The History of Conference Centres
The first convention centres can be traced back to mid-19th century Britain. Commonly known as exhibition halls, the centres were designed to bring together people to discuss and explore their mutual interest of a subject. These imposing Victorian buildings often covered several acres and were multi-functional incorporating lecture halls, libraries, galleries, theatres and exhibition areas.
The Crystal Palace, Hyde Park
Among the first historical convention centres constructed was The Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. Providing 92,000 m2 of exhibition space, the building was erected in 1851 to house The Great Exhibition a grand show case of modern industrial technology and design.
Organised by Prince Albert and inventor Henry Cole, the Great Exhibition was an international platform for world powers to demonstrate their technological and cultural achievements. Although countries all around the world could contribute, British exhibits - from working machinery to scientific and surgical instruments - took centre stage, promoting Britain’s position as a great industrial power.
In 1854 the Crystal Palace was dismantled and re-built in Sydenham, an area of south London which by association became known as Crystal Palace. Ravaged by fire in 1936, the building was eventually pulled down.
Bingley Hall, Birmingham
Another key convention centre in Britain’s history is Bingley Hall, Birmingham. Constructed in 1850 from surplus steels used to build Euston Station, the exhibition hall boasted over an acre of exhibition space and was serviced by ten entrances.
Bingley Hall was a primary meeting and exhibition space and before it succumbed to fire in 1984, hosted several key events, including cattle shows, concerts and boxing matches. It was also the centre for British Prime Minister Gladstone’s political rally in November 1888.
In Bingley Hall’s place now stands Birmingham’s International Convention Centre (ICC). Opened in 1991, the ICC is a major exhibition centre comprising ten halls which can accommodate up to 8,000 visitors. The site also houses Symphony Hall, a 2,000 seat concert hall, alongside shops and cafes.
Dedicated Conference Centres
Born out of the need for dedicated meeting spaces away from the traditional corporate environment, a new breed of meeting venue has emerged in the last few decades the purpose-built conference centre.
These multi-functional buildings are designed to maximise attendees’ productivity and concentration by offering a dedicated learning environment in high quality private surroundings.
Facilities typically include self-contained conference buildings, break-out rooms, exhibition spaces, dedicated dining rooms and social areas. For added comfort and convenience, today’s purpose-built conference centres usually provide on-site overnight accommodation, leisure facilities and free parking.
Lane End Conference Centre was one of the first purpose-built conference centres in the UK. It opened its doors in 1969 and today it boasts five distinct buildings each with a dedicated conference suite, lounge, bar, diing room and a number of dedicated bedrooms for residential events.