Skip to main content


You are: home > news archive > 04/2020

the eastside rooms will become the first venue in the UK to launch with a Plant-first approach. The ethos, which will include sourcing, preparation and even menu design, will be executed by Executive Head Chef Steve Unwin and reflect the growing trend of event organisers looking to offer more ethical menu options to an increasingly environmentally aware delegate.

The venue will have a genuine blend of plant-based dishes alongside sustainably and ethically sourced meat and fish dishes. Food service has also been designed to ensure a more inclusive eating environment for delegates.

“There is a genuine movement towards plant-first eating amongst both event organisers and their delegates. As more and more people understand the issues around food, food sourcing and the environment, they are asking questions of the venues and businesses where they eat; as an ethically strong business, this is something we are looking to take a lead on,” comments Steve.

“Plant-first isn’t about banning meat and fish, it’s about offering plant-first options as viable dishes in their own right” continues Steve. “It’s also about inclusivity; events are places where people come to meet and form relationships, and food is a great way to do this. We don’t want to isolate a growing proportion of our delegation because of the food choices they have chosen to make, and we certainly don’t want them to have a lesser taste experience either.

On top of the plant-first approach, the eastside rooms will also launch with a ‘culturally nutritious’ blend of dishes, drawing inspiration from the rich heritage of Birmingham, the city’s Eastside, and the emerging Knowledge Quarter. The city is well known for its Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern influences, as well as the traditional Brummie culture, and the venue has looked to integrate as many of these community values into the creation of the eastside rooms, including its menus.

“This is also part of the wider ethics of the venue and relates to what we’re doing with our plant-based menus,” continues Steve. “Throughout the development of the venue we have tried to draw on the wide diversity of cultures that can be found in Birmingham, and put them on the walls, in the rooms and now on the menus.”

“We’re looking at Birmingham’s ‘signature dishes’ along with brand icons such as Cadbury Chocolate and serving them all up in a variety of different styles, from street-food to concession or even fine dining. The authenticity of the dishes we deliver will be important to us. Many of our guests will be coming from outside of the UK and we want them to get a genuine taste of the city as part of their event experience.”

“It is important to recognise that this all forms part of a wider philosophy that the eastside rooms will endeavour to take the lead in. We will be looking to operate with the maximum social responsibility in the areas of water usage, energy and carbon management along with food wastage and the circular economy. We will be having regular dialogue with our supply chain over the same such issues and following with community engagement and communication” concludes Steve.

Everyone knows that when it comes to events, it’s always best to play your ACE card, and at Absolute Corporate Events they have a winning deck of ACES. But every now and then, even a
lucky deck needs a good shuffle, and without change, nothing happens.

The Executive Directors at ACE have already begun remodelling the business to be more relevant to a post-pandemic world, and one of the first changes we are proud to announce is a change in Director titles and focus.

Chris Parnham, Owner and Managing Director of ACE will assume the new title of Strategies Director.

Chris will be spearheading a new consultation service to help companies fill the communication void that is widening due to the lack of face-to-face communication and general strategic messaging. It has been and will continue to be for some time yet, a period reserved for tactical communication, but this has a limited lifespan.

Long term commitment, loyalty, passion and drive only comes from a workforce driven by a clear and engaging strategy, and not by tactics alone. Chris has some future-shaping strategies, and a brand-new communication toolkit to share with clients who are ready to prepare for their post-pandemic recovery, into a new world which may have restrictions on large gatherings for some considerable time yet.

At a time when effective communication at a company or global level is more challenging than ever, those that redesign their communication channels quickly to suit a new world will steel a clear lead on those staying quiet, or waiting for a return to normal, which may never come.

Jill Dunlop, Operations Director of ACE will assume the new title of Events Director.

An event, by definition is a moment in time when something changes. Anything else is just a meeting, and face-to-face meetings may become a distant memory when we first emerge from the current crisis. But space in the future will be cleared for events that make fundamental change - to re-engage an audience, to inspire a workforce, to drive home a new strategy, or to re-train teams for a new world. Jill will help our clients prepare for these events, taking care of thoughtful preparation and seamless execution.

Like ACE, many businesses have continued to work effectively with unprecedented worker flexibility, embracing home working and almost no traditional structure.

A new world needs a new approach, one without boundaries, and Jill will be guiding the ACE team towards this new world, harnessing a spirit of even more flexibility, dynamism and creativity than ever before. Our aim remains constant: to create memorable, beautiful and flawless events for our clients.

