Association of Inner Wheel Clubs in Great Britain & Ireland

Event: Annual Conference

Number of delegates: 1100

Venue: Winter Gardens Blackpool

Margaret Davidson is the Conference Committee Chairman at Association of Inner Wheel Clubs in G.B.& I. and helps facilitate the group’s annual conference. We caught up with Margaret to find out more about the event, connecting club members, and what she loved most about visiting the Winter Gardens Blackpool.

Can you tell us a little more about your event?

The Association of Inner Wheel Clubs’ annual conference is an opportunity to bring together our members to provide updates on behalf of the association, for educational sessions and to share best practice. On the final day of the event, we host an evening of entertainment to say thank you to all of our volunteers for their hard work. As our clubs are based across the breadth of the UK, our annual conference takes place in a different location each year and feedback from our members was that this year’s annual conference held in Blackpool was one of the best they have experienced. The annual event attracts around 1,000 participants, with the majority made up of Inner Wheel Club members.

How did the Annual Conference held in the Winter Gardens help you achieve your goals as an association?

As the core of our association is based on friendship, our goal was to bring together members for the first time in three years after Covid forced its cancellation. We felt that the Winter Gardens Blackpool, with its charm and capacity, was the perfect place in which to do so. The Empress Ballroom had ample space to hold our AGM with its theatre style seating, and all delegates were able to hear the speakers clearly thanks to the production and sound support we received. The Circle and Renaissance rooms were ideal locations to host lunches which encouraged a culture of knowledge sharing and best practice, where our members were able to connect and discuss updates heard at the AGM.

Educating our members is another priority at our annual events, and the stall set up in The Horseshoe and Foyer meant that delegates could drop-in to these exhibition-style stands. We feel the event allowed our members to re-connect and relax, and the feedback we received was that the event was certainly one that was enjoyed.

Can you tell us more about the planning that went into the event?

We visited the Winter Gardens Blackpool back in July 2018 and from the word go, Julie Vincent and the team were incredible. They could not have been more helpful and pleasant both in the planning stages and during the conference. We outlined our goals and vision and the in-house team delivered this perfectly with the support of their production, technology, and catering departments. The AGM was the core of our conference, and we felt the Empress Ballroom was perfect for this, and the business sessions and speaker sessions worked brilliantly in the Empress Ballroom.

With over 1,000 guests, ranging from delegates to small, invited groups and guest speakers, we had various people to cater for and we were grateful for the advice shared by the Winter Gardens team. The Foyer Level of the Conference Centre along with the Pavilion offered plenty of space for us to provide snacks, tea and coffee throughout the day for delegates. Small groups were offered sandwich lunches in the Floral Suite and Circle Level and the buffet lunch for guest speakers held in the Renaissance Suite was delicious.

The evening entertainment was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event, held in Empress Ballroom. We wanted to create a relaxed and fun atmosphere, and the support we received from the Winter Gardens team both with setting up and during the evening event certainly helped us to deliver an enjoyable experience. Our members did not see the work that the team had put in behind the scenes, but we are extremely appreciative of the professional manner with which everything was dealt with.

What are your main priorities when choosing a venue for your annual event? How did the Winter Gardens Blackpool meet your criteria?

As the majority of our members travel by car or train, the Winter Gardens’ location was appealing, given it is so easily accessible from the M55 and M6, allowing easy access for our members who live in all parts of the country. We also liked the fact that the venue is only a ten-minute walk or a 5-minute drive from Blackpool North Train Station, with plenty of taxis and even the tram available for attendees. Blackpool’s wealth of accommodation was also a deciding factor, with a variety of hotels available to suit all budgets.

Choosing a venue that would meet our sustainability criteria was also of significance, and the the Winter Gardens’ environmentally conscious attitude and sustainability policies met our needs. We also needed a venue large enough to host a range of sessions, a small exhibition, a conference, lunches and entertainment, but with plenty of character and charm, given this event was extra special being our first event in three years.

As a voluntary association, our budget is always taken into consideration, and we would not have been able to host this event without subvention support from Blackpool Council. This financial support, combined with the advice we received from VisitBlackpool, and the professionalism of the Winter Gardens Blackpool, has highlighted to us that the town is a serious contender when it comes to events and conferences. Community is at the heart of the Winter Gardens and as a voluntary association, we feel supported on a national scale thanks to Blackpool.

What did your delegates enjoy most about their trip to Blackpool and the Winter Gardens?

Quite a number of our guests enjoyed revisiting Blackpool having spent happy holidays there during childhood –there was a lot of excitement about attending an event in such a nostalgic destination. I think many of our members were pleasantly surprised to see the investment that’s been channelled into the town. Many commented on the architecture of the Winter Gardens, and how the complex was so well-maintained and looked after.  

Hosting an educational, inspiring, and connective event was our goal this year and thanks to the standards of the venue, the professional manner of the Winter Gardens’ in-house event organising, catering, technology and hospitality team, our delegates thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and we look forward to visiting Blackpool again in the future.

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