This 160-acre estate in Warwickshire offer a spectacular array of event options with a twist for corporate and private clients
Shaped by the impressive vision of owner and managing director Stephen Hammon, the Heart of England is a conference and events centre where thinking big and outside the box is positively encouraged. Open Air Business talks to head of marketing Ema Townsend about tennis festival themed weddings and animatronic dinosaurs.
When did you open Heart of England?
Stephen Hammon, owner and founder of Heart of England, bought the property in 2001. Prior to that, Stephen made his living working as a DJ and event supplier. He decided to buy the site in order to expand. Stephen says: “I’d had years of experience behind me in organising and managing events at various locations throughout the UK. I was inspired to create something different, something spectacular that no-one else was offering. I wanted to create a truly unique venue; where a multitude of corporate events and private celebrations could be expertly organised, planned and managed by a specialist creative team of hand-picked staff.
“Purchasing the 160 acre Warwickshire estate in 2001, I set about renovating and building, making a start on creating the remarkable events centres I had envisioned. I want what we do to be the best in the UK.”
Tell us about your location and site
Heart of England is a privately-owned estate. We’re situated right in the heart of England between Meriden and Fillongley. The site is close to motorway networks and the Birmingham International airport and train station.
Our site is set in 160 acres of prime Warwickshire countryside with 60 acres of medieval woodland, 100 acres of open park space, a lake, a purpose-built conference and events centre, and a stunning bar and grill restaurant – The Quicken Tree.
A favourite with some clients is the Cedar Suite – a meeting space that’s moveable. It can be picked up and moved anywhere on the site allowing for peace, tranquillity and the space to create.
A new bridge has been recently constructed over ‘Dinosaur Canyon’ (yes you read that correctly) – we have a canyon of animatronic dinosaurs leading you across the bridge and into the new bar and restaurant.
As well as the conferences, events, product launches, team building, fun days and weddings we host, we have nestled in the grounds a 4*, 16th Century boutique country house bed and breakfast – Old Hall House, which featured on Channel 4’s Four in a Bed. There are also two glamping pods and a log cabin, built and designed by the owner. We are currently building our very own shepherds hut. Stephen is at the forefront of everything we do as a team. He is the leading creative force and has designed and built the site from its humble beginnings as a country farmhouse and outbuilding to the stunning venue it is today.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We have a lake and pier set in our park, and an on-site hotel with seven stunning double en-suite bedrooms, including our master suite boasting a four poster bed and double jacuzzi. There are two glamping pods, a log cabin and a shepherd’s hut on the way. We have a 39x12m opulent marquee offering beautiful views across the lake. We also have an abundance of marquees available for hire, from the traditional pole style to the ultra-modern.
In our woodland we offer team building, including quad trekking, laser clay shooting and archery amongst other things, and a new 4×4 course is being planned for this year through 300,000 newly planted trees.
What services do you offer?
We offer event services both on- and off-site, and much of our equipment is for hire. On-site we host all manner of corporate events including conferences, product launches, team building and fun days but also cater for private functions such as weddings, parties, proms, award ceremonies, balls etc. We have two kitchens on-site, one servicing our restaurant and the other being much larger, catering for the bigger events. Our park area has electric and water points throughout and we have many marquees of varying sizes and styles available for hire.
Describe how you researched and sourced your marquees
We own our marquees but have had occasions where we’ve needed bespoke ones brought in for a specific event. We tend to use one company (Hoecker) for this who have catered for all our needs over the years.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Our creative events team is highly skilled, with a wealth of experience in designing and delivering bespoke events tailor made to meet our clients’ needs and budgets. Our motto is “nothing is impossible” and we encourage clients and staff alike to dream big. We work very closely with clients to ensure everything they desire is achieved. This approach is successfully evidenced in the feedback and outcomes of our events.
We’ve seen a rising trend in customers wanting ‘out of the ordinary’ and that’s where we excel. We have a vast collection of equipment that we own ourselves and know what works well together and this is why customers come back year on year. For Example:
- ACE – For a tennis loving couple wishing to get married, we created a tennis festival themed wedding with three marquee tournament zones, bouncy castles, giant deckchairs and picnic tables. We even built the bride and groom a pair of bespoke umpire chairs.
