From a ski-slope in Bedfordshire to a stately home in Kent, venues within striking distance of the M25 are in prime position to attract corporate events. Access, cost, space and availability are just some of the considerations that can make them more appealing than their London rivals.
Claire Griffiths from book retailer Ottakers says: "We tend to stay out of central London, mainly because of the price."
Beyond the capital, venues tend to be more competitive and willing to negotiate on group sizes. Better still, many are ideally placed for London's airports. As Eleanor Brown, marketing executive of Royal Holloway, University of London, says: "Being close to Heathrow makes it easy for groups to get here. Although they are getting away from it all, they are still not that far away either."
CIT presents ten of the best venues within easy reach of central London.
Selected for their distinctive style and individuality, they also boast a host of leisure facilities.
AUDLEY END HOUSE AND GARDENS
Contact: Barbara Wutte, 01799 529403
Number of meeting spaces: 2
Largest space holds: 120
Access: 15 minutes from junction 8 of the M1; 1 hour by train from
This English Heritage property close to Saffron Walden offers its Great Hall and Dining Parlour to groups of up to 120. Marquees can be accommodated in the gardens while large-scale events for up to 8,000 can be hosted in an area behind the house. Essex County Council tourism and marketing co-ordinator Elli Constantatou says the venue made the perfect backdrop for the launch of the Essex Development and Regeneration Agency for 120 guests. "It mirrors many aspects of the county - it's green and has big spaces, gardens, a rich history and architecture," she explains.
Contact: Karen Ewing, 01707 335241
Number of meeting spaces: 10
Largest space holds: 150 theatre-style
Access: 7 miles from Luton Airport and the M25; 45 minutes to Heathrow;
Kings Cross to Welwyn Garden City is 25 minutes by rail
Brocket Hall, one of England's finest stately homes, is not open to the general public, which gives events the cachet of total privacy while offering good security. The estate offers comprehensive conference, incentive and entertainment facilities allowing it to handle corporate events for up to 150 guests. It also offers 46 guestrooms. Any function can be combined with golf on the estate's two championship golf courses. The on-site Faldo Golf Institute, the first in Europe, is now a year old and welcomes corporate golf days. In addition, the Auberge du Lac Restaurant offers a classic dining experience.
Contact: 01296 747444
Number of meeting spaces: 4
Largest space holds: 90
Access: 1 hour from Heathrow, near M40 junction 8; 1 hour from
Marylebone by train
Dating back to the 14th century, this Buckinghamshire country house near Aylesbury offers elegant reception and dining rooms. The Hartwell Court, formerly a coach house, now provides an exclusive environment for top-level meetings with the largest two of the four suites seating almost 100 theatre-style. Meanwhile, the latest addition to the portfolio, the Old Rectory, lends itself to intimate meetings - the Georgian house provides four bedrooms, seminar spaces and a drawing room. Facilities include a spa and indoor pool.
DE VERE GRAND BRIGHTON
Contact: Caroline Prosser, 01273 224300
Number of meeting spaces: 3
Largest space holds: 800
Access: 1 hour from Gatwick; 1 hour by train from London Bridge
Overlooking Brighton's seafront and benefiting from a £1m facelift last year, the elegantly informal hotel boasts its own leisure club and nightclub as well as three suites. The largest of these holds up to 730 for a banquet or 800 theatre-style. BBC Worldwide used the venue for themed gala dinners during its annual Showcase (CIT, April). "The venue proved to be really flexible. Each event over the four-day period was held in the ballroom, but they were all so different," says BBC Worldwide head of events Elaine Gordon.
FREDRICK'S HOTEL RESTAURANT & SPA
Contact: Kaye Gough, 01628 581000
Number of meeting spaces: 4
Largest space holds: 130
Access: 20 minutes from Heathrow; 25 minutes by train from Paddington
For nearly three decades, the owners of the Maidenhead-based hotel, the Losel family, have maintained its distinctive style and reputation as one of Berkshire's finest dining establishments. Last year, it opened a spa, which, according to sales and marketing manager Kaye Gough, has proved popular with C&I groups. "We have hosted events recently where delegates, as a bonus after a conference, have been invited to relax and enjoy a spa treatment or spa day." The 37-room hotel is fully equipped with video-conference facilities, a wireless broadband network and has a variety of boardroom-style meeting rooms. A flexible area with its own foyer and bar can accommodate three separate events or can be expanded to suit larger functions for up to 130 delegates.
