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SPARK THINKING recently supported Jaguar Land Rover in delivering their Graduate and Apprentice Induction Programme for their 2016 new recruits.

The launch pad event took place at the Ricoh Arena September 5-9. Over 400 16 – 24 year olds attended the five day event to kick-start their Jaguar Land Rover career and development journeys.

SPARK THINKING organised the logistics, production, digital, exhibition and agenda design for the prestigious event. The event placed the learning experience in the hands of the audience who used their event app to navigate their own personal agenda. The event included 50 exhibitors, a keynote address by Dr Ralf Speth, Jaguar Land Rover CEO, and a range of sessions aimed at personal and professional development.

Dan Walker, Head of Content at SPARK THINKING, commented on the recent event: “We carefully researched the mind-set of the audience and their likely communication preferences before developing participant profiles. We then refined our creative and digital ideas to create a unique and immersive employee engagement experience that fitted their learning needs, delivered against the business objectives and created a platform for future success.” Walker concluded “We are thrilled to have executed this prestigious event for Jaguar Land Rover and played a part in supporting and developing the fresh talent and bright sparks of their future business.”

Jurys Inn Oxford is set to re-launch to the UK meetings and events market this autumn following a £10.8 million refurbishment.

The renovation of 168 bedrooms is now complete with an additional 72 bedrooms due to launch later in the year, bringing the total number of bedrooms to 240. All rooms will have the Jurys Inn DREAM bed plus air-conditioning and 24 executive rooms will have Sky TV and a mini bar. The inspiration behind the design reflects Oxford’s heritage in motoring manufacturing, with detail from the Morris Minor and Mini Cooper on the bedroom walls.

The hotel has a new Conference Centre which will include 15 meeting and event spaces encompassing a dedicated boardroom, new breakout areas for refreshment breaks and the largest meeting room will accommodate 300 people. The hotel has both complimentary Wi-Fi and 250 spaces of car parking.

The lobby will be revealed at the end of September 2016. This area has been transformed with new soft furnishings, new floor coverings, areas for guests to hold small meetings and will include a new Costa Coffee.

Jurys Inn Oxford will also launch a new bar, a renovated Juvenate Health & Leisure Club and a new Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill in early November 2016. The new restaurant will have 180 covers and will be available to hire for corporate events.

Situated just 10-15 minutes from the picturesque city of Oxford , 3.2 miles from Oxford train station, and easily accessible by car from the A34, A44 and M40. 



Barry Sternlicht unveils new U.K. hotel brand.

Starwood Capital Group, a leading global private investment firm, announced today that it will launch PRINCIPAL, a new urban lifestyle hotel group, on 1st November 2016, following a
capital investment in the portfolio of approximately £150 million. 

Principal is a collection of city-centre hotels based in landmark buildings in exceptional locations across the United Kingdom. The distinctive heritage and resulting relationship between the properties and their surroundings are the cornerstones of the Principal brand. Each of the hotels has a story to tell—of its history, its design and architecture, its quirks and characters, and its role in shaping the city and forging relationships with local partners, whether corporate or creative. From the elegant Georgian townhouses that form the core of The Principal Edinburgh George Street (formerly The George Hotel) to the clock tower that’s synonymous with The Principal Manchester (formerly The Palace Hotel) and its history as the headquarters for the Refuge Assurance Company—Principal Hotels define their cities and neighbourhoods.

“At the heart of a great business is a unique and authentic story. Our people and our buildings have great stories to tell, and these stories differentiate you from the competition, giving your guests and your staff something to cheer about,” said Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group. “Reviving these historic, grande-dame hotels is a truly great story— they are spectacular buildings in which we can create dynamic scenes. The story of each hotel, its amazing history and architecture is the opposite of the mass-produced chain hotel, and provides us with a canvas on which to curate a unique sense of place.”

