That Newcastle-Gateshead was chosen to host the Great Exhibition of the North 2018 (a Northern Powerhouse-funded festival of art, culture and design) is testament to the area’s growing status as an events destination – a status further boosted by the news that a £200m arts, leisure and conference complex will be built by the River Tyne. Less than three hours by train from London, Newcastle already has a strong portfolio of venues and good air links to European hubs such as Dublin, Paris and Berlin. Lower prices add to the appeal.
‘I’d challenge anyone to say they’ve got a more inspiring venue than Sage Gateshead,’ says Paul Szomoru, head of business tourism at Newcastle Gateshead Convention Bureau. He has reason to be bullish; the building he’s referring to is exquisite. And versatile too: the Tyneside complex can host anything from big gigs to small conferences.
More intimate is the 800-capacity Boiler Shop, where Robert and George Stephenson built the first steam engine in 1823. ‘It screams history,’ says Szomoru. And for later? A drinks soirée at Newcastle Castle, which, according to Szomoru, can be hired from as little as £800. We’ll certainly drink to that.
Newcastle Castle also offers private dining in partnership with The Vermont Hotel. After working up an appetite on a tour of the site, up to 40 guests can eat in the castle.
Newcastle boasts Michelin-star status thanks to the gourmet cuisine of House of Tides, though team dinners are a more realistic proposition at Blackfriars – which claims to be the oldest dining room in the UK – whose medieval banquet hall is available for private hire. For something more contemporary, try Lane7 for informal food plus bowling, crazy golf and karaoke.
Wending its way through Newcastle, the River Tyne is a source of much pride in the city: there’s even a song written about it (Fog on the Tyne, in case you’re wondering). It’s hard to think, then, of a more fitting team activity than sailing down this feted waterway on a tailored trip, which can be organised through River Escapes.
Not quite cutting it? Take the team to windswept Whitley Bay, where Cullercoats Bike & Kayak can organise anything from bike rides to stand-up paddleboarding. Alternatively, get them swinging through the trees at Go Ape in nearby Matfen.
A glut of new hotels has been blamed for depressing room rates in Newcastle; bad news for hoteliers, but good news for anyone planning an event in the city. Notable arrivals include the 160-room Hampton by Hilton and the 251-room Crowne Plaza Stephenson Quarter, which, with nine meeting rooms – one with a capacity of 1,000 – has added to the city’s event space.
Incredibly, there are more in the pipeline, including the four-star Maldron Hotel, set to open in 2018, which suggests room rates aren’t likely to go up any time soon.
Next up, Hull, Sheffield and York.