20-Oct-14by Annie Byrne
Not many exhibition venues will take you on a tour of the venue, which ends with you being driven at 100mph around a track with the driver’s hands off the wheel.
That’s the kind of experience va-va-voom visitors can sample at Bedfordshire venue Millbrook.
Originally opened by car giant General Motors as a prototype design and test centre in 1970, the venue has four exhibition halls Concept One, Two and the smaller Pod and Cubo across a sprawling 700 acre site.
Concept One has a capacity of 1,348sqm, and when joined together with its adjoining hall can accommodate 1,200 people. Pod holds up to 80 people and Cubo 30 people.
Millbrook Venues was one of the first UK venues to offer free Wi-Fi and currently has 150Mb of bandwidth available across the four venues.
The venue was sold to private equity group Rutland Partners at the end of 2013.
Need for Speed
Though not open to the public, its motoring heritage naturally attracts shows geared to that sector, but with that extra attraction of high-speed rides over tracks and off-road terrain. Aston Martin also has an office onsite.
The site is in use for 200 days a year and hosts around 70 or 80 events. Approximately 60 per cent of the venue’s events are automotive based.
“We are not precious about what an organiser can’t do here,” says Millbrook head of events Kevin Leaver (pictured). “Sometimes we’re an exhibition venue, sometimes we become a showground.
“We get asked to do all sorts of things. ‘Oh, so you want a zipwire across Concept Two? Or a waterfall?’ Sure no problem.”
While EN was there, the venue was hosting The Low Carbon Vehicle Event (LCV) 2014, run by The Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon Vehicle Technology (CENEX).
The exhibition featured more than 150 exhibitors and around 2,000 visitors who naturally had the opportunity to test some of the vehicles around the venue’s tracks.
“For us, it’s a perfect event,” says Leaver. “Every appeal of Millbrook is here.”
The exhibition venues have a conceptual feel. Though they are “halls’ as such, the experiential element is never too far away. Those this can pose its own challenges.
“Our clients are almost exclusively agencies, because of the nature of our events,” says Leaver.
“This gives agencies the opportunity to create something that they couldn’t do elsewhere. But it does make our marketing difficult sometimes because we are not selling to the end user but to the influencer.”
Millbrook is also offering businesses the opportunity to be part of its new Technology Park.
The venue has full planning consent for the development of three new buildings totalling 6,000sqm.
It has also submitted outline plans for the development of a further 24,900sqm across the site, all of which would be flexible developments and can be designed and built to suit tenants’ requirements.
Millbrook CEO Alex Burns says: “Millbrook Technology Park will enable start-ups, research and development centres and like-minded businesses to take advantage of the excellent facilities, services and opportunities available at one of Europe’s leading test and engineering solution providers, enabling them to build relationships and drive their businesses forward.”
The Silver Screen
Some top films and TV shows have also been filmed at the venue. The breathtaking multiple flip car crash in Bond movie Casino Royale was filmed here, and this year’s Tom Cruise blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow. Top BBC soap Eastenders has also been filmed there.
“It’s easy for film companies to come here as there is no public access,” says Leaver, who also said “a top British film coming out in 2015” was filmed there.
After the venue tour EN was taken for a high-speed tour round the various tracks, with some courses specficially designed to test vehicles round hills and tight bends.
The test track sloped in such a way that the driver could take his hands off the wheel at 100mph and the natural curvature of the track would keep the car steadily driving in the lane.
Prising our fingernails from the dashboard, EN gingerly stepped out of the car and headed back to the office, with Leaver’s words ringing in our ears.
“It’s nice being quirky, and it’s nice not being a box.”
This article was first published in the October issue of EN. Any comments? Email Annie Byrne