Church House is a magnificent historic building in Dean’s Yard, next door to Westminster Abbey and across the street from the Houses of Parliament. A modern conference centre occupies the three floors of the building.
Work on the original Church House began in 1902, a year after the death of Queen Victoria, to commemorate her Golden Jubilee year – 1887. Almost three decades later, in 1931, a decision was taken to demolish the existing building and erect a new one more in keeping with the needs of the Church at that time.
The current building was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, a renowned architect, and work began in 1937. The building was officially opened by His Majesty, King George Vl, on 10 June 1940 – only to suffer a direct hit on the Assembly Hall in November 1940. However, due to the exceptional construction of the building, only minimal damage was done and the building was actually used by the two Houses of Parliament during the war.
The present Conference Centre opened officially on 19 November 1990 and enjoyed immediate success, winning numerous industry awards from the first. The centre, which was refurbished with new kitchens in 2000, currently hosts 3,000 meetings a year and its 17 rooms range from the Assembly Hall, which seats 670, to the Bishop Partridge Hall, seating 180. All meeting rooms are equipped with the latest technology including ISDN, CAT 5 cabling, video conferencing and infra-red translation services.
Earlier this year, the Conference Centre decided that its in-house legacy system could no longer cope with bookings, and a panel including Operations Manager Kate Hunter opted for Rendezvous, the browser-based system from NFS. Rendezvous was installed in March and Kate is very pleased with the speed and information capture aspects of the system.
“We are capturing more information on every client,” Kate says, “and that puts us in a stronger marketing position. We can determine what proportion of our business comes from government, charities, agencies or whatever.” Several government departments, such as the Home Office and Education and Skills, regularly use Church House meeting rooms.
Kate also uses Rendezvous for contracts, function sheets, billing and a daily summary. Many reports are generated, including financial data, enquiries per week and essential planning details such as flowers and security for the meeting rooms. A total of eight people have full access to the system but dozens, including the caterers, use it on a read-only basis, so function sheets must be very clear.
“We get much better layout and formatting than before and billing is a lot easier,” Kate notes. “It’s particularly helpful that the billing system handles add-ons so it’s easy to make any changes.”
The General Manager of Church House, Lacy Curtis-Ward, an Anglo- American, heads up the management team. She has launched new events, such as “Strawberries & Shakespeare” held last year for 250 conference and event buyers. She has also put catering at the top of her agenda – and thrown traditional menus “out the window”. “People are much more sophisticated about food these days and we cater for highly knowledgeable guests,” she says.
To improve menu development, Lacy introduced food tastings for regular customers, and even hosted a blind coffee tasting to be sure of serving the best.
She has also been instrumental in launching the Westminster Collection, a group of high-profile Westminster-based venues. This new collective aims to help maximize the conference and meeting potential of the area by sharing availability. Other founding members include the Royal Horticultural Halls and Conference Centre, One Birdcage Walk, Central Hall Westminster, the Banqueting House Whitehall and the Grange Hotels Group.
Recent awards won by Church House Conference Centre include Employer of the Year 2000 from London Tourism Awards, Best Value for Money Venue 2001 from the Meetings Industry Association and Hospitality Assured awards in each of the last four years. It has also won food and beverage awards.
Looking to the future, Church House will review the system and consider putting availability information online early next year. Kate Hunter sees client ability to view availability as important for her marketing strategy.
“We want more different kinds of events, not just meetings,” she says. “And we want more evening business. So we may well want to introduce an online aspect and see how our clients like it. It could make a big difference.”