Commercial Director Jonathan Reid reflects on the venue’s seven-year journey, to what has become one of London’s most iconic and versatile event venues.
Tobacco Dock has famously seen many incarnations over its 200-year life, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that its latest chapter is its most exciting yet.
I first viewed the building in 2010. At that stage, it took quite a leap of imagination to envision how we could make Tobacco Dock into a successful venture, but there was a magic in the historic building which got the little grey cells activated. With the approach of the Olympics, we believed East London was set to become a hub of activity and enterprise, and this enormous, purposeless space was just lying in wait ready to be brought back to life.
With many purpose-built venues offering large spaces and scope for branding, one large grey box feels very much like another, and we were both excited at the prospect Tobacco Dock offered for adding a sense of place to events, with architecture acting as a creative catalyst.
We struck a deal and launched Tobacco Dock to the events industry in October 2012 with one existing client: the London Tattoo Convention. Working to create spaces for world-class events in a Grade 1 listed building was certainly not without its challenges – we had to work with English Heritage to remove walls to create our largest spaces and agree cable runs without disrupting the fabric of the building.
CREATING THE BEST
There were certain things we knew we had to absolutely get right and place heavy investment into to be able to provide the level of service and standard of execution which would set us at the head of the pack. We made sure we had an immensely secure, fast and capacious tech infrastructure.
A fail-safe list of best-in-class suppliers was another key aspect. Whether it’s turning our bandstands into giant barbecues, DJ booths or swag stores, transforming our car park into a rave space or the immense Great Gallery into a circus big top, our clients are constantly pushing the boundaries of what you can expect from events here.
ROOM TO GROW
One of the great pleasures of our time here has been seeing so many of our returning events grow over time. There has sometimes been a tendency for to people think of Tobacco Dock as somewhere only for large-scale events, but we have a layout which lends itself to creating complete event footprints in just one area. We’ve five different entrances, and two levels, so events are able to take up just one group of spaces, then expand over subsequent years with demand.
Having a committed and passionate team makes all the difference to our clients, but also means that we continue to evolve and to find ways in which we can keep ahead of the curve. Creating Skylight was another proud moment for us. The demolition of the News of the World building adjacent to us meant that the top floor of our old car park suddenly benefitted from a magnificent view of the distinctive financial district skyline.
Other key initiatives have been creating over 25,000 sq ft of co-working space, private offices and small meeting rooms. We have a thriving community of entrepreneurs and scaling businesses many of which are in the creative, events and tech industries.
As we move into the new decade, we have commenced the next phase of our extensive development programme. Our iconic Quayside entrance has undergone a transformation with generous planting, seating areas and a 50m2 living wall. Inside, we’ve installed a winter pavilion, linking the Great and Little Galleries, so that guests can navigate their way between the spaces without battling the elements. The Vaults have new smart lighting and digital signage and we’ve installed specialist magnetic fascia to enable fast, cost-effective branding and personalisation.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important and so we’re in the process of assessing a whole raft of innovative initiatives to run our building in an increasingly environmentally friendly way and to help our clients deliver ecologically low-impact events.
Since our launch in 2012, we have held over 1,500 events. Some of them have been challenging, some instructive, others exhilarating, but they’ve all been immensely rewarding.