Reflecting on One Year in Leeds: Transformative Growth and Success in Conferences and Events
Last week, I celebrate my one-year work anniversary at the University of Leeds and life in this vibrant city. It’s been an incredible journey since I relocated from London for the Head of Conferences and Events role. This past year has been a whirlwind of new experiences, team growth, industry events, and collaborations with valuable clients and partners.
LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS
Leeds has always held a special place in my heart. I studied Events Management at the UK Centre For Events Management (UKCEM) at Leeds Beckett University and spent four happy years as a student in this city. It was also part of the plan to return to Leeds one day, it just needed to be for the right opportunity.
When I saw the Head of Conferences and Events position advertised at the University of Leeds, I knew it was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I was over the moon when I was offered the role. Returning to Leeds, I knew that a warm ‘Yorkshire Welcome’ would be waiting for me, and I have not been disappointed. The University and everyone I’ve met in the region has embraced me with open arms.
Let’s start from the beginning
From the very beginning, I was drawn to the vast professional opportunities of my role and the prospect of life back in Leeds. I was ready for a new challenge after spending nearly 15 years working in some of London’s leading venues, including the Science Museum, HM Tower of London and the Royal College of Music. The University’s internationally renowned reputation for excellence in delivering academic and association conferences, along with its impressive quality and quantity of rooms (over 300!) on campus, was a real draw. In addition to this, the opportunity to launch Cloth Hall Court, was a once in a career opportunity that I didn’t want to miss!
My first year
The past year has been filled with exciting projects and accomplishments. My first priority was growing my team to support the new strategy, and I’m grateful that we’re now at full strength with a team of 18 passionate and talented individuals across sales, operations, marketing, and a dedicated team based at Cloth Hall Court.
(Some of the team: Back row: Jacob, Kerry, Me, Karina, Corin. Front row: Sue, Rosie, Chelsea, Helen)
Following a review of our assets and market trends, the next priority project was rebranding from MEETinLEEDS to University of Leeds Conferences and Events, aligning our identity more closely with the wider University. This involved developing a brand-new website to showcase our extensive portfolio. After months of hard work in collaboration with our comms team, we proudly unveiled it in April at the Cloth Hall Court launch event, attended by over 300 event professionals. We’ve been overwhelmed with the feedback on the new website and branding, both internally and from the wider industry.
Collaboration has been a top priority, not only representing the University but also positioning Leeds as a world-class destination for meetings and events. In March, I had the honour to partner with Charlotte Podlewska from Conference Leeds and Helen Whittle from Communication Matters to present a panel titled ‘Meet the Future of… Communication and Accessibility’ at the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) UK and Ireland conference.
I also had the privilege of being a panellist at the Meetings Industry Association (mia) Connect Day, where we discussed the crucial topic of making venues DEI-ready. It was an interactive and well-received session, highlighting the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in organisations.
Looking back on my first year, there have been so many highlights, but one of two come to mind as l standout, including the successful delivery of the annual Communication Matters International AAC Conference, the UK’s leading augmentative and alternative communication conference. This gathering brought together AAC users, families, professionals, researchers, and suppliers for a diverse 3-day program. It is an inspiring event that really showcased the team’s dedication to being an inclusive venue for everyone. In April, we hosted the Digital Universities UK conference for Times Higher Education. As this event typically takes place in London or another European capital city, it was an honour to bring it to Leeds and showcase our commitment to being a Communication Accessible venue and our digital innovation in higher education. The event highlighted our new digital spaces showcasing how events and learning will look moving forward.
In January, I was appointed as a board member for Academic Venue Solutions, where I support efforts to increase member engagement and support new venues joining the collective. Drawing from my previous experience on the Unique Venues of London board, I understand the value of such collaborations in raising the profile of consortiums and individual members.
If I were to identify my proudest achievement, it would undoubtedly be my team and what we have accomplished together in the past year. We’ve delivered hundreds of events and achieved record financial growth, a trend that is set to continue as demand for our venues and services increases. This income is invaluable for reinvestment in the University, which stands as one of the UK’s largest higher education institutions and a member of the Russell Group.
Looking ahead to the coming year, our focus within the University’s Facilities Directorate will be on strategic ambitions for continual improvement in the services we provide to staff, visitors, and customers. We plan to streamline processes and policies, stay ahead of market trends with our in-house catering service, and enhance accessibility and sustainability measures. We are proud to have achieved Green Tourism Gold status for several of our venues and now aim for the new Green Meetings accreditation for our latest additions to our portfolio.
What a year it has been! I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring, varied and exciting first year in a new job, which in large part in thanks to the people I get to work with, customers, colleagues and my team! Now let’s see what the next year has to bring!
If you’d like to learn more about our hosting events at the University, get in touch:
Telephone: 0113 343 6100