Walking up the steep yet never imposing road to Alexandra Palace, you get a sense of the great strengths and challenges for this historic venue.
For those without a car, it is served by a bus route only. Indeed Haringey Council gives it a Public Transport Accessibility Level of 2 (6 is highest).
But when you reach the venue, you cannot fail to be impressed by its history. The building is 140 years old, and the park 150, triggering a series of celebratory events this summer.
However in many ways, it looks its age, perhaps a symptom of the wish to preserve this Grade II-statutory listed building.
Under these conditions, you would expect the venue to be very much bound by the restrictions of its existence. But the opposite is the case. Even to the casual observer, Ally Pally has taken a clear upward curve in expanding its events output. Freed perhaps from the council red tape placed upon it by the landlord, the Alexandra Palace and Park Trust, the venue has taken a bold step with its exhibition and event programme. All money from events goes back into the building, with the aim of making the venue financially independent.
It already hosts the PDC World Darts Championship and the Masters snooker tournament and has ramped up its music output, hosting a concert by Suede in March, with Madness scheduled for later in the year. During the 2012 Olympics, it served as Heineken House, the home for the Dutch Olympic team, another considerable coup.
This year, five new shows will come to Alexandra Palace. These include Mums Show Live on 16-19 May and the Tattoo Show on 25-26 May.
The Edible Garden Show is also putting down new roots at the venue. It will be staged at Alexandra Palace from 28 to 30 March 2014. The show is expanding to 6,500sqm, from 4,000sqm at Stoneleigh Park.
“The Edible Garden Show was looking to move to London,” said head of client services Lucy Fenner.
“The organisers were looking for a venue with indoor and outdoor space and we were one of the few venues to offer that.”
Summer In The City is another new show coming to the venue. Sponsored by YouTube, the show on 17 and 18 August is billed as the UK’s largest celebration of online video. The show was held at The Brewery in 2012.
“Following a hugely successful year at Alexandra Palace, delivering leading exhibitions such as the Knitting and Stitching show and the London Festival of Railway Modelling, I am thrilled to announce that already this year we have secured five new exhibitions to our existing portfolio,” said Alexandra Palace commercial director Emma Dagnes. “2013/2014 is going be an extremely exciting time for us and our accomplishments are true testimonies of the hard work put in by our team.”
According to Alexandra Palace marketing manager Charlotte Johnson, Ally Pally’s unusual set-up brings its own rewards. “We are not a purpose-built venue,” she said. “It challenges us to be creative.”
Ally Pally has also made infrastructure investments to help show organisers. “We are looking to keep more kit onsite,” said head of events Simon Fell. “We have our own shell scheme, staging, sound and kit. We also own all trestle tables, pedestrian barriers and crowd barriers.”
In April, Alexandra Palace secured a Wi-Fi provider across 10,873sqm of event space. Wireless network provider Xirrus Wireless Arrays will provide the service. Prior to summer 2012, there was no permanent wireless network infrastructure in place with Wi-Fi only provided on a case-by-case installation.
But the redevelopment plans don’t stop there. The venue is set to find out in May if it has been successful in receiving £16.8m of Heritage Lottery Funding for its bid to restore the Victorian Theatre, ex-BBC Studios and East Court to become a major entrance and focal point for the building. Architects Farrell Associates have worked on the plans.
The venue has also appointed property consultant Knight Frank to investigate commercial development of the space currently used as the Panorama Room to be a 150-room bedroom hotel and function space. The plan is to retain public access to the Palm Court and ground floor areas of the hotel, with a café and bar on the ground floor and a restaurant in the currently derelict adjacent tower.
Alexandra Palace held a public consultation on the regeneration plans during May/June 2012 and had an 87 per cent approval rate from more than 2,000 responses.
In a final nod to improving the visitor experience at the venue, Mash Media has teamed up with Alexandra Palace to provide secret reports on its portfolio of events. So far it has targeted 13 events across its programme this year.
The secret shoppers will look at a range of standards, including transport to the venue, facilities, toilets, catering and helpfulness of staff. Mash’s findings will be presented to the venue’s entire team, its directors and potentially clients.
Later in the year, Alexandra Palace will publically present its findings on trends uncovered by the research and resulting actions made by the venue.
“This is not a box-ticking exercise,” said Johnson. “It’s all about attention to detail.”
For a venue that has a luxurious past, and a promising future, it is very much a case of...watch this space.
This was first published in the May edition of EN. Any comments? Email email@example.com