Showcase: Urban Gardens 2005

Bolstered by celebrities, the revamped lifestyle show aims to give city dwellers a green day out. Mike Fletcher reports.

Upper Street Events acquired two lifestyle exhibitions in January last year that had been rescued during the collapse of Redman Media by a holding company called Legaro. Urban Interiors and Urban Gardens focused on the growing trend of young urbanites seeking inspiration for improving their city dwellings. Due to the 2004 May dates of Urban Gardens, the event went ahead at Olympia almost unchanged but signalled the Business Design Centre in-house organiser's intent to run shows in other venues.

Last month, Urban Gardens returned to Olympia and with a full year's planning, group event director Daniel Holmes hailed the improvements that will help the event continue to develop under its new owner.

"There are certain practices at Upper Street Events that translate across all our shows. We increased the number of show gardens and incentivised designers with a £5,000 prize for the best garden," says Holmes. "We're focused on the experience of a day out for visitors. Sponsored areas that included a BBC London Celebrity Theatre - and a Livingetc Design Clinic, for visitors to gain advice on designing their roof garden or inspirational children's play area - contributed to this."

Eight of this year's feature gardens addressed specific personality types.

Visitors were encouraged to go online and complete the Universal Enneagram personality test before visiting the show to discover which garden best reflected individual traits. The prize money was awarded to 'the achiever' garden, designed by Mark Lutyens and Penny Smith, and gardens designed for 'the enthusiast', 'the peacemaker' and 'the perfectionist' helped form an aesthetically strong event among the 2,000sqm of stand space complete with ceiling hangings designed in the show's colours of red and white.

Other new developments included the Urban Gardens Challenge sponsored by design services agency Scenic Blue, which gave pre-registered visitors the chance to design a garden and have it built on the show floor. And Gardens UK from the 2004 show was transformed into Haddonstone Urban Ideas workshop featuring garden artistes, designers and makers.

Urban Gardens' ideal visitors are city workers with urban dwelling spaces.

Holmes concedes that opening the show on a Thursday was unlikely to attract high numbers of these until the weekend, so further adjustments needed to be made. He says: "We used our databases from complementary shows such as Country Living to offer ticket deals to this broader audience demographic. The speaker programme was adjusted for the Thursday and Friday to reflect this change, and personalities that these visitors would recognise from gardening and interior television shows were selected to appear."

Celebrities who put in an appearance included BBC Gardeners World's Joe Swift and Channel Four's City Gardener, Matt James. Swift presented ideas on how to add a contemporary twist to classic garden design and hosted a Human Nature show garden. James offered gardening tips for low-maintenance designs and was joined in the BBC London Celebrity Theatre by Channel Five's style presenters Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan, who spoke on adding value to property with an outdoor room.

A change of date may be on the cards for future Urban Gardens events, however, since the four-day fledgling show ran at the same time as BBC Good Homes at the Birmingham NEC, and only a few weeks before the Chelsea Flower Show.

"A few exhibitors felt compelled to do the Birmingham event and Chelsea has a two-week build-up so it did pose a logistical problem," says Holmes.

"We would never look to compete with Chelsea but we do complement that market and therefore it's good that many of our exhibitors chose to appear at both."

On the other hand, Urban Gardens may have found its home, as Olympia presents space to grow the annual event. Holmes concludes: "Feedback from exhibitors has been excellent and if they want space to grow their designs then we have the balcony and additional floor space to ensure a strong future for this urban focused event."

FACT FILE

Urban Gardens 2005

Dates: 5-8 May

Venue: Grand Hall Olympia

Organiser: Upper Street Events

Unaudited attendance: 15,000

Stand space: 2,000sqm

Shell scheme and electrics: Opex

Signage: BNP Lightbrigade, Total Fx

Hall Drapes: StitchIt

AV: Production Network

Registration: Interchange

Sponsors: BBC London 94.9FM; Livingetc; Scenic Blue; Haddonstone; Red

Letter Days; Marko Polo Designs; Vitra


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