Silverstone took the wrappers off its £27m wing last year as part of aggressive plans to transform the motoring venue into a multipurpose events destination. EN takes a look under the hood.
Exhibition venues can cater to many needs, but one whim they can’t control is their ‘cool’ factor. While facilities and location certainly contribute to a venue’s prestige, arguably it’s the content and features within these functional spaces that give them their visitor appeal.
But for the team working on the new events wing at British motoring circuit Silverstone, it’s the site’s extraordinary history that gives it a unique events proposition and ‘coolness’.
The new Silverstone Wing events venue sits within the home of the British Grand Prix, one of the most recognised and revered motoring circuits in the world. The site started as a World War Two airfield in 1943 and has since grown into a multipurpose site offering exhibition, meeting and conference spaces peppered around its 3.6-mile racing track.
The Silverstone Wing, which opened its doors 12 months ago and will be fully completed this month, represents the first £27m phase in an ambitious 20-year plan to transform the 880-acre site from a race car driver’s paradise into an international events, leisure and business destination in the heart of the East Midlands.
“There is a lot of heritage and a key part of the events experience is the noise and atmosphere at Silverstone,” event sales manager Daniel Whittemore said.
“We find organisers get better attendance to their events here because of the prestige of being on this site.”
The Silverstone Wing serves the dual purpose of providing new pit and paddock facilities for the racing track, as well an all year-round events and meetings space.
The wing offers 10,000sqm of space across three floors, all of which offer views of the racing track and surrounds. Not surprisingly, parking isn’t a problem for visitors either.
“Having a banqueting, exhibition and conference facility was a key focus for us,” Whittemore continued. “It’s a big events space and a blank canvas for organisers.”
The main first floor offers four interconnected halls of 7-10m high, each with additional mezzanine space, windows on both sides and an external balcony overlooking the track.
Halls 1 and 2 are 1,100sqm each with a 400sqm mezzanine level, and are suitable for exhibitions, auctions, events, product launches or conferences. Hall 1 also has its own permanent ramp, allowing vehicles to drive directly into the space.
Hall 3 offers 1,200sqm and has been configured with hospitality features to suit large-scale banquets or conferences, fitting 1,000 in a theatre style or 650 for dinner. All halls have lighting flush with the ceiling to maximise space and power can be connected from above in a three-phase configuration.
Halls 4 and 5, which open this month, sit above the existing three halls. Hall 4 will have an 800sqm mezzanine with a further 400sqm on the floor below joined by a central staircase, while Hall 5 is L-shaped with 1,000sqm and a 250sqm mezzanine.
Both will offer an elevated view of the track and pit facilities, access to a roof terrace and share a moveable acoustic wall. A sweeping external staircase provides access to Hall 5 and the roof terrace directly.
The halls are permanently carpeted in a bid to make it more cost-effective for organisers putting on shows, Whittemore said, and come with an onsite event manager. Digital signage is available across the venue.
To make the most of its motoring calendar, the wing also has an international media centre, which doubles up as further conference and meetings space and includes a high-tech auditorium for 100.
The Silverstone Wing has its own in-house catering supplier and is compiling a preferred supplier list, but allows organisers to invite their own choice of shell scheme, electrics, creative and AV agencies.
Whittemore said a particular focus of the events team is to highlight the many experiential elements available to organisers and their visitors on the site.
“Our goal is to be the best conference, exhibition and sporting venue in Northamptonshire,” he said. “We recognise we are getting into a very competitive industry, so we have to be service-led and meet customer needs.”
Silverstone’s competitors range from other motoring venues with event spaces to the Heritage Centre, Stoneleigh Park, hotels in the area, and even Ricoh and The NEC. Despite this, the venue has secured several key pieces of exhibition and conference business already including the Helicopter Show, Motorsport UK, the Electric Vehicle Show and Fleetworld.
