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Ben Lheureux on launching a new venue to the market

When it comes to launching a new venue, the commencement of the of the design stages is often viewed as the crucial part in the planning process, but often this means the meticulous and more laborious stages prior to this point go unnoticed. In hindsight, these stages are arguably the most important and play a key role in informing the latter stages of the project.

Illuminate, our brand new multi-functional events venue at the Science Museum, is now under construction and is due to open in February 2019 as a progressive destination that will not only anticipate but surpass the needs of the ever-evolving events industry.

We are one of few cultural institutions in the UK launching a dedicated conference venue of this size, acting as a pioneer for the heritage and cultural venue sector. The change in public funding means that, as a unique venue, we are having to look at new ways to generate additional revenue to ensure we continue to deliver our world-class programme of exhibitions and activities and, inspire the next generation.

It is a new era for us, where event venue hire will now be positioned as a main part of our overall business, and it is one that is set to be a game-changer not just for the industry, but for the entire cultural venue sector in the UK.


Sharing best practice

Having lived and breathed this project for five years, I’m in the position of being able to share some of my experiences and insights into the often-lengthy planning process that takes place prior to a single brick being laid.

Looking back on my own experience of the planning process for Illuminate, there are four key areas of learning that I think it particularly valuable to share here:


  • Know your audience

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand who you are creating the venue for and ensure that personal assumptions, aspirations or taste do not become the main drivers in designing the venue. The venue is built for and will be used by your clients, so take the time to understand your market; engage directly with them, keep one step ahead of change and ensure you remain flexible to meet ever-evolving trends. It’s a challenge to remain ahead of the curve with a project spanning several years but following a clear vision and pushing boundaries from the offset ensures that the finished product will not only meet requirements but transcend them, setting the bar at a whole new level for the industry.


  • Perfect your partnerships

To ensure a streamlined process for clients in the long term, opting for in-house suppliers is key, and this process of selecting the right partners for the task should begin as early as possible. This allows the caterer/AV partners you work with the opportunity to have their input into the premise for the space, ensuring the design adapts to suit the offer rather than the other way around. Choosing partners that are industry experts and who share the same vision also ensures the relationship will stand the test of time, for a well-rounded offering created by trendsetters covering all bases.


  • Trust in your team

A project on the scale of Illuminate takes time to perfect. For the team on the ground working hard day-to-day, it can be easy to lose some of the ‘excitement’ for the project as months turn to years, often without a clear end date in sight; however, it is simply a case of maintaining motivation and morale. Keep communication open on any developments along the way, continually updating on timelines and any changes in the pipeline. Bring the team in on the planning process too; getting everyone involved in any workshops or focus groups increases the personal investment in the project, which will have a positive impact on how they interact with clients to talk about the new space too. Ultimately, your team are your most valuable advocates!


  • Business as usual

Lastly, with such a proportion of time and energy being poured into a large project, it’s crucial to keep an eye on core business and avoid ‘tunnel vision’. As part of the world’s leading group of science museums, our activity fits into the group’s overarching strategy rather than being standalone, so the balance was important between creating a revolutionary space and ensuring its identity embodied the Science Museum Group ethos.