Insights from the Head of Conferences and Events at the University of Leeds

What does your job as Head of Conferences and Events for the University of Leeds entail?

As the Head of Conferences and Events at the University of Leeds, I oversee all aspects related to hosting conferences and events on campus. This includes strategic planning, marketing, operations, as well as stakeholder and client relations. I ensure that our facilities are effectively used to generate revenue while also providing exceptional service to our clients. 

In this dynamic role, every day presents a unique and captivating challenge as we deliver a varied range of events. Over the past year, we’ve had the privilege of hosting diverse gatherings that embody the breadth of our offerings. From welcoming esteemed figures in the world of sports, including Sir Clive Woodward, for a high-profile sports conference to transforming our exhibition hall into a hub for the European Space Agency’s conference, where we installed a satellite normally meant for space, hanging from the ceiling – the variety is truly exhilarating. Each event brings its own set of requirements and intricacies, keeping us on our toes and ensuring that monotony is never part of the equation.

You and the team recently opened a new venue for the University, Cloth Hall Court. Please tell us a little about the opening? Has it been a success?

The opening of Cloth Hall Court marked a significant milestone for the University of Leeds. The venue offers modern and flexible spaces designed to accommodate a variety of events all year around—a first for us! The opening was celebrated with a series of launch events and promotional campaigns, including the opening reception for the CHS Leeds show on our first official day of opening, which generated considerable interest and bookings.

Since its opening, Cloth Hall Court has unequivocally demonstrated its prowess as a premier venue, drawing in a diverse clientele from both near and far, bolstering the University’s commercial revenue streams and reinforcing our commitment to city-wide engagement. The success of Cloth Hall Court has exceeded our expectations, igniting a palpable enthusiasm within our team. As we approach its first anniversary as a conference centre, we are eagerly exploring avenues for further expansion and enhancement – stay tuned as we embark on this exciting journey!

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the University of Leeds in terms of building commercial income through conferences and events?

In addition to growing our business at Cloth Hall Court, we have an exciting opportunity to harness our prestigious reputation and cutting-edge facilities to attract a diverse range of academic conferences and events. We are actively collaborating with academics within the University and partnering with Conference Leeds, the city’s convention bureau, to attract academic and association conferences to the University. 

Together, we are charting a course that not only drives commercial revenue but also strengthens our status as a leading academic institution and a distinguished venue for events. In doing so, we contribute to the city of Leeds’s vibrant tapestry, solidifying its reputation as a dynamic and sought-after destination for conferences and events.

Following your appointment, you have built and recruited a strong team around you to support the growth of your department. Tell us a bit about your key hires and how they have helped you to implement your strategy.

Assembling a team of exceptional talent has been critical for us to execute our growth strategy effectively. Key hires included two Assistant Heads of Conferences and Events, each bringing specialised expertise to their respective teams of Sales and Operations. These pivotal roles oversee dedicated sub-teams within our service, playing a crucial role in driving both our commercial success and operational excellence, qualities for which we have rightly earned praise.

Working in partnership with MRG on these two hires was instrumental. Their thorough understanding of our unique requirements ensured we secured individuals who seamlessly integrated into our team and championed our vision, values, and objectives. Their knowledge of the higher education sector, coupled with their skill in candidate sourcing and evaluation, consistently delivered people of exceptional calibre who not only met but exceeded our expectations.

In addition to these two appointments, our team has multiplied from 6 to 24 members, encompassing diverse roles spanning administration, sales, operations, marketing, and catering, all strategically aligned with our service’s overarching vision. Despite current challenges in recruitment, I am immensely proud of the cohesive and dynamic team we’ve cultivated, a testament to our commitment to attracting exceptional talent.

Since joining the University, you have taken on a role on the board of AVS (Academic Venue Solutions). Have you found this useful for collaborating with other senior leaders in the sector?

Collaboration provides networking, professional development and commercial opportunities, and it’s great that the academic venue sector is such a collaborative environment, thanks in part to AVS. I encourage all members of the academic commercial and operational communities to actively engage in collaborative networking opportunities, whether through associations like AVS or other impactful platforms. Such collaboration not only magnifies our collective impact and strengthens our ability to lobby the government but also supports us in attracting top-tier talent to our institutions.

Serving on the board of AVS has been immensely beneficial; it provides a platform for sharing best practices, exchanging ideas, and staying abreast of industry trends and developments. Through active participation in AVS initiatives and events, I have been able to build relationships with peers from other institutions, which has opened up opportunities for collaboration and knowledge-sharing, ultimately benefiting the University of Leeds and our conferences and events.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone from the private sector looking to get into Higher Education in Conferences and Events?

Transitioning from the private sector to higher education in conferences and events presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. My advice? Approach the role with an open mind and be ready to adapt to the academic environment’s nuances. Take the time to understand the specific needs of academic clients, which will differ from those in the corporate world. Building strong relationships with academic departments and faculty members is crucial, as they often play a central role in generating event business. Moreover, stay updated on the latest trends in both higher education and the events industry – it’s this that will allow you to remain competitive and deliver value to your institution. 

In essence, the higher education events sector offers a fantastic professional landscape, and I wholeheartedly encourage my colleagues in the events industry, currently in the private sector, to explore the realm of Higher Education. It’s a fulfilling and captivating sector with opportunities for growth and meaningful engagement. Don’t hesitate—take the plunge and discover an exciting professional journey in HE!


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