At the core of every Principal Hotel is a brilliant bar and restaurant that resonates with “locals” as much as it does with hotel guests. Other touch points will include vintage letterboxes in each
lobby; a “corner shop” selling treats to stock the mini bar and essentials that guests might have left behind; a tuck box of complimentary snacks, as well as fresh milk and mineral water in the
mini bar; and a fully fledged Concierge to guide guests to hidden gems and must-see attractions alike.

The Principal Manchester
The Principal Manchester
, on the corner of Oxford Street and Whitworth Street, occupies three adjoining buildings dating to between 1895 and 1932. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse,
his son Paul, and Stanley Birkett, all three buildings were commissioned by The Refuge Assurance Company as its company headquarters, and they include the iconic, 66m (217ft) clock tower, which has become a symbol of the city and its status as a centre of industry and commerce.

Following an investment of more than £25 million, The Principal Manchester has been remodelled from top to toe to create 270 loft-style bedrooms and suites designed by Michaelis Boyd Architects; 17 meeting and event spaces, including the largest hotel ballroom in the northwest of England; The Refuge Dining Room and Public Bar, curated by DJs-turnedrestaurateurs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford; and a double-height lobby in which stands a specially commissioned, 600kg (1300lb), 3m (10ft) high bronze horse sculpted by Sophie Dickens, a reference to the turning circle for horse-and-carriage that once occupied the centre of the space.

The Principal York
The Principal York
(formerly The Royal York Hotel) dates from 1878, and was built to complement and serve the significant expansion of York Railway Station, with landscaped, private gardens running to three acres. Local Tadcaster stone gives the exterior a honeyed glow, and the imposing façade suggests a grand country home more than a Victorian railway hotel. The sensitive architectural restoration, by 3D Reid and Goddard Littlefair, places an elegant Garden Room at the hub of the hotel, next to the main lobby and the sweeping grand staircase, where guests can enjoy afternoon tea whilst looking out across manicured lawns to York Minster in the distance. In addition to 155 guest rooms and suites, The Principal York offers an Events Centre and 10 additional meeting and event spaces; a gym and indoor pool; the Chapter House bar, serving local craft ales alongside wines, spirits and cocktails; and The Refectory Kitchen & Terrace, whose cooking champions fresh, seasonal, local produce and the abundant larder of “God’s own country.”

The Principal Edinburgh
Completing the trio of hotels at launch, The Principal Edinburgh on George Street has been welcoming hotel guests since 1881. At its heart are five listed Georgian townhouses, built in 1775 as homes for Edinburgh’s most prosperous citizens—among them James Ferrier, a lawyer, who bought No. 25 and whose daughter, Susan, was considered by Sir Walter Scott to be the equal of Jane Austen. Their former home is now The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen, where local Head Chef Colin Fleming champions modern Scottish cooking, and the bar team oversees an impressive collection of local spirits, from single malts to Edinburgh gin and Scottish vodka.

The Principal portfolio also includes Principal Partners—iconic hotels that will join the brand over the course of 2017, among them The Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow; The Hotel Russell in London, which is currently closed and is due to reopen next summer as The Principal London; and the former Martins Bank, which will open as The Principal Liverpool in early 2018. The creation of Principal is a part of Starwood Capital Group’s rebranding of its portfolio of U.K. hotels under the new name of THE PRINCIPAL HOTEL COMPANY, comprising PRINCIPAL in city centres, and DE VERE—modern, country estate hotels, with mansion houses at their heart, mixing leisure with market-leading conference facilities. The De Vere brand is scheduled to launch in spring/summer 2017, following an investment of more than £50 million.

The Principal Hotel Company, which owns and operates over 40 landmark buildings across the length and breadth of the U.K, received an investment in excess of £200 million following the acquisition of Principal Hayley by a controlled affiliate of Starwood Capital Group in 2013, and the subsequent acquisition by controlled affiliates of Starwood Capital Group of De Vere Venues, Four Pillars, the Townhouse Collection and some individual, strategic assets.

THE award-winning sales team at one of the UK’s most famous football grounds is starting the season with a raft of new signings.

Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, which manages catering and events at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, has boosted its team with four new recruits, tasked with overseeing and boosting the venue’s corporate and leisure business.

Danielle Cummings, from Chester-le-Street, who has worked extensively in sales and hospitality, will be tasked with driving new business to the stadium and increasing its event bookings.

She will be assisted on a part time basis by student Victoria Courtier, from Devon, who will combine her job at the stadium with her second year studies for a travel tourism and event degree at Newcastle University.

Luke Cuthbertson, from Gateshead, takes the role of sales coordinator, while Rachael Carmichael, a qualified wedding planner, from Jarrow, will be on hand to advise and steer couples through each stage of their nuptials at the stadium.

The recruitment drive follows a successful year for the team, which saw off competition from venues across the UK to win the Sales and Marketing Innovation Award, at Sodexo’s sales and marketing award ceremony, held annually to recognise the sales teams’ contribution to the growth of the business.

 “St James’ Park is one of the North East’s leading conference and event venues with a very loyal and ever expanding client base,” said Samantha Doyle, sales and marketing manager for Sodexo at St James’ Park. 

“Rachael, Luke, Victoria and Danielle each bring different skills and experiences to the team and will be invaluable in helping us build the business, while ensuring our corporate and leisure clients continue to receive the highest possible standard of service.”

For more information, or to make a reservation, contact St James’s Park on 0191 201 8525 or e-mail

Leicester Racecourse has always been keen to get involved in charity events and fundraising. This year, they’ve taken it one step further, and General Manager, Rob Bracken, will be taking to the stage to perform in the Stand-Up Challenge for the Big Difference Company. 

Taking place this November, not only is Rob gearing up to get the crowd laughing, ‘The Kube’ at Leicester Racecourse is also hosting the event. It’s the first time Rob will perform an original stand-up routine, and he’s not alone. Amongst the 12 other brave business people from the area, it will be a first 5 minutes of fame for most, and all in aid of charity. 

“The Kube really is the ideal space to host any event, so I thought this would be the perfect occasion to try something new and hold the Stand-Up Challenge here at the Racecourse!” – Rob Bracken, Leicester Racecourse.

While most contestants may be practicing in front of their friends and family, or rewriting countless routines, Rob has chosen to prepare a little differently…

“In the run up to the event, I’ve been going to the gym a lot. I think if you get your body in shape, the mind will follow! Something else I’ve taken up is Tai Chi, helping me find my inner peace, and focus my skills on to being funny!”

Jarred Christmas will be hosting the Stand-Up Challenge, and guests will be treated to a two course buffet dinner, the comedy show itself, and an after show party.

All proceeds from the night will support Big Difference Company. The charity aims to improve the health & wellbeing of communities across the UK. Recent projects have included engaging with people living with arthritis to encourage them to live healthy lives and exercise, as well as projects working with older people and children & young people.

Tickets are £47.50 and can be purchased here: 

As the events and hospitality industry continues to develop and face uncertainty through collective decisions and wider impacts; the HBAA continues to ensure that their membership is provided with relevant business tools and therefore we have revised and relaunched the HBAA TOMS Paper.

The original HBAA TOMS paper was commissioned by David Bennett in 2010 and this was the year that the HMRC made far-reaching changes to the VAT rules in the UK.

As of 23 June 2016, the UK voted to Brexit and therefore David Bennett (Director at Elman Wall Bennett) has again worked with the HBAA as our ‘go-to’ expert on this topic and has updated the paper which incorporates the more recent position of HMRC, and the implications of Brexit.

The HBAA are also running two sell out workshop sessions this week for our members in conjunction with David and the content of this paper to ensure that our members are equipped with the knowledge to support their business decisions and future planning.

Leigh Cowlishaw HBAA Chairman commented “Our members continue to look to the HBAA to be able to provide them with up to date expertise and relevant market leading information. We are delighted that David has again delivered the 2016 HBAA TOMS paper, with the added important topic of post EU Referendum. This coupled with the continued support provided by the HBAA Code of Practice, ensures that our members have business guidance to support the tri part relationships between customers, agencies and venues”.

