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SPARK THINKING, an Ashfield Meetings & Events brand, are delivering the production requirements for Leeds Beckett University’s graduation this week. This is the second year of delivering the event which comprises of 12 ceremonies that take place 25-28 July.

This involves transforming the university’s buildings and grounds at their Headingley Campus into a fit-for-purpose graduation environment in which students and their families can celebrate their academic achievements. The temporary adaptation of the space involves the supply of power, air-conditioning, audio-visual technology, staging, seating, carpets, toilets, marquees and event crew. This year SPARK THINKING will also be managing the filming and streaming of the ceremonies.

Tracy Commons (Associate Director of Commercial Marketing & Engagement, Leeds Beckett University) commented: “Working with SPARK THINKING, for the second year in a row, for our graduation requirements has allowed us to achieve a number of improvements, including creative and innovative delivery of the event and efficiencies.  We are looking forward to celebrating the achievements of all of our students this week.”

Graham Lord (Production Lead at SPARK THINKING) commented: “After an extensive set-up period that involved transforming numerous indoor and outdoor spaces it was fantastic to see the crowds gather and the excitement intensify for the first ceremony on Monday. The immersive environment was a fitting and memorable experience for those involved to celebrate their academic achievements. The core concept of our idea was to ensure the graduates were recognised as individuals but we also weaved in key sustainability practices and brand engagement throughout the programme by promoting the core alumni messaging.”

Graham added: “We are proud to be strengthening our relationship with Leeds Beckett University. In addition to the graduation ceremonies, we have also been supporting the university with the production requirements for the Teach First Impact Conference 2016 at their City Campus in Leeds. This has been running concurrently to the graduation ceremonies. The Teach First event brings together over 4,000 educators, business leaders and innovative thinkers to develop professionally, learn from one another, and engage in discussion. At SPARK THINKING we are proud to be involved in not only recognising the crucible of talent at the graduation ceremonies but also in collaborating with the university to support the Teach First movement with their aim of ending inequality in education.” 

Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) are delighted to announce the first conference confirmed to take place at the new venue, due to open in 2019.

This news highlights the work of the AECC team, who are continually sharing news of the exciting new development throughout the UK, Europe and beyond, including promotion at key industry events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles over the coming months; and are successfully attracting a host of business to the region, with bids and enquiries as far reaching as 2023.

The Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Conference will take place in the new venue, based at Bucksburn, Aberdeen, in 2020; and will be the first time the conference has been held in the UK.

The event is the biggest gathering of global science communication scholars and practitioners; with around 600 delegates expected to gather in Aberdeen for the 16th PCST conference, which will include workshops and keynote speeches from leaders in the field. 

The event was attracted to Aberdeen through Team Aberdeen partnership working between the venue and the University of Aberdeen, who won the right to host the conference through a competitive bidding process at this year’s PCST Conference in Istanbul with a presentation led by Dr Ken Skeldon and Dr Heather Doran from the university’s Public Engagement with Research Unit.

Aberdeen City Council Leader Jenny Laing said: “It is great news that the new AECC has received its first booking just a few weeks after we held the sod-cutting ceremony for it.

“The new AECC is a vital part of ensuring Aberdeen can compete on a global basis with other major cities and also for its future prosperity as it will attract bigger names in entertainment, as well as more international events and conferences.”

President of PCST, Brian Trench, commented: “Scotland will in 2020 become the sixteenth country to host a PCST conference, and we confidently expect the Aberdeen event to be a big success.  We have had our conferences in all continents, reflecting our standing as a global network.

"We look forward to meeting representatives of the very many facets of science communication that are practised and studied in Scotland, the United Kingdom and far beyond, when we gather in Aberdeen in 2020."

Aberdeen University’s Vice-Principal for External Affairs, Professor Dame Anne Glover, said: “Public Engagement in Aberdeen continues to go from strength to strength and our successful bid to host the 16th PCST conference is further proof of this.  It will be a great opportunity to show how connected and forward thinking Aberdeen is in this area.”

