Stockley Farm, Cheshire
New to the corporate market is Stockley Farm, a working organic farm 17 miles outside Manchester in the Cheshire countryside. Given enough notice, the full 750-acre site can be hired exclusively for staff away-days and delegates can try their hand at farming for the day. Activities include bottle-feeding animals, milking cows, bird of prey displays and team competitions. The owners can bring in activities and work in conjunction with the team at neighbouring Arley Hall and Gardens. Groups can also make use of a purpose-built meeting room. Open Farm manager Jane Docksey explains: "The success of a fourth corporate family fun day at Stockley Farm made us evaluate the potential of the business to offer corporate events and especially team-building days."
Delegates can enjoy the great outdoors at the Rothiemurchus Estate, which comprises 25,000 acres stretching from the Cairngorms to the River Spey. Groups can make use of a variety of habitats, from lush meadows to a Scots Pine forest and buildings including a Victorian shooting lodge and a ruined castle. The estate is just a 45 minute drive from Inverness airport and five minutes from major road and railway links, and there are 8,000 hotel rooms in the area. CIGNA Healthcare director of sales Douglas Rice says: "We had the warmest of welcomes on arriving at Drumintoul Lodge for a hearty lunch before embarking on our activities, which our delegates are still raving about."
Heatherden Hall, Buckinghamshire
Make the most of the British sunshine and enjoy the gardens around Heatherden Hall - the original manor house at Pinewood Studios. Marquees for up to 400 people can be accommodated in the sculpted gardens or groups can make use of four function spaces. The film and TV studios can also be hired for receptions and in-house catering company Couture can provide barbeques and hog roasts. Jacqui Walford, director of fundraising, sales and marketing for the Queen Elizabeth's Foundation charity, hosted a fundraising dinner at the hall and was impressed with the facility. "The service was attentive and the food received many compliments," she says.
The Beetle and Wedge, Oxfordshire
For gourmet fare and relaxing views, try the Beetle and Wedge Boathouse restaurant, located on the River Thames. It has a terrace that can seat 40 people or slightly larger groups can hold a drinks reception outside before dining in the conservatory. The restaurant also offers a small boardroom for ten delegates and three private boats for up to 80. Nicholas Nye, managing director of printing firm NP Design and Print, regularly takes staff and clients. "When entertaining you have to be wary of getting the price and the ambience right. The Beetle and Wedge is affordable, the service is consistently good and quality of food is excellent," he says.
Wickham Vineyard, Hampshire
Oenophiles should try the Wickham Vineyards, which was established in 1984 and now houses 18 acres of vines that produce award-winning wines. The winery boasts a natural amphitheatre that can be hired for events, with guided group tours of the vineyards followed by a tutored tasting of the wines. Lunch can be served in Vatika, the in-house restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, or more casual dining such as a hog roast can be served outside. Steve Lambourne, chief executive of IT communications firm CTS Europe took a group to Wickham recently. "What an incredible day. Who would have thought wine-tasting could be so educational and fun," he says.
Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire
Kilworth House Theatre is a 540-seat auditorium built in a wooded glade near in the grounds of Kilworth House Hotel. The space has tiered seating, state-of-the-art AV and is covered by a sail-like canopy. It can be hired by groups looking to hold an al fresco presentation or seminar. The Staging Post is a log cabin restaurant beside the theatre, that can be used for corporate hospitality. The neighbouring hotel has 44 rooms and can accommodate up to 80 delegates theatre-style. John Bowler, founder of organic egg producer John Bowler Eggs, says: "I entertained a group at Kilworth House last summer and it was very enjoyable."