Having completed its first phase objectives, the next stage is to secure investors to unlock the next part of Silverstone’s masterplan, Whittemore said. He hoped to see work commence on this in early 2013. Of particular note for event organisers is the plan to build three new hotels, providing 600 rooms onsite by 2016.
According to site owners the British Racing Drivers’ Club, development of the masterplan will realise the broader potential of the Silverstone site while creating 8,400 permanent jobs with firms and activities onsite. To this end, Silverstone Holdings MD Richard Phillips branded the plan the most important initiative in its 60-year history.
“This planning will help maintain Silverstone’s position as a leading global centre for sport, leisure, education and technology and retain its position as a world-leading motor sport destination,” he said.
It’s clear the team driving Silverstone are in the events lane for the long-haul. So can they take the chequered flag? Time will tell.
The events highway: 3 UK venues with a motoring heritage:
This automotive venue offers four key spaces – Concept 1, 2, Pod and Cubo – across its 700-acre site and caters for indoor and outdoor events through to one-on-one driving experiences. Millbrook is near Milton Keynes and has recently invested in new energy-efficient LED lighting, improving Wi-Fi capacity, creating all-in-one event management packages and enhancing the track.
Growth areas this year are large manufacturer launches and ‘ride and drive’ events, Millbrook Events head of events Kevin Leaver claimed. Several exhibitions are also returning including the fleet industry’s Company Car in Action, the fifth annual Low Carbon Vehicle Events and a fresh show for the commercial vehicle sector in October.
“It makes sense for exhibitions that have motoring at their heart to take place at a motoring-based venue; not only can delegates see the vehicles, but with a range of track facilities such as those at Millbrook, they can also experience them,” Leaver said. While it has been a difficult couple of years in events, Leaver claimed enquiries and bookings were up. “In some cases it seems the focus has shifted from substantial, nationally-focused exhibitions to more targeted regional events, where it’s now more about little and often when it comes to customer contact,” he added.
National motorcycle museum
This Birmingham-based venue has 2,000sqm of ground-floor exhibition space that can be divided into four sections. A further 10 suites are able to accommodate from 10 to 1,000 delegates.
“Our exhibition offering is constantly focused on how we can improve their ROI, building a successful event and working closely with our customers to improve their exhibition year-on-year,” venue director Nick Hartland said. “Due to the downturn, we are focusing on helping our customers reduce their costs by being more flexible and improving their sustainability.
“Clients are very much more focused on ROI and sustainability of their event, they are looking for increased flexibility due to shorter lead times.”
Hartland pointed out 70 per cent of the UK population is within two hours travel time of the motoring-themed venue. Its biggest current challenge is the increased focus by UK businesses on the export market rather than their home market.
“More resources are being spent overseas and we have also seen an increased gravitation back towards London and the South East,” Hartland said. However, he claimed opportunities abound as the economy slowly picks up. “We are seeing new entrepreneurs opening new businesses who are eager to expand and therefore this is slowly feeding through to the exhibition business,” Hartland added.
The Donington Park Exhibition Centre in Leicestershire claims to be the second-largest exhibition space in the region with 4,000sqm in display area on one level.
Donington Park re-opened in 2010 and embarked on a refurbishment plan including new heating systems, lighting and complimentary Wi-Fi. It also has dedicated service areas and vehicle access, office space, a café and free parking for thousands.
“From closure and the brink of demolition, the Donington Park Exhibition Centre is well and truly back on the map,” event executive Nick Wale claimed. “The exhibition centre is somewhat in the midst of its re-launch and the early stages are going extremely well. We have seen a lot of events already returning to Donington, along with new organisers taking a serious look at this new, old venue.”
The events calendar includes toy and antiques fairs, motorcycle shows and product launches. The biggest challenge is getting the message out there that the centre is back and open for business.
“The greatest opportunity we have is the sheer size of the exhibition space, ready to cater for a huge variety of events and exhibitions and our superb, hard-to-beat location,” Wale added. “We have the added bonus of the excitement from a race track running parallel to the exhibition centre.”
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This was first published in the May 2012 edition of Exhibition News.