Ask the expert: planning COVID-safe weddings and events in a heritage venue
One of Newcastle’s most important historical buildings is due to reopen this summer after a two-year refurbishment.
The Common Room of the Great North, which many people will formerly have known as The Mining Institute, on Westgate Road, was established in 2017 to manage the redevelopment and refurbishment following an award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund of £4.1m. Further awards have now increased the total support to £5,050,000.
Opening in July The Common Room will not only be a hub for engineering and innovation, but will also provide a venue for weddings, conferences and events.
Sales and Marketing Manager, Nicky Sherman, has years of experience in helping couples to plan their weddings and will be responsible for helping brides and grooms prepare for their big day. Here, she talks about some of the challenges that come with planning a COVID-safe event in a heritage venue.
What are some of the challenges you faced when renovating a historic building and making it suitable for events today?
When Neville Hall was built, between 1869 and 1872, it was designed to be the headquarters of The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. It wasn’t designed with the kinds of events we hold today in mind, so that does present us with some challenges when you compare it with a purpose-built modern venue – however, it also brings huge amounts of character and beautiful features, like our spectacular Wood Hall and the unusual lecture theatre.
I think when people are looking for a memorable venue, they want a building with a story, and The Common Room has been brought up to date in a way that means people can still see its history, but they can also have the kind of event that they want. One of the key upgrades we’ve made is on accessibility. The building is now fully accessible from our new Orchard Street entrance and throughout the fabulous spaces within.
How have you made sure that weddings and other events at The Common Room will be COVID-safe?
As well as following all the government guidance in relation to COVID safety, we’ve gone above and beyond. The Common Room has been invigorated through an extensive refurbishment which has not only brought the original building features back to their former glory but has also had modern mechanical and electrical interventions sensitively added in order to provide modern services to the historic building, enabling it to operate at its full potential.
Part of the modern updates included the provision of ventilation supplying fresh air to the rooms and extracting vitiated air in spaces which previously had no or little air movement. The addition of the ventilation to the magnificent Wood Hall room and ground floor bar, 5 Quarter, provides fresh air and good levels of air changes to maintain air purity.
We’ve also installed equipment which means we can live stream weddings and events, so whether your guests are in Middlesbrough or Mumbai, they can see your wedding as it happens. So if people are unable to travel, or if guest numbers are limited, people can still attend virtually. I think as we all adjust to events taking place in new ways, this will be invaluable.
How have people’s requirements changed in the last year?
I think that when the first lockdown happened, people were overwhelmed at the thought of postponing their weddings or changing their plans. The couples we are speaking to now are more familiar with safety measures like social distancing and are happy to follow all the latest guidance to make sure their wedding happens in a safe way.
We’re now taking bookings for weddings taking place from July onwards and we’re keeping in close contact with all our couples to make sure they get a truly special day which is also safe for them and their guests.
How did the pandemic impact the planned refurbishment of The Common Room?
It meant that the refurbishment took longer than we originally planned, but funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other grant funders meant that we were able to mitigate the delays and we’re on track to reopen this summer.
The pandemic also shaped some aspects of the project, leading to things like the live streaming systems, which are going to be invaluable in terms of future-proofing The Common Room for years to come.
What’s your number one piece of advice to people planning weddings and events now?
Keep talking to your venue. We treat each of our events – whether it’s a wedding, a 50th birthday party or a conference – individually and we work closely with people to help plan their events and make sure it’s everything they hoped for.
See photographs and virtual tours of The Common Room, or make an enquiry, at www.thecommonroom.org.uk
The Common Room, Neville Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SE.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by The Common Room .
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