STAFF at one of the UK’s most famous sports grounds are celebrating after scooping another top accolade.

Everton FC’s hospitality experts are toasting their success after the ground was named Sports Hospitality Venue of the Year 2016 at the Downtown in Business Work Hard, Play Hard awards.

Goodison Park beat off major rival Liverpool FC as well as Chester Racecourse, Aintree Racecourse and Formby Golf Course to lift the title last night (September 15).

The Work Hard, Play Hard awards are organised annually by Downtown in Business, one of the North West’s leading business organisations.

They celebrate the businesses, people and venues which have helped make Liverpool’s visitor economy with £3.8billion.

Everton FC’s events and conferencing is managed by Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, and a group from the stadium received their prize at an awards ceremony at Liverpool’s Hilton Hotel, attended by more than 200 businesses.

Debbie Slee, sales and marketing manager for Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events at Everton Football Club, said: “This is another fantastic achievement for all of the team at Everton FC, and follows a very successful year for us.

“To be even nominated for the Work Hard, Play Hard awards was an honour, but to win was absolutely amazing. We were up against some serious rivals and to have fought them off and beaten them to the title is a real coup for us.

“We are constantly striving to make Everton FC the best venue in Liverpool, and to be rewarded for our effort in this way proves we are doing something right. We are very proud of this award and look forward to raising our game even higher to ensure we remain the best.”

This latest award comes just three months after the Everton FC team racked up two major national accolades.

In June, Gareth Billington, Sodexo Sports & Leisure executive head chef at Goodison Park, won the People’s Choice award in the Craft Guild of Chefs awards, which acknowledge the crème de la crème of the industry.

And just a few days later, the team were also named Chef Team of the Year at the Stadium and Hospitality Awards.

For further information about Sodexo Prestige at Goodison Park, call 0151 5305250 or email

Ashfield Meetings & Events, healthcare event management specialist, is delighted to announce the key appointment of Laura Brown to the board of directors as Senior Vice President of Operations. The appointment will take effect from 1st October 2016.

Laura has over 15 years’ event experience including seven years working with pharmaceutical and life science clients at Ashfield Meetings & Events. During her career with the agency, she has held various positions including operational, account management, training and business development roles. In this time Laura has worked with pharmaceutical, medical devices, diagnostic, nutritional health, biotech and association clients.

Laura’s appointment follows her move in February 2015 from the agencies European Hub in the UK as an Account Director to their U.S. hub office in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, as Vice President of Operations. Since her move from the UK Laura has had responsibility for the performance of the different operational business units across Ivyland (Pennsylvania), Indianapolis (Indiana) and San Bruno (California). In this time the business has grown from 80 to 120 full-time employees and this has been aligned with the implementation of new learning and development initiatives and enhanced quality framework procedures to strengthen the foundation for future growth.

The full Ashfield Meetings & Events Board line up is now Nicola Burns (Global Managing Director), Gavin Houston (CEO Americas), Penny Callaghan (Director of Group Business Services), Jo Brook (Engagement Director) and Laura Brown (SVP Operations).

Laura commented on her appointment: “With a number of new staff appointments over the past year and numerous new business wins I am thrilled to take on the responsilbility of SVP Operations at such an exciting time. I have been working very closely with Gavin (Houston) for the past 12 months with a focus on leading sustainable growth to our US operations. I am looking forward to this continuing and working alongside the rest of the board to ensure we deliver against the strategic and operational plans for the global business.”

Nicola Burns (Global Managing Director) commented: “We are delighted to be making this appointment. Laura has been working closely with the management team to develop our US business to a market leading position and prepare us for the next stage of our predicted growth. Laura’s remit will be to continue to expand and enhance the services we offer and oversee the delivery throughout the U.S. With her full service background and creative and production knowledge we have already seen a growing frequency of the agency’s U.S. client base to utilise our engagement services.”