ACE will return with more flexibility, more dynamic ownership and more creativity than ever before. Our service will be round-the-clock and around the globe.

Jacquie Freer, Sales and Commercial Director of ACE will assume the new title of Client Engagement Director.

Throughout the pandemic, demand has over-shadowed sales. The needs of the many have quite literally outstripped the needs of the few. We recognise that a post-pandemic business world will have tired of sales. People don’t need to be sold to, they want to focus on what their business requires to survive and thrive in the future.

Jacquie is perfectly placed to engage with our clients and help them where they need it most. True client engagement involves understanding a client’s objectives, drivers and pressures in order to help them secure the right solution for each communication event or project. This often includes complex negotiating and contracting, risk avoidance and adherence to current legislation or trends.

Jacquie’s industry network and global knowledge is second-to-none and armed with our reputation as one of the most considerate and respected agencies, she can engage with the right suppliers and venues to help deliver bespoke events as and when her clients are ready.

Forward planning is key, and whereas the last decade has seen lead times shorten, we believe the future will see a reversal of this trend, as clients put short-term tactics to rest and begin to revisit long-term strategy in their staff and client events.

Claire Okrafo-Smart, Director of Incentives for ACE will assume the new title of Client Experience Director.

A world post-pandemic is likely to be restricted or nervous about group travel. Social distancing is set to be with us for some time, and we believe this will lead our clients to consider incentive travel as only one of the many ways in which a business can motivate its workforce to perform better.

Even though we expect to follow the trend-reversal of longer lead times for incentive travel, and begin to plan incentives for 2021 and 2022, Claire is poised to share a new range of motivational programmes that can inspire, engage and propel a workforce to perform at the very best, building loyalty and commitment at the same time, without the need to travel in the short-term. As businesses have become more creative with their time without travel, so have we.

As one of the fastest-growing agencies of 2019, and celebrating 400% growth over recent years, at ACE we love to be at the forefront of change, and this is only the first step on our mission to stay relevant and useful to our growing collection of clients who see effective communication as a vital component of their recovery post-pandemic.

We are in the middle of the most tragic and unsettling time in recent history. We are facing the sad realisation that many people and many businesses may not survive this pandemic or the recovery that follows.

But recovery will come, together we will survive, and some of us will thrive.

Association members to send letters requesting support from their MPs

“Hospitality, travel and events sector businesses, including all our members and suppliers, need a special extension of the furlough scheme beyond June or whenever the nationwide scheme ends.” says Lex Butler, “because this industry will be probably one of the last to be fully up and running again once social distancing regulations are relaxed and it will suffer greatly for some time.”

“Sport will be hosted behind closed doors, shops will reopen, yet the future of our industry still remains very uncertain.”

This call for support is one of six points that the association is raising in letters that its members will shortly be sending to their constituency MPs.

Lex Butler continued “When the chief medical officer said in Wednesday’s briefing that some social distancing would last for the rest of the year, this cemented how much longer our industry is likely to be on hold. Some businesses have already ceased trading and many more are likely to close before the end of the summer.

“In our letters to MPs we’re reiterating our call for commercial rent relief as well as for immediately accessible funds for businesses and the self-employed. We’re also calling for low cost, easily accessible credit, National Insurance and Pension Contribution payment holidays and for help for businesses that are not covered by the Business Rates holiday. We also support and are united with the BTA’s request for further government support.

“While we’re working closely with and supporting the BVEP and other industry associations in lobbying the Department of Culture Media and Sport to push the Treasury for financial support, the need for this industry keep its teams together ready for when they can contribute to the revival of the economy is particularly important to our association.

“Service, skills and teamwork are the foundations of our industry’s success. If we are unable to retain the experienced people who apply these human qualities to create and deliver events, the industry will struggle to maintain the high standards on which its success has been built. We want the industry to be #futurefit but it will struggle to be so without its talent and industry experts remaining in business.”


The UK Events Industry believes that September 2020 is expected to be the most significant month when it comes to post COVID-19 recovery, as its forecasts a rise in both enquiry and booking levels, according to a new survey released today.

