As we shuffle off the tube, rigid beneath layer after layer of utterly ineffective drapery, the icy wind scouring our frosted faces and our frozen fingers reflecting our fractious fervour to just. Get. Inside. Our sentiments turn to summer with its warm seasonal sensibilities and sumptuous sun fuelled spiciness.
Yes, now we've got January out of the way with all its angst-ridden austerity and resolution restricted raison d'être, its (thankfully) time for resurrection (and possibly a little Christmas retribution) as we turn up the heat on some serious summer event planning. February is the perfect opportunity to seek out those summer venues, sift through those seasonal packages and put together something punchy to kick off your summer events programme.
And, in 2015, the corporate summer party is back in considerable style. From away-days to team building events, exclusive hospitality experiences to a good old summer soirée, what better time of year to explore our beautiful, sprawling, eclectic City in the comfort and warmth of a customary and familiarly hazy summer glow? With more secret gardens, rooftop hideouts and outside event spaces than any other city on earth, London is simply bursting with beautiful venues for you to discover this spring/summer!
And anyway, as the saying goes, make hay when the sun shines, right?!
With events being such a tangible, measurable and effective way of promoting your brand, this is sage advice. Summer is the perfect time to nurture existing contacts and clients whilst nobbling new ones. Summer cocktails and seasonal canapés on a West-End roof terrace? It's seriously difficult to resist - try it.
Last week, I hosted a series of talks on event and catering trends for 2015 at the London Summer Event Show. The atmosphere was buoyant and beaming from the very outset at 8am, which was all the more surprising as I'd been out until 3am the night before launching the London PA Awards (well, the event was actually meant to finish at about 9pm but that was never gonna happen! As one dangerously deluded drunken lunch guest at the Windsor Horse Trials many years ago once quizzed me with raised eyebrow - "Your PAaaaaaaa, you say....???!!!"). I digress. It was pouring with rain outside and pretty freezing too - with leaden skies and sub-zero wind chill just to remind us that the event industry's inevitable forward planning means that we're often living not only out of context but also out of season for most of the year. Christmas in June? Perfectly normal for the 24 hour party people. We're basically from another planet. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I also discovered some fascinating new products at the show, such as the real live grass lawns that grow without soil and can be 'laid' (actually, technically ‘trayed’) on any floor - even the listed parquet wooden floor of One Marylebone without a drop of water or a splash of mud seeping or squelching through. The end result is a magically dramatic and surreal event space (as well as a mightily relieved venue manager, of course). An indoor lawn is the perfect way to re-create summer on an inclement day - all the benefits of outside with none of the problems!
So, we've established that Summer is the most seductive season for soirées and such like, but what's out there in 2015? What's different? What's worth doing? What's really going to wow your waudience (that's a rhyming version of 'audience' depicting a 'wowed audience'). Anyway...
Here are our Top 10 ideas showcasing Summer Events with scintillating secret ingredients for success!
1. Osea Island. A beautiful secret island nestled in the crystal clear Blackwater estuary? That’s right, just a few minutes beyond the M25 (a mere 45 miles from Central London to be precise) and you’re transported to a completely different world. A tranquil oasis of total calm and lush beauty awaits you and your guests when you arrive by boat and disembark via your own private beach. In fact, there are four miles of coastline as well as 350 acres of idyllic countryside as well as an array of beautifully appointed beach houses, coastal cottages and an entire colonial village. It’s literally like an authentic version of Disneyland. Oh and as well as loads of exciting activities from outward bound pursuits and glamping to cycling, fishing and even swimming in their awe-inspiring fresh salt-water swimming pool (filled daily with crystal extra salty (Meldon) salt-water by the tide!). The island can sleep up to 130 guests and is the perfect get-away for conferences (check out their state of the art Bomb Factory conference facility), team-building expeditions or corporate away days.
2. Nazeing Park. It’s a real joy to discover somewhere new for the first time and an even greater joy when it’s technically not new at all. Aside from maybe Machu Picchu high in the Andes (which was only discovered in 1911 after being up there since the 1400’s), in event industry terms, Nazeing Park is the next best thing! It’s a well known fact that ‘somewhere different’ is one of the key factors in choosing a venue for a corporate event these days and this classical Georgian gem in Essex has it all. With sweeping lawns, a magnificent façade, a far-reaching parkland (with plenty of room for all sorts of Country Pursuits and activities) and, at the centre of it all, the magnificent Stately Home, Nazeing is a beautifully restored historic destination venue just waiting to be discovered. Refreshingly, as a private home to the Billy Smart’s Circus family (I know, how cool is that!?) it’s not at all institutionalized, meaning that you can use the house itself to entertain guests as if it were your own. A genuinely ‘Downton-esque’ experience then..!
3. Ashlone Buildings Boat House. With the World’s most prominent Boat Race rounding the bend and shimmering on the horizon, it was with great anticipation that we stumbled across this cool warehouse style space on the banks of the Thames in Putney. It’s very rare to find such a space, available for a wide variety of corporate (and private) events from drinks receptions to seminars and even small conferences, especially as it sits squarely on the front line with majestic, uninterrupted Thames views as well as being nestled just off the tow-path in leafy Putney, merely a skimming stone’s distance from Putney Bridge and the high street. The Boat House is modeled on a Navy ship complete with main deck, mess room and even a galley! Come Boat Race day there is no finer vantage-point, so for a completely unique experience (and shelter from the elements), check out this excellent new venue which would be the perfect hospitality facility for Thames-side entertaining on Boat Race Day and beyond…
4. Crowne Plaza Kensington. With one of the largest and most beautiful secret gardens in London, Crowne Plaza Kensington offers the holy trinity of rare combination of service, style and wide-open space. With beautifully refurbished, modern interiors and floor to ceiling windows that open up on to the lawn, Crowne Plaza Kensington is the perfect combination of both inner and outer space (so to speak!)
