Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Oh, you’ve been playing in the Sandpit again?

Posted by Avril Rhodes

When you mention to colleagues or to your nearest and dearest that you’ve spent your working day going around country hotels trying to find the best venue for the Fuse Sandpit residential training event some really sceptical looks are forthcoming. They don’t say it, but each is thinking “What a waste of time – hasn’t she anything better to do?” But, honestly, it really is hard work.

When M’Lord was building his country seat, he thought about creating spectacular grounds, rooms for an army of servants, stable blocks, fine dining rooms and a grand entrance. Strangely, he did not think about the post-aristocratic world of conferencing, or even imagine electricity and internet access. Consequently, whilst ambience, embossed wallpaper, log fires, wonderful views, and curtains that could be turned into seven man (sorry, person) tents are there in abundance, they do not necessarily make for suitable workshop or break out rooms. Country house eccentricity, whilst good for life-size Cluedo (was it Professor Plum in the drawing room with the digital projector or Research Assistant Scarlett in the library with the flip chart?), doesn’t always readily adapt to one’s conference needs.

The final decision: Linden Hall
Some of the country hotels adapted for conference purposes seem to have lost their individuality. The brochure might show a glorious Adam frontage or Palladian columns, but your event mysteriously turns out to be in a windowless, purpose-built block with polystyrene roof tiles, refreshment points (read rubbish coffee machines) or in a wing that separates you from other patrons as if you were somehow infectious.

Never mind, these monstrosities shouldered aside, we have a lovely venue which oozes individuality and charm. Now to envision our use of the space… Yes - the lounge makes a good plenary room, until you realise the public are going to troop through to the dining room. Yes – the library makes a good workshop, until you realise that it only has one socket. Yes – the so-and-so suite would be good until you realise that it’s the wrong shape or size, or might be cold, or doesn’t have enough clear wall space, or is miles away from the other workshop rooms. Debates break out like, “Well, if we use room A for B and space D for C, then we could use room E for G and that will still leave the informal seating area F untouched”, only for someone else to undermine everything you’ve said.

In the end if we’re going to invest properly in the Sandpit style of training, it is worth the effort to get things as right as possible, even if that involves some of us sinking, once again, into the period sofas, or forcing ourselves into yet another lunch in the conservatory. Get the venue right - then the creative juices will flow. The incisive ideas for responding to real problems out there in public health will come, and, everyone will be guaranteed a fun experience that truly beats your average university seminar room and is memorable for years to come!

Ahh… I think it’s time for afternoon tea. Earl Grey, Professor?

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