The Business Events Sentiment Survey, created by specialist PR and brand communications agency davies tanner, in partnership with the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP), received responses from 556 business events professionals across the UK. The survey was created to assist venues, hotels, destinations and other key sector suppliers in planning recovery activity post the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the survey, 38% of respondents stated September 2020 as the primary month when they expect to see both enquiries and bookings begin to increase, though some believe this will happen sooner, with 12% indicating July as the beginning of the recovery period. A further 10% believe this will be August, with 13% indicating this will begin in October.

In terms of industry-wide recovery, respondents believe that the impact of COVID-19 on the business events industry will be longer lasting. 50% of respondents believe that the industry as a whole will not return to any form of normality for at least 12 months, with only 27% believing that this could be achieved within 9 - 12 months.

The Business Events Sentiment survey provides a snapshot of sentiment across the UK business events industry, and was completed by buyers (corporate planners, associations and agencies), venues and suppliers between 6th – 14th April, prior to the further lockdown measures introduced on April 16th.

For more information and to download a free copy of the report, please go to:

“Managing your mental health and sustaining positive wellbeing now and beyond Covid-19”

Continuing its series of initiatives to support its members’ businesses and health needs during Covid-19, HBAA is partnering with Eventwell and other industry experts in the latest of its Mental Health webinars which is taking place on Thursday 23 April at 4pm.

“Managing your Mental Health and sustaining positive wellbeing now and beyond Covid-19” will be a panel session followed by Q &A and it will address many powerful issues that have been prompted and elevated by the pandemic.

What do we need to do to sustain good mental health? How should we manage Zoom fatigue? What are the biggest risks to mental health when lockdown ends? How can we prepare mentally despite the uncertainty? Will the pressure in businesses to make up for lost time in Q3 and Q4 add to the stress? These are just some of the many important questions that the session will tackle.

Moderated by Helen Moon of Eventwell, the panel will include Leigh Cowlishaw, HBAA Board Member; Alex La Via of Live More Offline; Gavin Percy of Balancing Edges and Mark Maher of Boulevard Events and Chair, Eventwell.

Alex La Via commented; “It’s a pleasure to be collaborating with HBAA on this crucial issue. It’s very important to have these conversations about how we can support wellbeing now and after we come out of lockdown and understand the role our digital habits play in caring for wellbeing.”

Helen Moon said: “As we are engaging with more digital communications and coupled with the uncertainty of our industry norm, post Covid-19, this is all creating even further unexpected stressful experiences. We need to ensure that we listen to ourselves, reach for guidance and protect our Mental Health for now and in the future – however this is shaped.”

Since lockdown, HBAA has been providing free webinars supporting Mental Health and will be promoting a new course "MHFA Mental Health Half Day Awareness" run by Balancing Edges in the future. To book on this course, please visit

HBAA has also created Mental Health Toolkits which are available at:

Gavin Percy of Balancing Edges said: “Our people and ourselves need support to help us through such challenging and uncertain times now and beyond - toolkits needs to be as sharp as possible for us to thrive and survive.”

Leigh Cowlishaw says "HBAA has been championing Mental Health and Wellbeing as a board initiative for the last 18 months. It is become even more vital issue during these challenging times when there is so much uncertainty about timescales, about "the new norm" and about the future of our industry. It is crucial that we continue to look after ourselves and support our teams by providing access to resources and sharing knowledge to help today and tomorrow.

“We’re delighted to be expanding our activities, to be collaborating with these recognised industry experts who bring such experience and passion for helping others.”


A drive-through coronavirus testing facility is open at Twickenham Stadium for key workers and NHS staff. The site sits alongside a rapidly expanding network of testing sites being set up around the UK and is operating on an appointment-only basis for NHS staff and other key workers. The facility will be piloted for its first few days of operation.

This follows the launch of the Government's partnership with universities, research institutes and companies to begin rollout of the network of new labs and field testing sites across the UK, with 32 testing sites opened to date.

This network will provide thousands more PCR swab tests - which are used to identify if you currently have the virus - for critical key workers, starting with NHS front line staff. This means those who test negative for coronavirus can return to work as soon as possible, and those who test positive are able to recover.

"The RFU is pleased to be able to support the COVID-19 drive-through testing programme at Twickenham Stadium for NHS and other key workers," said RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney.

"We receive tremendous support from frontline services during match days at Twickenham and we are grateful for the opportunity to be able to support key workers during this severe national crisis with the use of our site and staff to support operationally."

Health Minister Lord Bethell added: "The Government is rapidly scaling up the national effort to boost testing capacity for coronavirus to protect the vulnerable, support our NHS, and ultimately save lives.

