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17 April 2014

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Venue focus: Silverstone

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With gleaming new entertainment space in The Wing, the home of the British Grand Prix is racing into events at full speed. From conferences, launches and exhibitions to music festivals and even weddings, Silverstone now hosts much more than racedays

Words: Annica Wainwright

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Britain’s most famous race track is hard to miss. Head north on the M1 or M40 (either way, it’s about an hour and a half from central London) and follow the checkered flag signs off the motorway. Then watch out for all the petrol-fuelled businesses that have set up shop on the perimeter. You’ll know you’re close when you start hearing the roar of engines.

Silverstone’s a busy place and between all the test drives, race meets and experience days that take place here, you’ll rarely spot a quiet piece of track. On any given day, people will be taking to the circuit in supercars, sports cars, rally cars, classic cars and even bog-standard saloons – think Top Gear’s Reasonably Priced Car. You’ll spot a good few of them on the long approach to the striking new events facility, which sits in the middle of the Grand Prix Circuit. Talk about setting the scene. 

The backdrop certainly makes an obvious setting for car launches, but since the opening of The Wing in 2011, only 30% of events business at Silverstone comes from the motor industry. We’d say that’s decent proof that the £28m invested in ensuring this purpose-built facility had wide appeal was well spent. 

After an hour-long tour (there were thousands and thousands of square feet to cover), we genuinely struggled to think of a single event that couldn’t be placed within this clever, box-ticking venue. Sure, it wouldn’t feature on our own list of dream wedding locations, but The Wing has recently become licensed and bookings are coming in, so there are obviously petrolhead brides out there. 

As for other boxes ticked, space is obviously a biggie. Where else can you host indoor events for anything between two and 4,000 guests, find parking for thousands of cars and a music licence for 100,000? There’s even on-site camping.

Waiting in the wings

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Built to a flexible, modular design, The Wing is made up of five main halls, the largest of which (Hall 3, above) can host dinners for 700 or launches for over 1,000. Located directly above the pit lane and with views of both the Stow and Grand Prix circuits, from balconies and soaring windows, this space comes into its own for raceday hospitality. It’s also been used to host fashion shows, balls and trade fairs. Halls 1 and 2 are almost as large and come with mezzanine levels that add useful catering, break-out or VIP space. 

All three have separate branded entrances and, with kitchens between each hall, they can easily host several different events simultaneously.

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The smaller (400 and 500-capacity) Halls 4 and 5 (above) are connected and can either be divided with soundproof walls or opened up to host a larger event. Located at the highest point of the building, with a roof terrace leading out to the tip of its eponymous ‘wing’, the main space here serves up dual-aspect views through long, triangular windows that cut through the walls like go-faster stripes. Very dynamic. 

With simple white walls and charcoal carpets, the Halls are very much sold as blank-canvas spaces, but, thanks to those massive windows, they actually require very little dressing. Silverstone also holds a large stock of attractive modern furniture. 

Those who do come with kit will have little trouble fitting it. Cars can naturally be brought in, all halls come with 3-phase power and there’s plenty of room for rigging beneath the eight-metre ceilings. The onsite events team will help you make the most of the spaces on offer and you’ll want to take their advice – particularly when it comes to noise. 

Motor racing (as the large bowl of ear plugs on the reception desk will tell you) is loud and you’ll want to make sure that the events taking place on the track outside don’t interfere with your own. Some activities are considerably less noisy than others, so with a bit of clever scheduling, it’s possible to stage uninterrupted conferences in the Halls.

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There’s also plenty of soundproofed space on site. Home to 500 journalists during the Grand Prix, the International Media Centre (above) converts into meeting space for up to 420 delegates outside major race dates. The main space here can be divided into six smaller rooms, each lined with a row of commentary boxes. These can be opened up to provide natural light and are also handy (if rather small) as syndicate rooms. 

Next door, you’ll find an auditorium with 100 leather seats, a loo with great views of the track, and a range of smaller boardrooms. The Time Keeper’s Office at the end of the hall makes a great organiser’s office, while the Media Café offers relaxed lunch space. 

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The 40 gleaming Pit Garages serve up extra exhibition space – a whopping 5,768sq m of the stuff – at ground level, where events can also spill out into the Paddocks. We doubt you’ll need more room than that but, just in case, note that the venues used at Silverstone before the launch of The Wing are still available to hire, though not really advertised as such. 

Indeed, the only thing you’ll struggle to find here is high-end accommodation. We’re told no less than three hotels are in the pipeline but, as the current on-site choice is a toss-up between Snoozebox and a night under canvas, you’re better off booking coaches and heading elsewhere (the pod rooms and camping may come in handy for staff, though).

Give it a spin

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Invite guests to an event at Silverstone and they’ll inevitably want to get on the track. You, as the organiser, should make sure they do. It’d be rude not to. Especially as there are so many options. Driving experiences range from rookie rides for guests without a driver’s licence, to the action-packed Silverstone Challenge (a full day mixing supercars, high-performance coupés, rally cars and 4x4s). For real adrenaline junkies there’s The Hypersonic – the closest thing to F1 for amateur drivers.

If you’re pushed for time, the easiest way to give your guests a taste of the track is to have one of Silverstone’s pro drivers take them round the circuit as passengers, one by one. On our latest visit, we experienced the full power of an Audi R8 as chief instructor Chris Ward put the V10 wonder through its paces on the Grand Prix Circuit – a thrilling ride that may not sit well just after breakfast, but would certainly give delegates a wake-up call as a conference break-out activity. 

However they get round the track, make sure you book a photographer to snap delegates on the podium after their lap. 

Formula 1 hospitality

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Silverstone serves up slick hospitality packages for events throughout the year but the Formula 1 British Grand Prix is the undisputed daddy. With Button, Hamilton and Co set to take to the track here on 28-30 June, you’ll need to act quick for a piece of the 2013 action. As we went to press, there was limited availability for all seven hospitality options, with packages starting at £205+VAT for a Friday pass to the Silverstone Six facility, escalating to $3,450+VAT (yes that’s dollars, not pounds) if you want to spend Saturday and Sunday in the top-end Formula One Paddock Club on the start/finish straight. We like the Drivers’ Lounge (packages from £430-1,295+VAT), where guests get to rub shoulders with some of the best-known names in British motorsport, and the Porsche Hospitality Experience (£235-1,040+VAT), which includes a passenger ride in a Porsche Panamera. Expect great views, an open bar, top-notch catering and souvenir radios to keep guests up to speed. Don’t forget to pack your earplugs: F1 racing is loud.

Other key dates

Hospitality packages are also available for the following

Silverstone Classic: 26-28 Jul

FIM Superbike World Championships: 2-4 Aug

MotoGP: 30 Aug-1 Sep

Britcar 1,000km: 20-22 Sep

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championships: 27-29 Sep

MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship: 4-6 Oct 


This article was first printed in Square Meal Venues & Events, summer 2013

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