Dr Kenneth Skeldon, Head of Public Engagement at Aberdeen University added “The securing of this global conference on science communication reflects the international networking and reputation of our public engagement effort at Aberdeen.  In the lead up and delivery of the conference, we now have the opportunity to build further links with the world’s largest community of science and technology communication scholars and practitioners.”  

Interim Managing Director at AECC, Graeme Cumming, commented: “We are delighted to announce the first conference confirmed to take place at the new venue; this is a culmination of the work, passion and dedication of the team at AECC, who are committed to promoting the new development as far and wide as possible.  This could not be achieved without the strong teamwork displayed by the Team Aberdeen partners, which provides Aberdeen with a strong competitive position when attracting international business to the city.”

This conference was awarded subvention funding from VisitAberdeenshire, match funded by VisitScotland’s Conference bid Fund.

SPARK THINKING, an Ashfield Meetings & Events brand, are proud to support the ‘Student Of The Year’ award at the UK Centre For Events Management at Leeds Beckett University.

The agency were delighted to present Joseph Hughes with his prize following his recent graduation ceremony where he collected his First Class BA (Hons) Events Management degree. 

Established in 1996, the UK Centre For Events Management at Leeds Beckett University is the leading provider of events education in the country.

Joe commented on his success, “Getting a First Class degree in Events Management has been my aim since I started in 2012. It means a great deal to finally achieve that, especially following the pressures of final year and the completion of my dissertation. For one of my final exams I used Ashfield Meeting & Events as a case study so had heard about SPARK THINKING and their sponsorship of this award, however, I never considered that it would be me receiving it. It's a lovely surprise and a great accolade to be given.”

Glenn Bowdin, Head of UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Beckett University commented, “Joe is a shining example of graduates from our events management courses where developing employability skills and industry experience alongside academic achievement are key features of our approach.  Joe produced First Class work and clearly demonstrated his ability to apply this as he transitions into the industry full time. Joe is the latest recipient of the SPARK THINKING award and we are grateful to SPARK THINKING and Ashfield for their continued support, which continues into our 20th year of events management education.”

Luke Flett, Global Head of Marketing at SPARK THINKING and a member of the EVCOM Professional Development Committee, said:  “We have supported this award for over 10 years as we strongly believe that collaboration between industry practitioners, lecturers and the student community enhances the effectiveness of our industry. We think it is important to recognise the bright sparks of tomorrow; the next generation of thinkers, leaders and doers in our industry. Joe, who received the highest overall grade on the course, was a worthy winner. Undoubtedly Joe and his fellow graduates will face a complex and challenging future but we are confident that he will have a sparkling career ahead of him.”

In April 2014 Leeds Beckett University appointed SPARK THINKING to deliver the production requirements for their graduation ceremonies.

imago, one of the UK’s leading academic venues, has welcomed the opening of Loughborough University’s latest facilities.

imago already provides event organisers with access to one of the UK's largest and most extensive single conference sites through the facilities available on campus. The 410-acre campus features more than 75 state-of-the-art exhibition, meeting and conference rooms for up to 2,000 delegates, in addition to facilities Burleigh Court, Holywell Park and The Link Hotel.

The opening of the new £3 million teaching space - The West Park Teaching Hub – will see Its campus offering extended even further. The West Park Teaching Hub – located in the former Ford College building - features five lecture theatres, two seminar rooms and a central learning and exhibition zone and is equipped with the latest audio visual equipment. Alongside the formal teaching space there is an informal learning area and waiting areas with seating and a café.

Emma Boynton, Head of Sales and Marketing at imago, says of the new meetings facilities: “It’s really exciting to be able to offer clients a new event space on campus – it is an outstanding facility to have in our portfolio. The West Park Teaching Hub offers everything event organisers need for successful meetings and conferences. But our campus offering is about more than the buildings. Being able to utilise the university’s reputation for academic excellence is also a great way for event organisers to enhance the content of their event so it has real value for delegates attending.”

imago unifies Loughborough University’s conference and events venues under one brand which offers high quality meeting spaces, venues and accommodation along with excellent sports and leisure facilities. imago manages Burleigh Court, Holywell Park, Loughborough University’s conference and events facilities and The Link Hotel. For more information, visit or call 01509 633030.  

The Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP) has been invited to co-ordinate the views and concerns of the events industry surrounding Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, as part of initial reviews being carried out by the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS). Launching as a follow-up to the pre-referendum survey that the association undertook ahead of the vote, the BVEP will be surveying the entire industry and reporting the results back to the government with one clear voice in representation of the industry’s interests in forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

The ‘BVEP Events Industry Referendum Impact Survey’ includes questions surrounding; recent cancellation experience, primary concerns and key priorities for event businesses, what EU legislation they would like to see kept and what they would like to see scrapped plus also the chance to comment on any opportunities they have noted since the referendum. Following the results of the survey, representatives of the BVEP and the newly formed Events Industry Board will meet with ministers over the summer to discuss the initial finding and begin to formulate an approach to ensure that the views of the events industry are fully taken into account during any Brexit negotiations.

In addition, the BVEP will be working with a number of other representative bodies, such as the Tourism Alliance, in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the key business issues for the event industry that will need to be considered in the future negotiations required to establish new and sustainable trade arrangements. Simon Hughes, Vice Chair of the BVEP explained; “The BVEP has been asked by the DCMS to provide industry input and co-ordination to discussions that will be taking place with Ministers, as well as informing the work of the Events Industry Board which will also be representing the industry’s concerns to the relevant government departments.”

He added; “Our focus is to support the development of a robust body of evidence that will inform the negotiations that lie ahead. The support of the industry and our members will as ever be invaluable in this and I would encourage them to complete the survey.”

The BVEP Events Industry Referendum Impact Survey can be found here and will be live until early September.

BCD Meetings & Events (BCD M&E) acquired Zibrant, an award-winning Events Agency delivering national and international events in the UK, to strengthen and diversify its Events business in the European market.

“This is the latest in a line of smart, strategic acquisitions for us to grow our global presences and service offering,” said Scott Graf, BCD M&E Global President. “Zibrant brings size, scale and expertise to our UK presence allowing us to better compete in a strong Events market.”

BCD M&E will welcome 130 experts who have an established market presence in the UK including respected leaders and industry professionals to add significant talent to its growing EMEA (European, Middle East & Africa) team. Additionally, BCD M&E can offer customers additional and expanded capabilities within its Events offering including creative communications, full-scale production services and expert venue sourcing/finding services.

“Zibrant has a strong brand, reputation and service values which aligns perfectly with BCD Meetings & Events,” said Marc Lammens, BCD M&E Managing Director, EMEA. “With our combined expertise and services, we realized our organizations are better together than apart—as an employer, service provider and partner.”

Nigel Cooper comments “As one of the UK most recognised meetings and event management agencies we pride ourselves on creating solutions that meet our clients’ needs and realise their objectives. Since our inception, we have led the way in developing the UK meetings and events industry from managing strategic global programmes, bespoke venue solutions to producing major live events and creating memorable communications platforms.

“At Zibrant we never stand still, the nature of our business doesn’t allow it. We continually evolve with the latest trends, expertise and technology to find our clients the best solution. We seek to lead the way in creating and offering new services and utilising the latest technological advancements to push the boundaries of what’s possible.  This evolution and our invaluable experiences have made us who we are today and underpin our three Zibrant brands.”

“Improving and growing our existing services have always been our core strategy so we are delighted to introduce BCD M&E’s global reach and additional suite of services to our customers,” said Cooper. “The access to BCD M&E’s presence in more than 40 countries gives us the ability to meet our customers’ needs of global meetings management.”

Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) are proud to have been announced as the only UK venue to be nominated in the global AIPC Apex Awards for “Best Client Rated Convention Centre”.