LAYER MARNEY TOWER
Contact: Emma Mills, 01206 330784
Number of meeting spaces: 8
Largest space holds: 200
Access: Located off the A12; 45 minutes to Kelveden from Liverpool St by
Less than a hour away from the City of London, the architecture, gardens and estate of the UK's tallest Tudor gatehouse lend themselves to a variety of business uses. Three multi-purpose rooms, each with unusual characteristics, are available - the Long Gallery alone accommodates 200 people, while five smaller rooms serve as break-out spaces. Carole Moore, PA to the managing director at Hermes Abrasives, says the venue was competitively priced when the company selected it for a two-day sales meeting. She adds: "We were looking for somewhere unusual and it stuck out as an impressive building." The formal gardens can be used for team building and corporate entertainment. Recent events have included a garden party for 400 guests and company family fun days for 1,200 people.
ROYAL HOLLOWAY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Contact: Matthew Woodham, 01784 443 045
Number of meeting spaces: 15
Largest space holds: 200
Access: 2 miles from the M25; 35 minutes by train to Egham from Waterloo
Close to London Heathrow and Windsor and with direct rail links into London, the university is well established on the events circuit. It offers two Victorian banqueting halls, training facilities and 12 main meeting rooms. Some are available year-round; others only during the college holiday periods. Last September, it added 450 new en suite bedrooms, bringing the tally of premium rooms to more than 1,700. In 2006, it is scheduled to open a self-contained, 400-seat auditorium, which will feature eight seminar rooms and exhibition space on the 135-acre wooded campus.
Contact: 01992 633375/0800 592250
Number of meeting spaces: 29
Largest space holds: 120
Access: 45 minutes from Stansted and Heathrow airports by car; 30
minutes by train from Liverpool St
Close to junction 25 of the M25, the centre, set in 55 acres of landscaped gardens, combines the elegance and grandeur of a Georgian mansion with an extensive range of modern and traditional meeting spaces. A member of the Initial Style Conferences group, which is rolling out wireless networks, online conference booking, internet cafes and video-conferencing throughout its venues, it has been purpose built for corporate use. The 15 training and meeting rooms and 14 syndicate rooms are ideal for conferences, training and team-building events. For residential guests there are 110 bedrooms, a gym and an a la carte restaurant.
Contact: Carolyn Henderson, 020 8974 7110
Number of meeting spaces: 9
Largest space holds: 100
Access: 45 minutes from Heathrow by car; 20 minutes by train from
Located in Kingston upon Thames, Warren House is a privately owned dedicated conference and training venue with 45 bedrooms, nine conference rooms and leisure facilities. Around 70 per cent of its income is derived from repeat business. The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development is one such regular, and last used the venue in December for its annual executive board residential meeting. PA to head of communications and head of finance Theresa Mabbutt says: "It has the 'wow factor' from the moment you enter the drive. The feeling is one of total commitment. There is a customer-focused approach from every member of staff and absolutely nothing is too much trouble."
Contact: Jenna Duquemin/Samantha Hart, 01908 680826/01908 680830
Number of meeting spaces: 6
Largest space holds: 2,200
Access: 30 minutes from Euston; 10 minutes from junction 14 on the M1
Beneath the domed roof of Milton Keynes' premier leisure venue is a real snow slope, plus rock-climbing walls, multi-screen cinema, 24-lane bowling alley, restaurants, cafes and a nightclub. Corporate groups are welcome to access any of the facilities. An entire snow slope can be reserved for tobogganing, private dinners, cabaret and casino nights, while the massive LCD screen at the front of the building can be used to display corporate messages. Meeting spaces include boardrooms, suites and informal open-plan areas, as well as deluxe screens for a 300-seat audience. The nightclub, which has themed areas available for private hire, has capacity for 2,200 people.