- FUN, FUN, FUN – Last Summer we ran a corporate family fun day out on our park, complete with carousel, dodgems, zip wire, fire engine, party bus, cricket, quadding, 4×4 driving, and ultimate wipe-out (as seen on TV). Out on the lake we had the pedalos and the pirate ship, so there was something for absolutely everyone. A fantastic day was had by all, and the customers are booking again this year.
- CARRY ON CAMPING – We recently had a corporate event with all attendees wanting to do something different and to stay on site. We half-filled one of our event fields with five berth bell tents and additional toilet and shower blocks. The event itself was an exhibition, which we hosted in our giant marquee, and a conference was held in our Birchley Suite. It worked really well and the feedback was brilliant.
How do you publicise yourself?
We have tended to advertise on agency portals rather than in trade publications to date. A lot of our work comes from word of mouth or agents; however, we have grown so much over the years and want to continue to grow so are now looking at potential publication partners.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
We are adaptable for both small and large events both on- and off-site. Our team is innovative and creative, and can work from the traditional to the off-the-wall and quirky – we cater for all. We constantly strive to improve and diversify to keep on trend with what our customers require, investing in new equipment often while trying to come up with greener alternatives to petrol-fed, motorised team building activities.
Last year, we bought a Ziesel to add to our ‘Electric Dreams’ team building package. It’s the first and only one so far in the UK. A single seat ride controlled by a single joystick but connected over the internet, the Ziesel has tank treads and goes at a whopping 23mph! This coupled with laser clay pigeon shooting, archery and ninebots personal transporter riding makes for a cleaner and greener team building experience.
What challenges have you faced?
Being sited on green belt land has caused no end of challenges, with multitudes of planning issues. When Stephen bought the property, he built the lake and a beach around it. This was to attract school children and we offered educational visits to schools through the woods, with beach visits and paddling as part of the experience. The beach was an instant success attracting visitors from all over who were otherwise unable to get to a beach or water including many less abled children. A rock shop was embedded in to the sandstone banks and Heart of England became a stunning attraction.
A government inspector ruled that the beach was in contravention of green belt land and, following a high court battle, Heart of England was forced to close the beach. It was deemed as a ‘honey pot’ attracting too many visitors to the site. The lake is still here, but constant battles remain a challenge with local authorities. Trying to attract tourism and employ people appears to be at odds with our local authorities’ rulings on the use of green belt land.
Recruitment is also a challenge, whilst being close to all the major road networks, the site is along a country lane and non-drivers tend to struggle in getting here.
What are your plans for next season?
We have planning permission to build a new 30-bedroom hotel, although it may not happen next season. We are also working towards building a ‘chapel of love’ on the lake to offer outdoor ceremonies. We have some very large events booked in over the coming months and some proposals going out for festivals along with the ‘Reaper Runs’ (obstacle run) so lots coming up.
Describe your average day mid-season
It’s manic! Every day is different and covers all seasons which is what the team loves most about Heart of England. One day we could be filling our conference suite with tractors for a product launch, the next running a team building course and constructing rafts down in the park. We offer such a diverse range of services with no two events the same, the variety is endless.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We operate in all areas of the sector, offering parties, events, festivals, obstacle races, overnight accommodation and glamping. We throw two large parties for Halloween with trips down through the woods (for the very brave). We operate in the corporate sector too of course, offering conferences, team building, product launches and corporate fun days.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Don’t be afraid to diversify – change is good and keeps everyone on their toes.
- Recycling all cooking oil
- Reed bed sewer system
- New green travel plan
- Encouraging teams towards electric and non-motorised team building activities, with investment into new and innovative kit
Hoecker – 01536 316970 / www.hoeckeruk.com
Besp-Oak – 02476 632148 / www.besp-oak.com
Andy Loos – 0845 671 1111 / www.andyloos.co.uk
Newstead – 0121 410 2400 / www.newstead.co.uk
Meriden Road, Fillongley, Coventry, CV7 8DX