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The inside scoop on Times Higher with our Event Management team
Back in January, we welcomed Kerry Schofield to the team as our new Conferences and Events Operations Manager. Within a few short months, she took the lead in delivering one of our biggest events of the year – Digital Universities UK for Times Higher Education (THE). Here Kerry shares the inside scoop on how she hit the ground running in her new role by managing such a high-profile event!
Can you tell us a little about the event?
The Digital Universities UK conference took place from 17th – 20th April 2023 and kicked-off with a reception in our Parkinson Court on the opening night. Bringing together higher education, industry and policy leaders, the conference explored the latest challenges and opportunities of digital-first higher education and presented cutting-edge ideas that will reshape its future.
Over the three days, delegates attended keynotes, interactive panels, live demonstrations, intimate discussions, practical workshops and networking.
Which event spaces were used?
The main plenaries and breakout sessions took place concurrently across six rooms in our brand-new Esther Simpson Building. This worked so well as there was a range of different content for each of the sessions. THE said that it was their biggest event yet in terms of simultaneous presentations and breadth of content, which was all based on the digitisation of the higher education experience.
There were PowerPoints, videos, live demonstrations of emerging digital technologies and VR experiences, among other forms of content being shared. On the last day, there was even a showcase of a digital escape room that one of our own University of Leeds professors had devised for his students during lockdown!
Everything was designed to facilitate the demonstration and debate of the many different applications for digital technologies across the higher education sector. Being our newest venue on campus, which was designed with innovation and collaboration in mind, Esther Simpson was perfectly equipped to meet THE’s technologically-advanced needs.
For registration, hospitality, networking and the all-important exhibition, The Refectory was chosen due to its central location, access to kitchens and large open floor space.
What were some of the challenges in the planning stages?
Given the size of our campus, mapping out the delegate journey was hugely important. For this area of the event, we focused on embodying creativity whilst also having sustainability in mind. We were able to draw on in-house resources to manage this effectively. This included using our student ambassadors as guides (showcasing our students), as well as branding some of our reusable (and therefore more environmentally-friendly) signage blocks to line the whole route for easy wayfinding.
In the run-up to the conference, the delegate registration numbers significantly increased. In the end we catered for 700 attendees! This meant that the floor-space and capacity in The Refectory needed to accommodate these high numbers. With this increase and as a result of moving away from a shell scheme solution, we worked closely with our approved suppliers Rounded Edge to create re-usable branded cloth backdrops on metal frames to separate the premium stands. AV & C Event Production, another of our local preferred suppliers provided draping to give The Refectory an exhibition hall aesthetic.
Was there anything else bespoke for the event?
The chefs from our in-house catering service – Great Food at Leeds designed bespoke menus as an upgrade to our day delegate offer. They consulted closely with the client to understand their requirements and theming based on events they’ve held in the past and then proposed the best options.
This included a selection of canapés for the opening night reception, as well as daily continental breakfast and hot lunch buffets, to facilitate the networking format.
What were some of the highlights for you, in running the Digital Universities UK conference as your first big event in your new role?
At the first site visit, THE told me this was their first ever major event in Leeds, as usually their events take place in London or another European capital city. So, the pressure was certainly on and I wanted to do both the University and city of Leeds proud!
I was inspired by the level of collaboration across the University’s many different departments to deliver an event of this nature. I personally haven’t worked anywhere before where so many different teams have pulled together like we do here and this made me feel extremely supported as the event manager.
In addition to the very full agenda over the three days, we also conducted a number of tours showcasing our wealth of digital experience venues on campus. These included HELIX – our brand-new creative digital facility, which features an extended reality (XR) classroom and the School of Dentistry, which has a virtual reality haptic simulator. This opened my eyes to how cutting-edge the University of Leeds is in the higher education space and made me feel very proud to work for such an innovative organisation.
What has the feedback been like?
It’s all been extremely positive. THE were delighted with how everything ran, as well as with all the comments they received about how digitally advanced the environment was, in keeping with their ethos.
We also received wonderful comments from the University of Leeds’ Vice Chancellor’s office, who were my internal clients.
So overall, I couldn’t be happier with the success of my first big event and I am excited for all the amazing events still to come in my now not so new role.
To find out more, arrange a site visit or discuss your specific requirements for your next event, contact University of Leeds Conferences and Events:
Telephone: 0113 343 6100