A burgeoning events sector has risen from the ashes of heavy industry in northern England, with billions ploughed into conference centres, hotels and restaurants. We head up there for a look around
When Margaret Thatcher died in 2013, corks popped up north; the former PM had been blamed by some for the demise of northern England’s manufacturing industry and many were delighted to see the back of her.
Though cut from the same cloth as the Iron Lady, George Osborne has cast himself as a Tory who’s bent on reinvigorating northern England.
His Northern Powerhouse proposal, launched when he was chancellor, champions investment in the region – including HS2 – and promised devolution for its cities. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has said that the government has allocated £3.4bn into the project to date, boosting the North’s economy by around £9bn since the proposal was launched.
‘The events industry has benefited greatly from the Northern Powerhouse project,’ says Adam Sternberg of entertainment agency Sternberg Clarke. ‘It’s changed people’s perceptions of northern cities. No longer are they the dark, industrial cities of old but vibrant, creative and brilliant places to hold events.’
The project, which has survived two elections and the Brexit storm, has certainly provided a showcase for the North. But it was already on the up. New state-of-the-art venues – and the arrival of 472 hotels between 2000 and 2015 – were already redefining the events industry. The fact that London names such as Etc. Venues, hotelier Zetter Group and restaurant Randall & Aubin have opened northern outposts recently is adding to the buzz.
‘We were keen to find a place that has a similar energy and vibe to that of Soho 20 years ago, and we feel we found it in Manchester,’ says Jamie Poulton, Randall & Aubin co-founding partner. According to Alistair Turner, former president at Ilea UK, it’s not all about Manchester or Liverpool: ‘Since the project [launched], we have seen other cities emerging.’
He means cities such as Leeds, Newcastle-Gateshead and Hull, whose UK City of Culture 2017 status has seen a £1 billion boost in investment for the city since it was awarded the title in 2013. Well-connected to London, these cities have certain advantages over the capital. ‘London has a problem in that it hasn’t got a centrally located convention centre,’ says Turner. ‘Not so for northern cities.’
Then there’s the cost: it’s more affordable to hold events up north. ‘On a budget that would get you the basics elsewhere, you can really spoil yourself up here,’ says Paul Szomoru, head of business tourism at the NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau.
Over the next few pages, we take you for a meeting-to-sleeping tour of the North’s seven most important cities. Heads up everyone.
We’re here to take you on a meeting-to-sleeping tour of the North’s seven most important cities. Take your pick.