Living History

Cultural venues are finding favour with creative event organisers, says Jeremy King

It is hard to ignore the sense of tradition that underpins the United Kingdom, and nothing symbolises this more than its wealth of magnificent buildings, within which many of the nation's significant chapters were written. For this reason, hiring one of these venues lends even more kudos to a creative event.

From the contemporary freshness of the Tate Modern to the more traditional Natural History Museum, historical and cultural spaces are becoming prime locations for parties, from product launches and award ceremonies to large, lavish productions.

One of the country's most interesting historic venues is Brunel's SS Great Britain, which is berthed in Bristol and has had an £11m refurbishment. It now boasts a quality dining saloon for up to 144 guests, the Promenade Deck for up to 100 and the Hayward Saloon for 70. The ship also has its own Dockyard Museum, which can host between 100 and 150, and an interactive space in the ship's hull. "This historic ship provides a truly unique venue that looks absolutely wonderful," explains Foster Event Catering director of commerce Mike Cannings.

Clients who have held events at this venue include Rolls-Royce, IBM and Capita Symonds. "Launched in 1843, Brunel's SS Great Britain was the world's first great ocean liner and forerunner of all modern shipping," adds the venue's acting commercial director Andrea Neck. On the south coast in Portsmouth is HMS Warrior 1860, where guests can revel in an environment that would have been enjoyed by the ship's officers.

There are four event spaces available, which include the Wardrobe for small intimate parties for up to 20, the Officers' Half Deck for 60, The Gun Deck for 288 or the Upper Deck for up to 600, the latter having views of Portsmouth Harbour. On 21 October the venue will host a black-tie ball to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. It has also held events for blue-chip companies including IBM.

In one of Britain's oldest cities, Bath, is the Thermae Bath Spa. Scheduled to open in April next year this long-anticipated attraction will provide a spectacular party backdrop, and guests can even bathe in the natural thermal waters. "This development is about reviving the history of Bath," says events manager Peter Rollins. "It is a very special venue that is not ultra exclusive but at the same time provides a unique party space with its own catering facilities."

One of the most eye-catching features will be the open-air rooftop pool that will cater for up to 100, from which bathers will have views of the skyline and hills surrounding the city. The venue also boasts two other meeting rooms with space for between 10 and 25 guests, making it ideal for small parties.

In London the Churchill Museum, dedicated to the life and times of the country's former leader, opened its doors in February. Located in the Cabinet War Rooms it allows guest to view thousands of projected images of original documents, objects and photographs of Sir Winston's life. They can also enjoy tours of the museum and the Cabinet War Rooms, with actors playing various characters from the era. The venue is also happy to cater for creative events.

Long regarded as one of the nation's favourite tourist spots and cultural venues, Madame Tussauds' latest interactive installation mirrors the set-up of television programme The X-Factor. It means that guests have the opportunity to grab the microphone and belt out their favourite songs as the waxwork models of judges Louis Walsh, Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne judge the standard and even bicker among themselves.

Another popular tourist space available for private hire is the Science Museum, which on 14 October will unveil its latest temporary exhibition, The Science of Aliens, where guests can enjoy canapés and drinks while being taken on a journey of discovery. Revellers will be able to explore the solar system, control aliens in their own environment and write a message to an alien. The venue is ideal for clients looking to put together a space-themed party.

With views of the capital the Oxo Tower on the South Bank provides a picturesque party backdrop, and the Gallery at Oxo has exhibitions with various environments and space for between 50 and 200. In the next few months revellers will be given the opportunity to party among the British Toymakers Guild exhibition, with the space transformed into a toy shop, or the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, where guests will push buttons and turn handles to make the original moving sculptures come to life.

For something completely different one of London's newest galleries, Proud, in Camden, is set to launch its Playboy exhibition on 20 October, which will run until the end of February next year. Clients who book this space will be able to party among A4 versions of the magazine's post-1930 covers adorning the walls, as well as images of its founder and owner Hugh Hefner and his infamous Bunny Girls.

Set on two floors, with the additional space of a temporary structure, the venue can host up to 900 guests for a reception-style party. Alternatively, each floor can be hired separately with 200 guests on each level for a stand-up party, while the temporary structure can host up to 500 for a reception.

As a special treat, companies that hold events at the venue during the Playboy exhibition will have their drinks and canapés served by authentic Playboy Bunnies, which really does push the boundaries of cultural and historical party venues into new territory.


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