perfect for fashion launches with a salubrious urban twist or Egg, which is made up of a cool series of indoor and outdoor urban spaces just north of King’s Cross – a magical warren of ‘secret’ rooms, which is a joy to explore. 

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My big find this week, though, is a venue called 6 St.Chad’s Place.  Again, located near King’s Cross (as so many of these spaces are) it was formerly a derelict mechanic’s workshop. Now it’s an amazingly authentic-feeling warehouse-style mecca for parties and events. It’s also a revered restaurant and bar and you can even get married there on Saturdays!

Urban Spaces are an increasingly viable option for event planners all over London and there are an abundance of opportunities to create great events within seemingly unlikely spaces without the logistical headache, which always used to accompany such ambition. Uber-cool, urban chic is now mainstream and, unlike in the music world, that’s a good thing because it’s viable and low risk with maximum effect, especially in the age of digital media where visual stimulation is a great asset to any event.

Many of the venues I’ve mentioned (in fact, all but two) are already on londonlaunch.com so tick the ‘Warehouse/blank canvas’ box in the Venues section and have a browse, you might just be inspired to go off-piste!

Happy hunting… 

WB