23 August 2014

Venue Focus feature on the Science Museum - 'Room to Experiment'

0870 780 9486

Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7

London: South Kensington

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Its huge variety of space makes the Science Museum one of London’s most exciting events venues. Astrid Mannion reports.

On a cold and rainy March afternoon, the entrance hall of the Science Museum is buzzing with activity. Tourists are snapping away with their digital cameras; a group of young students is heading for the gift shop, and hordes of excited schoolchildren are running about, putting their teachers’ tempers to the test. It’s hard to imagine that in just a few hours this very space – also known as the Energy Hall – will be branded with corporate logos and play host to a glamorous party for hundreds of guests.

At 6.30pm, just half an hour after the museum has closed to the public, the transformation is complete. Dramatic lighting enhances what is already an impressive space and a neat row of waiters stands ready to greet guests with a glass of Champagne. The crowd soon begins to explore the space, which features a gigantic Harle Syke Mill steam engine as the centrepiece of an astonishing showcase of Britain’s engineering achievements.

After an hour-long canape reception, guests are ushered through to the stunning Flight Gallery, where dinner for 500 is served at beautifully dressed tables, set beneath historic aircraft suspended from the ceiling. Having tucked into a superb three-course meal while admiring Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth and Alcock and Brown’s Vicker’s Vimy (the first plane to cross the Atlantic), one thing is for sure: this is not an evening these guests will forget in a hurry.

Indeed, the Science Museum can pride itself on being one of the capital’s most memorable events spaces. With a vast variety of galleries, meeting rooms and constantly changing exhibitions, as well as an IMAX cinema, it can make even the most hardened event organiser feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Michelle Eastwood, the director of Eastwood Events, organised a cocktail reception for 600 guests in the Energy Hall last September, and is a huge fan: ‘I chose the venue because it could hold a large group comfortably and because almost all of our guests were architects or engineers – it was just right for them,’ she says. ‘The events team also made things very easy. I’m a perfectionist but they put up with me and organised everything I asked for. Despite having very little time to turn things around, they got everything done and it all worked out superbly.’

You don’t even have to be scientifically inclined to enjoy an event at the museum, as its head of events, Victoria Grossmith, points out: ‘The venue is so vast that there is always something a client can associate with. Plus, one of the beauties of holding an event here is that the environment is already provided. Our clients don’t have to fork out on theming, so they can spend more time and money on food, drinks and entertainment,’ she explains. She has a point. The Exploration of Space, for instance, would be any schoolboy’s dream. And any City boy’s dream, too, for that matter. Holding up to 250 people for a reception, it uses actual rockets and spacecraft to tell the story of space exploration and is an equally popular choice for children’s parties and corporate do’s. The best events here have seen actors dressed up as astronauts mingle among guests, talking about life in space.

Adjacent to this gallery is the Making the Modern World, a vast space that can seat no fewer than 430 dinner guests among surrounds that depict the development of the modern industrial world from 1750 to the year 2000, with extraordinary exhibits including the Apollo 10 command module and Stephenson’s Rocket. Nearby is also The Wellcome Wing, which places great emphasis on interaction, allowing guests to explore different aspects of science through play with words, games and objects. As its exhibitions change very frequently, clients can return again and again but still have a different experience every time.

Neil Skidmore, the director of JSO Productions, made use of all the galleries when he organised a Christmas party for 1,200 guests on behalf of a large London bank last year. The bash started off with a drinks reception in the Energy Hall and Space Gallery, followed by dinner in Making the Modern World and a disco and casino in the Wellcome Wing. ‘Everyone was delighted with the party and the venue was an excellent choice. It didn’t need any theming at all, just entertainers and lighting,’ he enthuses.

Most of the galleries are only available to hire outside of the museum’s opening hours, but there is also a wide range of daytime space onsite. The 416-seat IMAX theatre, for instance, has a gigantic screen and impressive surround-sound system and can be used for anything from film screenings to conferences and presentations. Similarly, the new and cutting-edge Dana Centre, which is dedicated to topical scientific debates, has meeting space for up to 110 delegates, alongside excellent boardroom facilities.

The most popular daytime space is the Director’s Suite, which comprises four elegant rooms, including the stunning, book-lined Fellows’ Room, where beautiful chandeliers and deep red carpets enhance striking period features. The fact that this 150-capacity space also holds a civil wedding licence means that the museum is able to host just about any type of event, so if your only visit to this place has been on a day out with the kids, it’s high time to see it in an entirely different light. As will soon become clear during your show-round, the Science Museum offers plenty of room to experiment.

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