5. The Prince of Wales. This iconic and multi-faceted Brixton venue is under new ownership and has just undergone an extensive refurbishment programme. The result is a stunning venue whose twin roof terraces resemble the double decks of a gigantic (Ibiza bound) yacht. The intimate, courtyard feel works year round (we went to the launch this winter) but we predict this uber-cool urban hangout will be one of the hotspots of Summer 2015. With live music, vast terraces and all sorts of nooks and crannies to discover (both inside and out), the POW is a versatile venue of voluptuous proportions…
6. Gilwell Park. As the spiritual home of outdoor activities, Gilwell Park is the place to be this summer! Set in 108 acres on the edge of Epping Forest, this aesthetically appealing estate belies it’s exhilarating heritage as the ultimate destination for team-building and training activities - whether in the great outdoors or the even greater indoors! Gilwell Park is, naturally, one of the best equipped activity centres in the Greater London area and their indoor facility can house up to 250 for high adrenaline activities. Their outdoor capabilities are even more extensive – from zip wires and obstacle courses to raft building, you’ll find all the classics and a few surprises at the iconic Gilwell Park.
7. E.J Churchill Shooting Ground. For a smart, sophisticated and seasoned experience, venture no further than West Wycombe Park and, more specifically, the world-class E.J Churchill Shooting Ground. I recently spent a corporate day clay pigeon shooting here and it was a magical mix of fun, technical training, networking and, of course, competitiveness! What’s more, there were several amongst us who had never even held a gun before, let alone shot high-speed moving targets. E.J Churchill has a wonderfully salubrious shooting lodge for a gourmet breakfast or a good old bacon butty to start the day before experiencing the UK’s finest (and best equipped) clay pidgeon shooting arena which, quite literally, simulates every configuration from high flying clays to ground ‘game’ (and everything else in between). Their attitude is completely un-stuffy too, so if you want to shoot in high heels and pink hot-pants then you’re welcome! For an exhilarating corporate experience, check out the E,J Churchill Shooting Ground and smash some plastic!
8. Blenheim Palace. Fifty years on from the death of Winston Churchill, it's very apt to mention the place of his birth, which also happens to be (arguably) the World’s greatest Private residence. The sheer magnificence of Blenheim will immediately enhance your brand and lift your aspirations like no other place on earth. As the sweeping capability Brown landscape envelopes your guests upon arrival, via the impossibly picturesque Cotswold village of Woodstock, the scene will be well and truly set for a magical corporate away-day. Just an hour from London, Blenheim has a wonderful array of event spaces and has been used by a variety of brands from luxury cars to law firms for everything from conferences to corporate team-building. Their private dinners are amongst the best on the market (“Winston Churchill” can even make a personal appearance and deliver a rabble-rousing speech!) and their James Bond experience involves Astons, Omegas (if you have the appetite for a generous goody bag) and even bomb disposal…
9. Harrow School. Following the theme, this is where Winston Churchill went to school and his name is engraved on the famous Fourth Form wall to prove it. As you might expect, it's the biggest, neatest, most elaborate and most prominent name amongst thousands of other on the wall. And not many could put Lord Byron in the shade. Harrow has two USPs - its genuinely beautiful, historic event spaces and its proximity to London (a mere 10 miles to be exact). With possibly the most spectacular view of the London skyline from any lawn anywhere in England, Harrow is so much more than one of the two most famous schools in the world. The other being noisy neighbours, Slough Grammar, of course...
10. All Star Lanes. It's indoors and there are no windows but, chances are, it's raining outside anyway. Just because it's summer doesn't necessarily mean you have to be outside and All Star Lanes is a genuinely world-class retro style venue with an added element of in house entertainment.
11 .The Tower Hotel. Watch out for London’s coolest pop-up riverside bar, which returns in April 2015. The Lawn can host up to 300 guests and their new partnership with Chapel Down Winery means that they are offering a fine array of drinks (including the famous Curious Brew beers) to accompany their renowned British food. Oh, and if you need another reason, book before the end of February and get 20% off as well as a free night with breakfast in the Tower Hotel!
12. The Roof Gardens. Why go to a beautiful Italianate garden when you can go to a beautiful Italianate garden 100 feet in the air? Exactly. With manicured lawns, loggia lined courtyards, romantic little hide-aways, follies, garden temples and a pond with actual flamingos (Splosh and Pecks – if they’re still alive?) this place has been London’s most magical and surreal venue for over thirty years. There are a wide variety of summer packages available and your guests simply won’t be disappointed here come rain or shine. Still very, very, very much one of our absolute favourites!
13. White Water Rafting at Lee Valley. Exhilarating, breathtaking, challenging, heart-racingly exciting and, above all else, absolutely soaking wet! White Water Rafting, Olympic Style, has got to be one of the most memorable summer experiences on offer. It’s completely safe, even though it feels delightfully dangerous – probably the closest you’ll ever feel to being inside a washing machine during the spin cycle, the Lee Valley White Water Rafting Experience is essentially a giant, turbulent waterslide on which you (and several colleagues) work together to get down in the fastest time, racing a rival boat. I did this last summer and it was so much fun. Even in a thunderstorm. In fact, especially in a thunderstorm! Their hospitality facilities are excellent too so a post race BBQ overlooking the course is the perfect end to a turbulent day!
Will Broome CEO