Finding the right venue in the right place at the right price can be difficult, but you can avoid the pitfalls by taking some simple measures. Ben Lerwill explains what these are and offers a regional guide to some of the best venues in the UK.
Much like setting a video recorder, holding an event is simple on paper but highly likely to cause headaches in practice. Setting the right time and programme can be a challenge to the uninitiated.
In fact, finding a venue that offers the right size, location, catering options and price, and is actually available when you want it, can combine to irk even the most experienced event planner.
And don't even mention finding somewhere with universal access and suitable accommodation. No matter how good the event is, delegates tend to pick up only on the things that go wrong.
But if all this looks set to pile on the stress, don't panic. The charity sector runs countless successful events every year, and a few easy precautions can ensure that yours is a smooth, seamless function. Whether you're dealing with a staff conference, an AGM, a training workshop or a simple meeting, there are several important factors to tick off on your checklist.
The first of these is accessibility. Is there wheelchair access? Is there an induction loop facility? Many venues have made strides in this area over recent years, not least because they have been required to by the Disability Discrimination Act - but it's still vital that you check these things before you book.
The next thing to consider is the date and day of the event. That means making sure the event doesn't clash with other major events, both in your sector and more widely, and considering the day of the week. Thinking about this will help maximise your chances of getting as high a turnout as possible.
It is also important to consider early on what size room you need, because it will help you narrow down potential venues quickly. It isn't rocket science: avoid a 'tinned sardines' scenario at all costs, but remember that a quarter-full room will feel empty and rambling.
You will then need to think about location and budget. It sounds obvious, but it can be tricky to balance the practicality of the venue with its cost and geographical location, although most venues have preferential rates for charities.
You will also need to think about accommodation. Does your desired location mean that some or all delegates will need a bed for the night? If this is the case, make sure there is adequate availability.
With these details in mind, you are ready to draw up a shortlist and arrange some visits. Remember to think about catering - after all, food is one thing that delegates tend to remember. Look out for somewhere that will give you a decent service for your money, and ask to see past feedback.
Almost all venues offer in-house catering, but not all of them shine.
If your event is an annual or regular one, do consider starting to plan the next event when the previous one is finishing: the details will be fresh in your mind. Many events are booked at shorter notice these days, but organising ahead is always wise.
To help you on your way, the guide below gives details of some of the venues that hold the most charity events in your region.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE VENUES
One of the key quandaries in the not-for-profit sector is finding a venue that isn't going to ruffle feathers. It needs to be professional without being flash, comfortable without being opulent and reflective of brand values without being too expensive.
One easy way around the conundrum is to use a venue that belongs to another charity or social enterprise - in this way, your fee will at least be going to a good cause. Consider what might be an apt organisation to benefit from your event.
Choosing such a location not only generates income for the host venue, but it also helps to construct relationships between social enterprises and the public sector. Those that have facilities for hire include the NCVO, the NICVA, the SCVO, the WCVA and the Directory of Social Change - many even provide catering for the event as well.
The prices of social enterprise venues tend to be attractive. The majority of venues, be they hotels or purpose-built facilities, generally offer charity discounts, but rates from social enterprises are usually among the most competitive.
Nearbuyou, a national trading network for social enterprises, already runs a directory of social enterprise suppliers. It plans to expand and launch a directory of social enterprise venues that are available for hire - this will be available to download in the spring (see www.nearbuyou.co.uk).