Announced earlier this month at the AIPC International Conference in Nantes, the finalist list at the 2016 AIPC Apex Awards for the “Best Client Rated Convention Centre” featured AECC as the only UK venue recognised; alongside 14 venues from all over the world, including Australia, Hawaii, Hong Kong and South Africa.

This prestigious Awards process, which has been maintained by the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) for over 20 years, owes its prominence to the fact that competitors are appraised entirely on the basis of client ratings; assessed by the global market research company Ipsos.

The biennial AIPC Apex Award recognises achievement in high quality customer service and facility management, and serves as a means of measuring performance in convention centre management.

AIPC President Geoff Donaghy noted that the AIPC Apex Award is based on an extensive analysis of customer input via detailed surveys, and reflects an unbiased picture of a centre’s performance as seen through the eyes of its customers.

“The Apex Award analysis is an extensive one that is able to make the distinctions that separate even the highest performing centres and covers a range of categories including facilities, project management, customer relations, catering, creativity and technology ," said Donaghy. "With almost 1,000 client assessments going into this year’s award, we are able to clearly distinguish the factors that are generally most important to clients in their determination of centre performance, which gives our members an additional insight to drive performance.

“We truly feel that everyone is a winner in this process, as the AIPC Apex Award process goes far beyond simply identifying the winners and in fact creates important information and insights that drive overall centre performance. These insights can be and are in fact used to great advantage to all entrants to advance their products".

Interim Managing Director at AECC, Graeme Cumming, commented: “It is excellent that AECC and Aberdeen have been recognised at this year’s AIPC Apex Awards.  We were delighted to have been nominated by our clients and to have been ranked so highly as a venue and destination for global events.  We take great pride in our business and this award certainly reinforces the work that we do to continually attract business to the region.”

Lime Venue Portfolio and members of the team at Grass Roots travelled to Chicago last month to learn more about the Levy Restaurants brand following the agency’s success in the LVP Agent of the Year campaign.

Every year Lime Venue Portfolio arranges the campaign to build relationships with agency customers and educate them about the portfolio’s collection of venues. The winning agency receives a stunning reward with a once in the lifetime opportunity to experience LVP’s services at one of its events or venues. Previous winners have enjoyed hospitality at the BRIT Awards, courtesy of the portfolio’s special events caterers Payne & Gunter.

This year, the winners - five members of the Grass Roots team – were treated with a trip to Chicago, the birth place of Levy Restaurants, Lime Venue Portfolio’s parent company and catering partner throughout its unusual venue portfolio.

The trip took in a number of Levy Restaurants’ most renowned establishments such as Joe Mellnick’s Corner Tap and the Michelin-starred Café Spiaggia. The final highlight of the educational tour was a show round of ‘Home Office’ where they met some of the stars of the Levy Restaurants’ team. This part of the trip included a look at the innovation kitchen, where chefs design new dishes, experimenting with new produce and flavour combinations to deliver unique guest experiences.

Agent of the Year is part of a wider strategy by Lime Venue Portfolio to work closer with the agency market. The brand believes that event specialist businesses are naturally attracted to the unusual venue market and have seen a growth in enquiry levels (21%) and confirmed business (28%) from this sector over the past 12 months. 

“Four out of every five of our enquiries through our central sales team come from third party companies, venue finders, PCO’s and event marketing agencies, so it is an important part of our business,” commented Kerry Wright, Key Account Director, Lime Venue Portfolio. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure we deliver the right service to these enquiries; a simple one stop solution, with a three hour turn-around time, delivering the right, relevant and up to date information from our portfolio of over 90 unusual venues.”

Sue Massey, Operational Director, at Grass Roots Meetings and Events commented: “It was a great opportunity to visit Chicago and learn more about the ethos that drives Levy Restaurants. We were extremely well looked after throughout the whole weekend and I enjoyed every experience. It was so lovely to see so many different things and see the innovation happening at Levy’s home office.”

Lime Venue Portfolio’s Agent of the Year campaign will take place again this year with an equally exceptional prize to be announced in the autumn.

