UK companies raise a glass to return of the summer party
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This summer roughly 700 members of staff at law firm Osborne Clarke will be invited to an “enchanted woodland” on an organic farm in Berkshire to enjoy food stalls, craft activities, live music and DJs.
The event is designed as a “big post-Covid thank you” to staff that worked through two years of the pandemic, often without seeing one another for months at a time, according to managing partner Ray Berg. “For all its benefits, the best relationships will never be built solely over Zoom. It has been a difficult couple of years with lockdowns but the legal sector has weathered it pretty well,” he added.
Similar events are being planned at companies across the UK as managers seek to restore a sense of corporate identity across workforces disrupted by two years of the pandemic, many of whom are only slowly returning to the office.
Law firm Pinsent Masons is organising summer drinks for its 900 London-based workers, while colleagues in Leeds and Birmingham will be invited to a summer barbecue and sports day respectively. Allen & Overy, meanwhile, will invite 1,000 people to a City of London venue for more traditional fare of live music, food and drink.
Ed Poland, co-founder of events planner Hire Space, said fostering a “sense of team was the big driver of company social events this year and creating momentum despite lingering corporate concerns”.
Some company bosses are seeing only a slow return to offices by staff, but they consider such social events to be important parts of a resumption of near pre-pandemic patterns of working.
The surge in corporate bookings has also been a welcome boost to the finances of the hospitality industry, which has struggled over the past two years during the various Covid-19 lockdowns.
Poland said this would be a “big summer for venues and events suppliers”, although he added that many companies were deciding to do events at the last minute given uncertainty over how their staff would feel. “That puts pressure on the supply chain, so not everyone will get what they want,” he warned.
Matt Thomas, managing director of Compass’s restaurant associates division, which provides hospitality services across UK and Irish workplaces and tourist destinations, also pointed to “shorter lead-in times and higher conversion rates — from booking months in advance pre-pandemic to a matter of weeks today”.
Lime Venue Portfolio, which manages Cheltenham Racecourse, Somerset House and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that are also catered by the Compass Group, in March reported its best-ever month in its 12-year history, both in terms of the number of inquiries and their financial value.
Summer events and outdoor receptions continue to drive the market recovery, it said. The business reported a 74 per cent quarter-on-quarter increase in inquiries in the first three months of the year, representing the highest level of interest since before the pandemic.
Jo Austin, Lime Venue Portfolio’s sales director, said: “We’re seeing a lot of businesses who had to cancel their Christmas parties and January conferences consolidate these events around summer.” She added that many businesses had tied traditional summer parties into company updates or team building events “and are using them as a way to bring disparate work forces back together, give them a very late end of year reward, and a more relaxing reception as the sun comes out in the summer”.
Matt Grech-Smith, co-founder and co-chief executive of Swingers, the indoor golf venues, said corporate business had “come roaring back, with demand for group bookings outstripping 2019 levels”. This included exclusive hire of a venue with open bars and unlimited street food for more than 500 guests. Swingers has recently increased the size of its West End venue, adding a further 8,000 square feet to an existing 20,000 square feet site, with another bar, crazy golf course and roof terrace.
“This resurgence seems to be driven partly by the increased emphasis that companies are placing on socialising now that their teams are getting together less frequently, and partly because companies have big corporate entertaining budgets that have gone unspent for the last few years,” said Grech-Smith.
Eleni Mesala, head of events at London’s National Theatre, said its events space on the deck overlooking the Thames was fully booked for June and July — “all bookings come from the corporate industry”, she added. The National Theatre was closed for two years during the pandemic, and only reopened in February.
Mesala said that the companies booked into the venue — ranging from retail and tech groups to banks and law firms — were eager to return to in-person events.
Outside venues such as the terrace offered by the National Theatre were particularly popular, Poland said, given Covid-related concerns about confined spaces. Corporate brokers Shore Capital will be inviting clients and staff to Spencer House, the West End mansion, which offers a large outdoor area.
“Garden parties are a huge theme, with a British twist for the jubilee,” said Poland. Jubilee weekend festivities are expected to provide an early start to the summer season for the hospitality trade. “One of our clients — a global technology firm — is doing bunting, garden games, Victoria sponge and scones, cloudy lemonade and Pimm’s,” he added.
Additional reporting by Kate Beioley