UNIQUE VENUES: 10 top packages for 2004

Looking for somewhere striking to stage a top corporate event? Belinda Gannaway tracks down new offers in unusual places

1 The BA London Eye is launching a monthly wine-tasting club in April. Hosted by experts from Jeroboams, London's largest independent retail wine merchants, each evening at theSouth Bank attraction will have a different theme such as new world meets old or Bordeaux versus Burgundy. Held on the first Tuesday of the month, each tasting session includes two rotations of the wheel and costs £40 per person.

Justine Waddell, the venue's head of new business development, says: "We have introduced our wine-tasting capsules as a new twist on corporate entertaining and also as a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests."

2 Manchester's The Lowry gallery and theatre is offering arts-based corporate training days from April. Standard packages incorporating drama and the visual arts are on offer, but the venue hopes to offer tailored days also.

The Lowry business development executive Karen Tyson will be selling the proposition alongside gallery or backstage tours and other corporate entertaining opportunities. "Research shows there is a huge demand for alternative training," she says. "Benefits to clients include increased confidence, better communication and presentation skills, and improved teamwork."

The training days will be sold in packages for up to 20 people, although the gallery will consider larger groups.

3 Sports enthusiasts should consider the Canary Wharf Squash Classic, which runs from 23-26 March at the East Wintergarden's new glass atrium.

Nicola Gall, manager of the Docklands venue, says: "A mezzanine gallery will offer the best views in the house for fans buying special VIP corporate packages." Tickets cost from £15 to £25 with incentives for group bookings. Packages can be arranged for groups of up to 20 (or more should a sponsor or company request it) and include a VIP reception. The gallery overlooks the court, so guests won't have to miss any of the action while they dine.

4 The 60th anniversary of D-Day is being marked in a week-long series of activities on HMS Belfast starting on 3 June. Hospitality packages from Sodexho Prestige include live re-enactments of D-Day briefings in the onboard function rooms or at the nearby Cabinet War Rooms in Westminster. They will be available for groups of 20 people up to 450 for dinner and receptions.

Sodexho Prestige senior sales manager Nicola Butler says: "We expect each night to be sold to exclusive groups and the package to be booked quite quickly due to the limited number of nights."

5 Dali Universe, a retrospective of the work of surrrealist Salvador Dali on London's South Bank, will celebrate the centenary of the artist's birth with a series of special events.

Dali Universe head of events, business development Dean Drury says: "The key event for corporate groups will be the Centennial Ball in mid-May, which will be masked and probably a play on the themes of dreams and fantasy." Companies will be able to hire tables seating ten guests at the event for 500 people.

The venue will also be refurbishing its galleries and adding new exhibits.

6 Since Manchester Art Gallery transformed itself in 2002 with a £35m makeover, the venue has been a popular choice for corporate entertaining. This year it hopes to build on that success by making the glass atrium, a big hit as a setting for receptions, available to the dinner market.

Manchester Art Gallery business development manager Russell Miller says clients can hold dinners for up to 120 in the contemporary space.

The gallery hosts a mix of exhibitions and the latest, Disguise, which runs until June, examines how we all use clothing, make-up and behaviour to create our own image. The vibrant exhibition has attracted corporate bookings, including this month's Arts Council England North West's Art04 awards ceremony.

7 With the Olympics and Euro 2004 heading a packed sporting calendar, the Science Museum is getting in on the action with an interactive Science of Sport exhibition.

Guests can dribble a football against the clock, test the accuracy of tennis shots or race against colleagues in a quick sprint and see an action replay at the west London museum's new feature.

Science Museum events manager Christine Mathews-Sheen says the exhibition, which runs until September, can be the backdrop to an energetic, hands-on breakfast event, a motivational training seminar or a fun corporate evening. With capacity for 250 guests, evening hire rates start from £6,000 plus VAT.

8 Sport is also at the heart of new displays at Madame Tussaud's. The waxworks attraction in the heart of London is launching areas dedicated to Euro 2004 and rugby heroes.

The Euro 2004 area will be located in the dining room and hold up to 600 guests for drinks or 400 for dining. With free screening of matches, Madame Tussaud's head of events Michael Aldridge believes the feature will prove highly marketable. "We have already had a number of clients requesting that the Euro games be shown because June is a key networking month," he says.

The venue will also be promoting new corporate event area, Blush, which opened to the public at Christmas and is based on a Hollywood party. The venue has unusual lighting and sound effects and is being marketed for cocktail parties for up to 350 guests.

9 Somerset House in central London is launching four rooms that reflect its nautical past. Renovated in December 2003, the Navy Board Rooms are a former home to the Navy Board and the spot where Nelson took his orders. Three rooms have views of the Thames while the fourth has a courtyard vista.

Somerset House head of corporate and private events Charlotte Reeves says: "We can do lunches for up to 60 guests, but the set-up on a long table for 34 people is proving particularly popular and meets the demand for something really special for lunch."

10 Kensington Palace is adding to its five areas for banqueting and receptions (the State Rooms are only open to groups with a Royal patron) by opening Princess Margaret's apartment for functions at the end of 2004. The small venue is not part of the public visitors' route and it marks the first time that the west London palace has had a daytime offer for lunches or receptions.

Historic Royal Palaces head of events Lin Kennedy believes the new area will be a big hit with corporate event organisers. "It's going to be a very important market for us," she predicts.

The apartment will be able to host lunches or dinners for up to 30 guests and receptions for 60.

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