MANCHESTER VENUES: City of champions - Emma Reynolds heads for Manchester to report on the golden legacy of last year's Commonwealth Games

One year on from the 2002 Commonwealth Games and business in Manchester is booming. The dazzling success of the sporting extravaganza coupled with world-class venues springing up across the city have helped Manchester enjoy a surge in corporate popularity.

The most recent arrival is the Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. The venue, which was designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, has been available for corporate hire since it opened a year ago in July. It has hosted 65 evening events including a product launch for car manufacturer Bentley and awards dinners for clients including the Royal Bank of Scotland.

IWMN events and catering manager Tony Smith says: "People are becoming more aware of unusual venues. A few years ago clients wouldn't know what to expect, but now unusual venues are much more professional and can provide a high standard of event."

The IWMN offers three main event spaces - an exhibition area, the special exhibition gallery and a restaurant. "This makes the venue more flexible and one of the biggest selling points is that clients can have exclusive hire," says Smith.

Approved suppliers

The museum can house a sit-down dinner for 350 people and there is a list of approved suppliers that corporate firms can use. "If they don't want to use the recommended audiovisual outfit, clients are welcome to bring in their own. The spaces can be branded with logos or images of staff through wall projection, lighting and big screens," adds Smith.

Food is provided by a roster of preferred caterers, which includes Sodexho Prestige as well as kosher and halal options. "We don't allow clients to bring in their own caterer so we can be sure of the quality of the cuisine," says Smith.

Manchester Art Gallery has been available for corporate events since it reopened last May after a four-year £35m refurbishment. The 19th century venue, which can house a reception for 450 people or a sit-down dinner for 100 guests, has a team dedicated to boosting the number of corporate functions. Business development manager Russell Miller says: "Most venues have a hospitality offer, especially with funding being so low. The corporate business supports our exhibition programmes."

The marble-floored entrance hall, glass-walled atrium and restaurant can be used by corporate clients for evening hire. There is also the patron's gallery for sponsors and patrons only. Vivienne Westwood staged a fashion show at the venue last November to launch her summer collection. "Guests had a VIP champagne reception in the atrium before viewing the collection in the gallery. We then had an after-party at our partner hotel, The Rossetti," says Miller.

Catering is provided by Millburns Restaurant Associates and is prepared at the on-site kitchen. However, red wine is not allowed in the venue in case of damage to the floors or artwork.

Similar restrictions can be found at The Lowry, just across the bridge from the IWMN. Food or drink is not allowed in the gallery, but the venue does have event spaces for receptions, dining and shows. These include two theatres, plus the circular, glass-walled Compass Room and the Hexagon Room, which can respectively hold 290 and 100 people for receptions and 160 and 60 guests for dinner. The venue has hosted cocktail receptions, dinners, fashion shows and car launches. Clients can also have private viewings of the LS Lowry collection and contemporary art exhibitions.

Lowry conference sales coordinator Sally Anderson says: "For corporate events we offer a duty manager, and can provide the catering and the catering staff. There is a large basement kitchen and smaller preparation kitchens around the building so food can be served fresh rather than arrive on a trolley."

Quick and smooth

As museums and galleries, these three venues are open to the public during the day, which means that transforming them for evening events needs to be quick and smooth. The IWMN's Smith says: "We are confident we can close the building at 6pm and have the venue ready for a drinks reception at 6.30pm or dinner at 7.30pm." Manchester Art Gallery's Miller advises clients to have a start time of 6pm for their events, allowing one hour to prepare the venue after the doors have closed to the public.

The three venues all work with promotional organisation Marketing Manchester.

In June, the public-private partnership held an event in London's Manchester Square to boost awareness of what the city has to offer. It brought together 32 of its partners for the fair, which included event venues and hotels.

Marketing Manchester head of convention bureau and membership Mary-Jane Wiedemann says: "Clients that had thought about coming to Manchester for their event decided to go ahead after seeing the games. And with the new and reopened venues, Manchester has been given a new dimension. Even people who have been here before now have a reason to come back."


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