Burns concluded: “In the last 12 months the U.S. operations have won over 10 new business wins including dedicated client teams and strategic meeting management programmes. The appointment of a second board director in the U.S. is an indication of our strategic intent in the marketplace. We are looking forward to seeing the continued growth of the business under both Gavin and Laura’s leadership.”

Warwick Conferences, together with the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences, will welcome the 28th International Biology Olympiad (IBO) to the UK in July 2017.

The week long competition (23 - 30 July), which is organised by the Royal Society of Biology, is expected to attract 280 pre-university students from 70 countries who will be tested on their biology knowledge.

The International Biology Olympiad 2017 will see two full days of exams for participants, split into a practical day and a theoretical day. There will also be a number of excursions and activities for both participants and accompanying adults. The Olympiad will be drawn to a close at an Awards Dinner on Saturday 29 July in the Panorama Suite, which is situated at the heart of the Conference Park.

Rachael Bartlett, Head of Sales at Warwick Conferences, says: “We are thrilled to be hosting the 28th International Biology Olympiad 2017 in July next year. Securing the Olympiad is a prime example of how we are able to work alongside the University of Warwick to bring this international event to the UK, capitalising on its expertise in this field. We are proud to be involved in this prestigious event to celebrate young biologists and will ensure the Olympiad is a great success for all those involved.”

The UK will have been a member of the IBO for 20 years next summer and Rachel Lambert-Forsyth, Director of Education and Training at the Royal Society of Biology says there is no better way to celebrate this milestone than welcoming the IBO to the UK. “We look forward to working with the University of Warwick, through the School of Life Sciences and Warwick Conferences, to deliver a truly memorable experience,” she says.

Warwick Conferences will, on behalf of the Royal Society of Biology, be responsible for hosting the event, welcoming all participants and volunteers, as well as organising activities for all students and staff. 

imago has retained its Investors in People Gold accreditation following its latest audit, maintaining its reputation for achieving high standards.

The conference and events arm of Loughborough University first achieved Investors in People Gold accreditation two years ago. imago employs 300 people across its portfolio of venues – Burleigh Court, Holywell Park, The Link Hotel and Loughborough University campus, and believes in providing its staff with excellent working conditions and career development opportunities.

Investors in People is the UK's leading accreditation for business improvement through people management, and provides a framework to help businesses get the best from their people. imago has used the framework improve its processes, communication and staff engagement to establish best practice.

Emma Boynton, Head of Sales and Marketing at imago, says providing staff with training and development and excellent working conditions contributes to its success. She comments: “Investors in People is a commitment to the people that make your business a success. Measuring our performance against the standard’s objectives creates clarity around where we can improve and channel our resources more effectively. This allows us to harness the talent of staff towards achieving company goals. We are committed to the continual improvement of our employees, and by investing in our staff and working to the Investors in People framework we can help our team achieve their full potential. To retain our Gold accreditation recognises the systems we have in place and demonstrates our ability to deliver excellence to customers.”

Kay England, imago’s Chief Executive adds: “As a company in its 25th year, imago’s ambition has always been to provide customer excellence delivered by excellent staff. Integrating the Investors in People standard into our business strategy gives us the framework to challenge ourselves; to look for opportunities to develop so that we deliver service excellence through consistently high standards and team work. Having Investors in People Gold improves our company. It helps recruit high quality people and attracts and retains more customers. It is much, much more than an award.”

The Investors in People standard is also valued by imago’s client base. Mike Stirzaker, Director of Prescience Business Learning, commented “As a leadership development provider, we work at many venues throughout the UK on behalf of our various clients. imago is our preferred choice and the benchmark against which we assess all others. Not only does imago have the right facilities, what makes it stand out is the capability and support of the staff in ensuring everything works, and works well.  Such levels of customer service don’t happen by chance and, as learning and development practitioners ourselves, we recognise the focus given to training and development in helping establish a culture that is personable, welcoming and at all times highly professional.”

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.  


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