Inspiration: Out of Town - Shore to please

Brighton's colourful history and stylish setting make it the perfect spot for creative events.

According to Caraline Brown, founder of local event agency Midnight Communications, walking around Brighton is like being in the Mediterranean; the city has everything that Barcelona offers, and is easily the most exciting city in Europe. For sure it's a bold statement, and it is of course in her interest to talk the place up, but the city has become used to successfully punching above its weight since it became known as "London on Sea" all those decades ago.

"We have the best bits of London in one compact place, so Brighton is great for group events," asserts Nick Vowles, marketing manager at Visit Brighton. "We're an hour from London, 30 minutes from Gatwick Airport and we have the sea."

For Brown, Brighton has a pioneering, creative and intellectual heart that is reflected in the events that have been held in the area. "We have the highest graduate count per head in the UK and a recent Confederation of British Industry report found that new businesses were more likely to succeed in Brighton than anywhere else in the country, and that shines through in everything from the bars and clubs to the venues and catering the area offers."

The list of new venues, facilities and creative companies certainly seems to be expanding constantly. Brown quotes the recently refurbished Hanbury Ballroom, the O Contemporary art gallery that she used when holding a party for magazine Business First, and a list of bars that are available for corporate groups, including Karma and Rehab that have capacities of 370 and 200 respectively.

Brown also flags up the Hotel Seattle where one of her clients, online beauty firm Looks Fantastic, used its waterfront Cafe Paradiso restaurant for its relaunch. "It's a beautiful, modern space with excellent food, and was the perfect place for the event," she says. As well as the 90-capacity Paradiso, Hotel Seattle offers four rooms for hire including the Seattle Suite that holds 100 for dining and 200 for parties.

Brighton is, of course, also one of the UK's most forward-thinking cities in terms of the environment, health and well-being. Little surprise, then, that there is no shortage of caterers offering the best the region has to offer from both land and sea.

Due South, for example, opened in August 2003 and boasts a restaurant in a restored Victorian arch on the beachfront, as well as its own catering operation. "Our focus is on local produce so 80% of what we use is sourced within 35 miles of Brighton," says head of marketing Helen Smith. "We always try to use the best independent producers and we can offer everything from seafood and homemade cheeses to lamb from the South Downs."

The awards that Due South has received, such as Observer Food Monthly's Best Seafront Restaurant last year and Remy Martin's Best Newcomer Outside London, speak for themselves and are a reflection of the high standards the company sets.

Its restaurant seats 40 with another 40 covers available on the beachfront terrace, and recent clients include studio giant Paramount, which hired the venue for a business breakfast during last year's Paramount Comedy Festival in the city.

The catering set-up, meanwhile, can handle events for up to 1,000 guests, which the Romanian royal family took full advantage of when it hosted a dinner at Stanmer House last November.

That Prince Paul of Romania chose Stanmer is no surprise - it's the name on most people's lips when asked to name Brighton's venue hotspots. "It's a beautiful 17th-century house set in parkland just 10 minutes from the city centre," explains Visit Brighton's Vowles. "It has just completed a renovation, so while it's a classic property, the inside is state of the art."

Stanmer is, of course, just one example of Brighton's thriving event scene. In contrast with its traditional surrounds there is the 2008 opening of the 180-metre, 100-capacity i360 viewing tower to look forward to, as well as the refurbished ballroom of hotel The Old Ship to consider.

For event planners, alongside Midnight Communications there is the likes of Wild Lemon, Corporate Connections and Yellowave, which offers its own beach sports venue.

This seemingly endless list certainly seems to justify the hype surrounding the area, and Visit Brighton is well placed to give an even more comprehensive low-down on planning events. Never mind London-on-Sea, the city is now confidently taking on the bright lights of Europe.


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