Holywell Park, one of imago’s flagship venues, has been recognised in the latest BDRC Continental VenueVerdict results.

The purpose- built conference centre, located on the Loughborough University campus, achieved BDRC Continental VenueVerdict Gold Standard Accreditation for Q2 2016 having also attained it in the first quarter of the year. Holywell Park has now reached the Gold standard on ten occasions, demonstrating its commitment to maintaining high standards.

The standard is given to properties recording a twelve-month Net Promoter Score of +70 or higher from 40 or more Business Event Host responses in the 12 month period July 2015 to June 2016. Furthermore, each of the four calendar quarters is required to contain at least ten responses.

Emma Boynton, head of Sales and Marketing at imago, comments: “BDRC Continental’s VenueVerdict is based on responses from people who have experienced everything Holywell Park has to offer. We are delighted that the venue has once again achieved the Gold standard as it recognises the high standards we are achieving and highlights our continued pledge to deliver quality in everything we do.”

Imago, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, unifies Loughborough University’s conference and events venues under one brand, providing high quality meeting spaces, venues and accommodation along with excellent sports and leisure facilities. For more information visit or call 01509 633030.

Back to basics was the theme for this year’s HBAA forum, which took place at the Hinckley Island hotel on 7th and 8th of July.

The annual members-only event brings together key speakers and industry professionals for a series of discussions and panel debates on current issues facing the events and hospitality sector.

Integral to this year’s theme was the evolution of meeting technology, traveller safety, and the importance placed on brand when choosing accommodation.

SilverDoor Managing Director Marcus Angell was tasked with shedding some light on one of the forum’s most challenging topics: the Tour Operators Margin Scheme or TOMS as its better known.

“TOMS is a sales tax standardisation scheme designed to standardise the process of reclaiming VAT throughout the EU.”

“It does this by allowing tour operators to account for VAT on their year-end business profit margins, rather than on each individual sale in each member state,” said Marcus.

He added: “For the purposes of discussion, a tour operator is defined as any agent company that sells travel or accommodation. So, if you are here at the HBAA Forum on behalf of a company that sells any form of accommodation or as an agent to another company, anywhere within the EU, then TOMS applies to you.”

The key issue of commercial concern for TOMS is the fact that being within the scheme prevents an agent from producing their own VAT invoices. As a knock-on effect, UK clients are unable reclaim VAT on their accommodation costs, making their stay in a serviced apartment or hotel much more expensive.

Illustrating how the scheme works, Marcus was joined on-stage by fellow SilverDoor employees, Stuart Winstone (Commercial Director), Caroline Saunders (Head of Marketing) and Claire Stevens (Head of Business Relationships), who played the roles of: UK property, accommodation agent and tax woman. Also accompanying them was Citybase Apartments Operations Director Imogen Bretten – now in partnership with SilverDoor following the recent acquisition.

As corporate traveller in the group role-play, Imogen was shown to make a saving of £200 in VAT on an accommodation booking of £1,200, as a result of Claire, the accommodation agent, operating outside of TOMS. 

However, in the same transaction inside the scheme, Imogen was left £200 worse off - reason being because Claire, under TOMS, can only issue her a non-VAT invoice.  As a result, Imogen’s company are minus a legitimate tax invoice when they come to completing their HMRC VAT tax return.

But surely Claire can’t just opt out TOMS you ask? Truth is the EU ruled it illegal to do so in 2010. There does exist, however, a HMRC approved method for getting around it, as Marcus explained. Essentially, rather than issuing Imogen a VAT invoice directly from her own agent company - and  thereby operating as a ‘disclosed agent’ within TOMS – Claire can instead pass on a property invoice from the hotel or serviced apartment itself as a payment request.  Now when Imogen’s company completes its tax return, she has a legitimate payment request from which to submit a £200 VAT reclaim.

TOMS will be chewed over in greater length by the HBAA in two further sessions on the 22nd September. Further details will follow in the coming weeks. 


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