"This new service will help end the uncertainty of whether NHS and social care staff and other key workers need to stay at home, meaning those who test negative will be able to return to work.

"This is a national effort and we are proud to be working with a number of partners to turn this ambition into a reality and roll out additional capacity to where it is needed."

There are now 24 Regional Test Sites set up by the Department of Health and Social Care (in Chessington; Greenwich; Wembley; Nottingham; Cardiff; Manchester; Belfast; Edgbaston; Gatwick; Glasgow; Gateshead; Plymouth; Liverpool; NHS Nightingale London; Stansted; Leeds; Aberdeen; Worcester; and Birmingham (Midland Metropolitan), Edinburgh, Preston, Londonderry, Ipswich and Doncaster).

Professor John Newton, national coordinator for the UK Coronavirus testing strategy, said: "New testing sites such as this one are a key pillar of our 5-pillar plan to scale up testing, and are critical in supporting NHS staff and other frontline workers who are isolating at home to return safely to work if the test is negative."

"This is a brilliant example of industries and businesses turning their resources to creating and rolling out mass testing at scale, which will help to deliver on our aim of carrying out 100,000 tests a day across the UK by the end of the month."

And Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, added: "Ensuring that that NHS workers and other frontline care staff are able to access testing quickly is a crucial element in fighting CoronaVirus and the Council fully supports the opening of this new facility.

"Every day hundreds of council staff, in addition to thousands of NHS staff, put their lives on the line to support some of this borough's most vulnerable residents, I am pleased, therefore, that the Council has moved quickly to ensure this new drive through facility has been given the green light to open without any delay."


The Events Industry Board (EIB), the government’s advisory body to help improve and promote the UK’s Events sector held a conference call with Nigel Huddleston, the Minister for Sport, Tourism & Heritage on the 30th March, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and to start considering a recovery plan

The Minister acknowledged that COVID-19 presented the industry with significant challenges including the impact on a large number of jobs and the industry’s supply chain. The Minister also recognised the potential of the events industry and said it was an important part of the UK’s future.   

Members advised that the government would need to work early and closely with the events industry on when it plans to loosen or lift social distancing/mass gathering restrictions. Members felt that the events industry would likely be one of the last activities to return to business as usual.

The challenges of a potential bottle-neck of events in the third and especially the final quarter of 2020 were discussed. During this period, it was probable that there may be more events to schedule than there are available, appropriate venues to accommodate these events or capacity and cash flow in the supply chain to deliver them.

The industry stressed that it relied on a healthy supply chain and reported these businesses were under severe pressure due to lack of liquidity and said that many might not survive.

Members recommended that the government create clear guidance for event venues that could be used to reassure consumers; they also recommended that the government develop clear, positive messages for domestic and international audiences, that the UK is safe and there were clear public health guidance for event venues/mass gatherings

It was felt that as nations lifted restrictions, global competition would be fierce and there was a risk of losing major events to other countries who might be better prepared to return to business after the crisis.  Members were also keen for VisitBritain to be funded so that it could promote the UK in market. Members said it is likely that in the initial phases of recovery, the domestic market would offer the biggest opportunities to generate events. It was also critical for the events industry and government to prioritise a list of major events that support key UK sectors/bring in considerable trade and investment and which the UK does not want to lose to international competition.

In reviewing an initial briefing paper on recovery initiatives, Members asked the government to consider a range of other options in support of the events industry including tax relief policies and funding measures to ensure that the UK does not lose its market share after the crisis.

Michael Hirst OBE, Chairman of the EIB said, “This was a most constructive meeting. The Minister is fully engaged with the Industry’s issues and agenda and recognises how important the Industry will be for the Nation’s recovery. The Board has identified a number of concerns around present support and is fast developing a bold and ambitious plan for the Industry’s eventual recovery. The Board will do all it can to offer positive guidance to government as to how best to secure the industry’s future”.

The Board will meet again on the 14th May.

HBAA has strengthened its resources by making senior appointments to enable it to provide the services and support that its members need in the current environment and to ensure the association remains #HBAAFutureFit .

Comms agency All Bright led by Debra Nightingale has been appointed to develop and manage marketing communications and social media through Covid-19 and Recovery.

