Special Report on Conferences and Exhibitions: From Clock End to castle

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The Independent Online
LOOKING for somewhere a little different to hold your conference?

The sports-minded might try the marble halls of Highbury, north London, which are home to more than just Arsenal Football Club. Behind the Clock End terrace is the South Stand Complex, built in 1989, and London's only indoor sports centre with a 250- seat restaurant and conference facility.

Philip Carling, marketing manager, says: 'It means companies can bring along everyone, even if they are not actually participating in a sport, which is very good for building esprit de corps.'

The Accessible Environment Conference, held by and for wheelchair users, took place in the Mezzanine Suite, while this weekend and next the Law Society will be holding a five-a-side tournament, with 240 teams from firms all over the country. The 1,400 m2 -Sports Hall has also been used for exhibitions.

If you feel that an Englishman's home is his castle, rather than his football club, how about hiring a stately home? 'Castles for Conferences' was launched last September, backed by the British Tourist Authority, and is promoting three historic houses - Hever Castle, Leeds Castle and Goodwood House - to the European business community.

Leeds Castle, in Kent, offers normal conference facilities and also 'themed' events, such as a six-course banquet in King Henry VIII's Banqueting Hall. Your delegates can also try their hand at falconry and archery. At Goodwood House, West Sussex, you can combine your conference with a tour of the state apartments and art collections, followed by an afternoon at the races, bets not included. Conferences in castles are not cheap: a three-day, two-night conference based on 35 delegates in single occupancy rooms starts at pounds 565 per person.

Holding your conference at a theme park is another alternative. Alton Towers in Staffordshire has four 'hospitality venues', accommodating from 10 to 3,000 people, and can arrange special activity packages including an 'It's a Knockout' competition, a fancy dress ball or a firework display. Those with strong stomachs can try the 135 amusement park rides.

Hiring a celebrity speaker is one way of adding something a little different to a conference. Gordon Banks OBE, World Cup hero, runs a company which will organise your conference and provide speakers, including Mr Banks himself, from the entertainment, sport and business worlds.

A novel method of presentation to your sales conference is to employ a magician. John Hotowka creates a magic act to 'reinforce your company's message'. 'I am usually introduced as some kind of marketing expert,' says Mr Hotowka, 'so they are soon sitting up in their seats when they see a handful of cue cards turn into a handful of pounds 5 notes.'