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Back to school for academic venues – how to get creative when selling your space

Expert Opinion

When you think of academic venues, the image conjured up is most likely either a red-brick, traditional institution or a modern, block-style building, both suited to hosting a wide range of academic events and conferences (low hanging fruit comes to mind). 

But working with an academic space certainly has its challenges (as well as rewards) when it comes to getting creative about using your space and maximising the yield during a specific holiday-time window. After visiting the Academic Venue Show for the first time recently, it struck me that standing out in the academic venue crowd can seem like something of a challenge.

How do you go about attracting events other than those obvious academic conferences? Can you really appeal to a broader association or corporate market when you are limited with your availability and, most importantly, are there any compromises regarding which events you can host due to any associated impact on the university or institution’s core brand and reputation (they are usually first and foremost a learning centre of excellence rather than purpose-build events space after all)?

At UniSpace in Sunderland, we opted to take a more creative approach to maximising the space on offer. Our car park, for example, has become an important revenue stream for us, providing overflow car-parking for through partnership with the Stadium of Light for example during concerts and events. Use of external space can provide an excellent extension to an academic venue offer.  Our campus square is versatile and recently hosted Sunderland’s Big Bike Ride, soon to be followed by Sunderland’s first Military Tattoo to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

There can be limitations on academic venues restricted to holiday time only availability. One option is to look at academic events that support the university’s core positioning which might enable the venue to host during term time, effectively extending the calendar for bookings. Even student accommodation can become part of the mix, offering a broader appeal for residential events.

At UniSpace, we have five difference spaces to work with. Some of these can be used during term time while others cannot. Our National Glass Centre offers a unique event space while also providing a ready-made incentive or teambuilding activity on-site. We have worked with our internal teams to develop creative uses of the space, even using the roof of the glass centre for a national Tai Chi event.

In difficult economic times, creative thinking on how to use your event space is critical to maximising revenue opportunities. Academic venues don’t need to limit their opportunities to term-time academic events, with a little imagination the possibilities are endless…

– Sharon Olver, Commercial Manager of the University of Sunderland responsible for UniSpace.

Any comments? Email cmw@mashmedia.net