Corporate Hospitality: 10 unusual venues

Donna Werbner rounds up ten alternative corporate hospitality venues available for hire around the UK.

1 ALDWYCH UNDERGROUND STATION, LONDON: Built in 1907 on the site of the Royal Strand Theatre and used as an air raid shelter during World War II, Aldwych tube station closed down in 1994 and is now a well-known location for filming.

Preserved with many of its original features, including its booking office, telephone boxes and atmospheric signs, the station caters for up to 300 for events.

'The bizarre setting allowed us to create an element of surprise and mystery,' says Biss Lancaster account manager Emma-Jo Aldridge, who organised an event for 20 mixologists on behalf of cocktail drink firm Xante.

2 DALI UNIVERSE, LONDON: A 'surreal fantasyland' in the heart of London, the Dali Universe art gallery is inspired by the charismatic style and flair of Spanish sculptor and painter Salvador Dali.

Over 500 of his works are on exhibit, including the 'Mae West Lips' sofa.

The venue, which holds up to 800 for a cocktail reception and 300 for a sit-down dinner, can organise gallery talks, entertainment by flamenco dancers and Spanish musicians and food served by waiters with Dali-esque moustaches.

'Putting the Dali Universe on our invitations helped secure attendees and the gallery was a good talking point,' says CHA director Adrian Linden, who used the venue for a 300-strong agency corporate hospitality event.

3 FORT WIDLEY, PORTSMOUTH: In 1858, Napoleon III made preparations to invade England. In 1861, Fort Widley was built to stop him. Napoleon never made it, but the Fort held strong to its purpose, continuing to be used as a control centre for the D-Day landings. The Victorian garrison has space for up to 100. Outside, the fortress holds around 2,500 guests, and medieval archery, hog roasts and tours of its underground tunnels can be arranged.

Blue Zebra PR business development director Cordy Maling, who organised a 600-strong event for Jeep, says: 'Using the venue definitely improved our relationship with Jeep's clients.'

4 THE GEORGIAN HOUSE, EDINBURGH: In the heart of Edinburgh New Town stands The Georgian House, designed and built by Scottish architect Robert Adam in 1796. The house has been furnished with antique furniture and period paintings to reflect the domestic and social conditions of the period.

Up to 100 guests can be welcomed by staff, given a private tour of the house and enjoy 18th Century music recitals and dancing.

'It is a small and intimate venue that enables people to talk about very confidential subjects,' says Great Circle Communications director Rachel Jones, who held a sit-down dinner at the house for a European think tank.

5 KING'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE: The oldest Royal college of Cambridge University, King's College, was built in 1441 by Henry VI for scholars from the newly established Eton College. The Great Hall can seat up to 500 people for a standing buffet, or 330 for a formal banquet. Guests can arrive by punt onto the back lawn to enjoy a garden drinks reception, before being entertained by the college choir, celidah folk music or renaissance dances.

Unwins Seeds PR manager Colin Hambidge organised a dinner for 180 global seed breeders. 'Disembarking from the river Cam onto the lawn before a quintessentially Cambridge sight on a summer evening was a memorable experience,' he says.

6 LEEDS CASTLE, KENT: A Norman fortress converted into a royal palace, then converted into a corporate hospitality venue, Leeds Castle offers a combination of history and activities ranging from hot air ballooning to sheep herding. A former home of Henry VIII, the castle caters for parties of 20 to 500, but you can also take over the entire castle. Surrounded by a lake and 500 acres of parkland, it contains the world's only antique Dog Collar Museum.

Eurostar director of comms Paul Charles hired the entire castle to launch Eurostar's Channel Tunnel rail link to 3,000 key suppliers, journalists and staff over a £2.5m three-day event which, he says, delivered around £30m in value.

7 LSO ST LUKE'S, LONDON: Ten minutes walk from the City of London, this 18th Century Grade I-listed Hawksmoor church was left roofless and derelict for more than 40 years until its restoration last year. Now a concert hall of the London Symphony Orchestra, St Luke's has established itself as a quirky venue for events. The church, which still has its original arched windows and vaulted ceilings, also has the latest hi-tech requirements and holds up to 350.

London Development Agency PR freelance Philippa Collins Robson chose the venue for an event for 150 people from financial firms because of its space and mix of old and new.

8 THE MUSEUM OF WELSH LIFE, CARDIFF: Showcasing 500 years of Welsh culture, the Museum of Welsh Life is situated on the grounds of a 16th Century manor house. Thatched cottages and an old Miners' Institute are among the 30 original buildings from around Wales that have been re-erected on its grounds. It can arrange for Welsh folk groups and musicians to entertain 120 to 150 guests and provide traditional Welsh dishes for dinners.

'The setting and atmosphere of the museum had international cultural appeal,' said Howell Peterson PR events director Paul Williams, who used the venue to entertain 50 credit insurers for Atradius. 'The venue lent itself to very informal and successful networking.'

9 NAMCO STATION, LONDON: With more than 200 video games, Europe's fastest bumper cars, long-distance laser shooting, a massive American-style pool hall and ultraviolet-lit ten-pin bowling alleys, Namco Station caters for the fun-loving client. It offers four corporate hospitality packages, including unlimited free play of its video games, dancemats and simulators, and caters for ten to 1,200.

Virgin Mobile head of PR Alison Bonny, who hosted a party for more than 1,000 suppliers and journalists at the venue, says: 'We found that people mingled much more than usual by challenging each other to a race and shooting competitions. The atmosphere was noisy, exuberant and celebratory and achieved massive amounts of coverage, even in the diary sections of newspapers.'

10 NATIONAL SPACE CENTRE, LEICESTER: Few venues offer guests the chance to lift off into space from a rocket tower, orbit the earth and explore the universe. With its interactive exhibitions on the latest space technology, this venue is the closest you can get to giving a client the moon. Cocktail receptions for 150 can be held at the bottom of the centre's rocket tower and the entire centre is available for hire for groups of 500.

Telecoms manufacturer Inter-tel Europe marketing and PR manager Duncan Miller chose to entertain technical resellers at the National Space Centre because of the 'thought-provoking environment - you're surrounded by the most amazing discoveries of our time'.

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