Alison Wallington, event centre manager at Kent Event Centre, welcomes EN to the garden of England
Tell me a bit about the history of the venue?
The Kent Event Centre has been on its current site at Detling since 1964 and has grown ever since with the development of new modern purpose-built event spaces. Today, the site is the largest event facility in Kent.
All of the profits from the Kent Event Centre go to the registered charity; Kent County Agricultural Society. Formed in 1923 the Kent County Agricultural Society aims to improve and promote agriculture, forestry, horticulture, allied industries, rural crafts and the breeding of livestock, across Kent.
The charity organises the historic Kent County Show which has been taking place for 90 years and showcases farming, countryside and rural life and brings together the very best of Kent with animals, food and activities for families. The show attracts over 74,000 visitors each year.
What kind of events do you host?
In 2017 the Kent Event Centre hosted 46 events and exhibitions. These included a range of exhibitions across numerous sectors from Build It Live to The Wedding Experience, the Antiques and Collectors Fair to the Quilt Show. New to the venue were Rise 4 Disability, Build It Live, Maidstone Tattoo Extravaganza and Create it featuring HOCHANDA. All four exhibitions signed up to take place for a second year in 2018 after successful first events at the venue. Organisers of Rise 4 Disability, Made2Aid, said that first year visitor numbers exceeded their expectations.
What support can you offer event organisers?
We pride ourselves on the great relationships we have built with our customers over the years, which we believe are testament to the events that keep coming back to the venue year-on-year. Our small team works closely with organisers from the start to finish of the event. We recently invested in a number of service upgrades to improve the overall experience for organisers and exhibitors. These include increased fibre optic wi-fi to provide a seamless experience for our guests, extra Wi-Fi points at the gates to give our larger events connectivity for ticket selling, full exhibition luxe lighting which has resulted in better lighting around the venue, but also energy saving, a new check in and check out system for organisers which is more personalised and thorough, a new fair trade coffee supplier and an increased menu of dietary requirements to provide fantastic bespoke solutions for those attending conferences and events.
You were shortlisted for the EN CSR Award, can you talk a bit about the work you do?
Because we are a charity ourselves we understand the challenges charities are facing today, particularly when it comes to funding and diversifying income. We strive to assist other charities in achieving their objectives wherever we can. To start with we offer a 25 per cent discount to charities looking to hold events at our venue, this also extends to Kent County Council, the NHS and UK Power.
We have great relationships with the local emergency services and offer our facilities for free to the local Police for training their dogs, the fire brigade to test their hoses, Urban Search and Rescue to carry out essential disaster training onsite, the Kent Police tactical unit for firearms training, NHS Emergency Planning team for essential training and meetings and ITV Meridian to practice their drone flying.
We also work with International Search and Rescue (ISAR) as a combined services team with UK Med and Handicapped International to build a field hospital anywhere in the world following a sudden onset disaster.
The charitable side of our business, Kent County Agricultural Society, runs an event for local school children from 52 Kent primary schools called Living Land. Living Land attracts 3,000 children looking to learn more about where their food comes from and understand farming, animals and machinery. At the most recent event children got to bake their own bread, spin their own yarn, taste food and drink produced locally and see farm machinery.
We are extremely passionate about supporting the land-based sector and as part of our wider charitable objectives, we have a scholarship scheme for Kent based students studying for a degree course in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, equine, veterinary and animal management, environment and conservation or any other related subject.
Kent Event Centre recently won the Emergency Planning and Partnership Award for 2017 from the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. The award recognises excellence in event planning and partnership with the NHS to avoid hospital admissions from events held at the Kent Showground.
What is the USP of the venue?
Our unique selling point is our size and location, between two major motorways and within 50 minutes by car or train from London. We have an excess of 200 acres of outdoor space and a private woodland at organisers’ disposal.