Leigh Cowlishaw, Managing Partner, Blackbox Partnerships and Winning Edges, and past HBAA chair has moved to a Non Executive Board Director role, Sian Sayward, Head of Commercial Partnerships & Projects, Inntel and Des McLaughlin, Managing Director, Meet Events have also joined as additional board members to further strengthen the leadership of the association.

These additional resources will enable the association to focus on engagement with agencies and venue members and to communicate effectively with them on key elements, including the elevation and future evolution of the association’s code of practice, supporting with key issues, providing governance and aiding the recovery of the industry.

Among the initiatives that the association is arranging and running for members are business webinars on topics including cashflow management and business rates as well on business recovery. Mental health webinars are also in place. It will also lead Chat forums for members to share concerns and ideas.

The association is also proactively campaigning and working in collaboration with other industry associations and government bodies for national support for all its diverse members, as a collective and united voice.

As a further support for members, the HBAA board has also extended membership fees by three months until the end of 2020.

Angie Mason, Chair, Absolute Corporate Events, HBAA Treasurer says; “The HBAA board reviewed our current capacity as an Association and quickly agreed we need to strengthen our  resources to support our membership at such a critical time, and also to provide guidance for our members and the industry recovery. We want HBAA and its members to be #HBAAFutureFit. The knowledge, experience and skills that Leigh and Debra and her team bring will enable us to achieve this quickly and highly effectively. We have already started to see the positive impact of these appointments, with our increased exposure, feedback from across the industry and in new applications for agency membership.”

With over 20 years’ experience of driving commercial returns in the hospitality industry, Upham brings considerable expertise in identifying strategic corporate partnerships, maximising sales processes and developing sales teams.

Speaking about the appointment, Upham said “I was literally the first sales person to visit Chris & Andrew in the mid 90’s, and throughout my career I’ve always kept a keen interest in the company. To me Conference Care have always embodied the very best in the industry, with strong customer relationships, an impressive track record of growth, and a great team who I’m really looking forward to working with.”

He joins Conference Care from Cycas Hospitality, an expanding European Hotel Management Company and prior to this, spent 15 years at IHG in a variety of sales leadership roles. As a Senior Key Account Director in the European Travel Partner Sales team, Mark led the UK meetings and associations team, and was responsible for sales strategy and effectiveness, including launching the Business Advantage platform, a highly successful SME payment solution for UK hotels.

Chris Peacock, Director of Conference Care added “I’m delighted to be able to announce this appointment - Mark is a proven leader and someone I’ve always enjoyed working with. He brings a wide range of commercial experience with him, which will be a real benefit both to us and our clients.”

“With payments being unacceptably withheld and Government funding delayed, as I feared, many are in danger of not surviving this crisis.”

“Landlords have support giving a verified three month mortgage holiday but there’s nothing legislated for commercial renters, only the promise that they can’t be evicted in the next 3 months. This impacts on both agencies and venues which rental premises.

“With payments and commission being unacceptably withheld, Government funding delayed until June and loans payments slow, it looks as if, as I feared, that too many events industry businesses are in danger of not surviving this crisis. A period of three months’ rent relief would make all the difference to hundreds of organisations whose cashflow is currently in a perilous state.

“We welcome the Chancellor’s recent announcement that lenders will no longer be able to request personal guarantees for loans under £250,000 and were delighted to hear at the end of last week from the Local Government Association that conference and exhibition venues are specifically listed in a Government paper covering Business Rates Relief. Along with the Business Travel Association (BTA) we’re still pushing to have business/events agencies who work from offices as opposed to high street premises recognised as part of the leisure and hospitality sector and therefore entitled to the business grants of £10-£25K related to Small Business Rate Relief (SBBR) and rateable values.

“But there is still no financial provision for people in this and other industries who work through limited companies and we support the Institute of Directors (IoD) and The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) who are among the organisations lobbying for this.

“We are committed to supporting our members by campaigning for collaboration for due payments not to be withheld and we are working closely with the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) in pressing the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) for recognition and fair treatment for the £70 billion UK events industry.”

HBAA is itself contributing with financial support by extending the membership year to end of 2020, effectively giving all members 3 free months instead of asking for renewal fees in October. It has already been arranging webinars to provide essential advice and support and more will follow shortly.

Lex Butler concludes by adding; “If agencies and venues were legally granted three months rent relief, then their landlords would be much more likely to have a long term tenant when the upturn begins. We want HBAA and this industry to be #futurefit and this would make a vital contribution to achieving that.”


News archive