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April 16, 2008
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SCHOOL DAYS:What the education sector has to offer the corporate market




If you’re looking for a different and unique venue you wouldn’t necessarily be immediately drawn to the education sector, but many schools offer stunning settings and architectural heritage, which nowadays is often combined with state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructural support. Despite this, they are only just waking up to the what they can offer the corporate market.

Last year Martin Norris, ex-communications director Coca-Cola GB, set up a company called Textbook Venues expressly aimed at helping schools, in both the private and state sectors, market their facilities to external parties.

“Schools have a versatility that cannot be matched by hotels and conference venues,” says Norris. “Also, although their pricing varies, it remains fundamentally very competitive when compared to other options. Issues such as catering are a thing of the past, with many schools using the same caterers that clients will have experienced at prestige events throughout the country. In addition, large halls, lecture theatres and performing art centres are all available, and break out rooms tend not to be an issue.”

 

 
Schools like Stowe offer a unique blend of architectural
heritage, facilities and stunning grounds

 

Exclusively yours
Jenny Masters, marketing manager of Snowdrop Systems, who has been using school, venues for some time for her company events, agrees: “When we are looking for a venue, we want somewhere that is exclusive to us, has accommodation, space and good breakout and dining facilities – yet all within a self-contained area. We like our venues to be out of the way, so that employees don't get tempted to bunk off to the local pub/club after the evening meal. On top of this, most hotels won't offer the grounds we are looking for, or the range of facilities. And if they do, it comes at a cost. Many private schools have all this and more.”

So why should your company be looking to use the education sector? “At one level they offer an environment that is different and stimulating. They are not places that business people typically frequent, as hotels are, which adds to the sense of discovery,” says Norris. “As places of learning their design and ethos can help to create the right atmosphere for meetings, seminars and conferences, in turn delivering a more successful event.”

On top of this, as Norris points out, where else could you get the variety of activities that schools can provide, from shooting, riding, climbing, football, cricket, racquet sports and swimming through to being able to accommodate the kind of customised sports day that is popular with corporate clients.

Geared up for activity

Masters shares his view: “Schools are already geared up for activity whereas most other venues are not. We've been able to take advantage of swimming pools, tennis courts, climbing walls, lakes and assault courses, and plenty of space for games in the early evening, such as football, boules and rounders all in one place.

“They are also exceptionally beautiful places with plenty of space for a large conference for all employees and enough smaller rooms to split up into much smaller workshops. At a hotel we might need to hire up to 15 rooms at once to be able to split the groups up effectively which would be cost prohibitive.”  

Norris adds that this unique combination of beauty, learning and sports means packages can be created which offer both cerebral and physical moments to the clients – a morning seminar followed by lunch, with whatever sporting activity is required in the afternoon.

That holiday feeling

Of course, this may sound fantastic but you have to remember that for these establishment their primarily purpose is education, so you could find your date options limited. But both Norris and Masters don’t see this as a huge issue.

“When you start to look broadly at the calendars, you find that there is more flexibility than might be believed,” says Norris. “The variety of schedule options that schools present rests on whether they are independent, state, day or boarding. Term times and breaks do differ, some schools actively run independent conference facilities during term time, others can operate at week-ends and in the evenings.”

Masters believes that if you book far enough in advance this isn’t a problem: “When you choose your dates you will need to plan at least six months in advance to get the dates you need. We normally go for a summer date, which gives you more choice and of course the likelihood of good weather. There can be a clash with employees holiday so we try to set a date as soon as possible and place a freeze on any holiday not yet booked on this day.”

Back to the blackboard?

What of IT infrastructure? Well, for those of us that were at schools some time ago, things have changed. As Norris puts it: “The days of the blackboard and the roneo copier are far behind us. Schools today not only have the IT technology to cope with corporate demands they also have suites which can be used for training purposes.”

Whiteboards, wireless networks, computer suites and AV equipment are all pretty much de rigeur in the modern educational establishment. And then we’re back to the setting: “At Abbotsholme we were able to hold presentations in their chapel,” says Masters, “Quite unusual, but much more inspiring than a standard conference room.”

Now where else could do that? 


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