Editor's Blog

First impressions of the second city

I was in Birmingham last week, on a fact-finding mission for the November issue of M&IT.

Rather shamefully, it was my first ever visit to the jewel of the West Midlands, but luckily my packed itinerary meant that I more than made up for lost time.

It’s probably best that I saved my first visit until now, as it meant that I got to arrive in the freshly refurbished New Street station. The old station was by all accounts a bit of a mess, with one planner I met going so far as to say that they used to prefer to have delegates disembark at Birmingham International and arrange taxis from there. However, I am pleased to report that the new New Street is a genuine joy to travel through.

Exiting the station on its south side, I came face to face with the newest venue in town, the Birmingham Conference & Events Centre, where I met general manager Vincent Garrington.

If you’re wondering why you didn’t know Birmingham was getting a new conference centre – well that’s exactly as it was planned. Garrington revealed that the project only got the green light from owners Cairn Group in May, after which it was decided to keep the project as hush hush as possible, in a bid to catch rivals on the run.

Designed in response to the growing demand for smaller-scale meetings space in the city centre, the BCEC is attached to the newly revamped Holiday Inn Birmingham and is made up of 20 meeting rooms and six banqueting suites, including the 1,048 sqm The Mercian. 

Thankfully, Garrington is now able to shout loud and proud about his new baby, and the official opening party in January promises to be a night to remember.

My visit came just a week after the publication of the new Michelin Guide, which has seen Birmingham overtake Edinburgh as the UK city with the most Michelin stars after London. All the discussion while I was there was of whether Solihull counted as part of Birmingham, which would give the city six stars, or if you should just stick to the city centre, which would mean a mere (!) five.

And obviously, this discussion was not without mention of Manchester and its ongoing inability to secure even just one coveted star. 

Indeed, Michelin stars form part of the battleground in the ongoing war over which of the two powerhouses is the UK’s second city. The day of my visit coincided with the Team GB Olympic parade in Manchester, and there were many in the Midlands taking great pleasure in noting that it was absolutely throwing it down in the North West.

To find out what else is new in Birmingham for meetings and events, you’ll have to wait until the November issue of M&IT, which hits desks in a few weeks.

However, as a quick taster of what’s in store, I’ll leave you with the top venue picks of Louisa Grocott, account manager at Birmingham-based marketing agency Core.

VIP board meeting: DeVere Venues, Colmore Gate, Colmore Row

With a variety of rooms for events of all sizes, the space offers top of the range AV, presentation equipment and surroundings that will wow any client. There is also a comfortable and stylish ‘break-out’ kitchen area for informal lunches or café conversations – certainly not your typical canteen. 

Cocktail reception: Bank Restaurant and Bar, Brindleyplace 

Thanks to its all-weather terrace, the Waterside Grill, Bank Restaurant and Bar is the ideal spot for a drinks reception with expertly mixed cocktails and stunning views over the canals at Brindleyplace.

Whether you choose to exclusively hire the space or make the most of the bustling atmosphere, the trained mixologists are friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. 

Gala dinner: International Conference Centre, Brindleyplace 

It’s not the newest kid on the block, but for the Birmingham community, the ICC is still firmly up there as one of the best. With its largest hall capable of comfortably holding a banquet for more than 1,000 guests, every attention is paid to the fine dining journey and innovative fusion of culinary flavours to provide guests with a high-quality experience.

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