GM Business Connect Magazine recently caught up with Manchester Central’s chief executive Shaun Hinds. In one of our first ‘Inspired Greater Manchester’ podcast and video interviews, we asked Shaun to give an insight into one of the UK’s premium event spaces:
Shaun, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
“I’m the Chief Executive here at Manchester Central. My role covers many things. We are a big, diverse venue in the heart of Manchester. My job crosses activities – from operational to ambassadorial where I represent Manchester and try to win events, exhibitions and meetings to come to Manchester and to our venue. It’s such a great facility and it is absolutely the best job I’ve ever had.”
How did you get to your position?
“An old school job advert! I applied, wrote, submitted my CV and so on. I hadn’t come from an events background, but I had complementary experience and a clear vision about what we should be doing in Manchester and in the facility. I’m two and half years into it now and it is fantastic. The owners were keen to listen to my ideas on taking something as well established as Manchester Central, and as imposing as we are, how to adapt the venue into a modern environment. Because I wasn’t grounded in a venues background, I had a ‘sideways’ looking perspective – that was appealing. One of the things I have done is bring out the personality of the venue and the people, showing how fun and friendly we actually are.”
What is your day-to-day role at Manchester Central?
“No day is the same. One of the great appealing aspects of this job is that we are defined by what’s going on in the facility – one week it could be a medical conference, another could be an economic conference and then a public exhibition, comic convention or a large-scale celebration. Every event is different. Each client is looking for a particular experience and theme and what I tell my team is that every event you run (even if it’s a returning event) it must always be the best it has ever been – because the nature of events is that you’re always moving forward. We are all about progression, the future, optimism. It’s our job to ensure that whatever we are doing here is the best experience for our client.”
How many staff are you responsible for?
“We are quite a fluid team. Our core operating team is around 120 people but that can grow up to 500-600 for large events, so we rely heavily on the workforce of Manchester to come in and support our work. We employ many Mancunians; it’s important that we directly support the local economy.”
Tell me about the history of Manchester Central?
“It was built as a railway terminal – initially the main connection point between Manchester and London (and everywhere else in the UK). This was at a time when railways were in the hands of industrial entrepreneurs and Manchester was home to many industrialists. It took 6 hours 38 minutes to get to London 140 years ago when it opened. It operated as a station until 1969 and then in the early 70s it was converted into a car park. The venue deteriorated until it was acquired and redeveloped by the combined Greater Manchester authorities who developed it into an exhibition centre, opening in the 80s as the G-Mex, before being developed further in 2007 to become Manchester Central. The venue is a very different space now and the marketplace has changed, being ‘Manchester Central’ exemplifies our location at the centre of the city and that Manchester is at the heart of what is going on.”
Tell us about the type of events you have hosted – and any specific events you would like to host?
“We have 29 individual spaces in here depending on how we divide or mark it. This helps us attract many different types of events with flexible capacities. We have done well over the years hosting many high profile events – sporting, political, economic events. What I look for now are high profile emerging global events, for example the Mobile World Congress (currently taking place in Barcelona), the Consumer Electronics Show (occurring in Las Vegas), the Davos Economic Forum, the Climate Change Forum and well-established events like the G7 and G8 summits. I think Manchester deserves to be hosting globally renowned events like these – and this facility can do that. We continue to work with organisations aiming to bring globally known events such as these to the venue. As a city, Manchester has enough going on in terms of its connectivity and capability to be staging world class events and if such events are indeed coming to our city, then, they are coming to Manchester Central!
“We have a great collaborative spirit in Manchester (which sets us apart from other cities). The Mayor, the City Council, the Combined Authority, Marketing Manchester, MIDAS, local economic investment groups and so on, they all play a part in championing Manchester for world class events. We are also small enough to collaborate well. When dealing with a global prospect, we all come together and represent a single unified proposition to those organisers.”
Does Manchester need any more spaces to be built?
“As a city we have bags of ambition. What is important is to maintain a coordinated approach. It would be foolish for different spaces to be competing with one another and undermining the unified, singular approach. We welcome all the different event spaces that already exist and work with those parties as sometimes we do need more than one facility to host the biggest events, for example the Commonwealth Games. In Manchester, we have special sporting and music arenas. What we do have with Manchester Central is a unique proposition in terms of its size, location and capability. We’re specifically situated in the very heart of the city to offer unparalleled facilities and connectivity.”
What’s the capacity that you can hold in Central Hall?
“10,000 people standing for a traditional concert. If it’s an exhibition, with people coming and going, we can see up to 20,000 people a day. If it’s dinner or lunch, then up to 3,600 (the largest in Manchester by far). It’s incredible to see this many people all being served fine dining like this. The logistics are incredible – and we are experts at it.”
How much of your activity is corporate?
“Corporate or B2B activity accounts for approximately 80% of what we do, but increasingly we are doing more banqueting, entertainment and parties. Recently we hosted ‘Bongo’s Bingo XL Manchester’ where we have 3,500 people playing bingo in a rave environment. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen – it’s tremendous!”
If you could change anything about the complex what would it be?
“I’m grateful for what we have here. However, one of the limitations is space – seems incongruous, I know! If I could add more floorspace to the footprint that’d be great. The main hall is 10,000 square metres and overall we have 28,000 square metres to sell. The challenge is to find ways to grow and host simultaneous events. We have multiple access points that allows us to have different events on at the same time, with different audiences who never cross over, and there have been many times we’ve been completely at capacity.”
What’s planned for the venue in the future?
“We have a new political-economic environment based around Brexit at the moment and what occurs in October remains to be seen. I think the whole situation presents a positive opportunity for Manchester because of our airport, rail and road connectivity, meaning we can compete as an International city to host International events. Whilst Brexit presents one or two problems for us, I think actually the opportunity outweighs the negative. Also, with Manchester having declared its ambition to be a world class city, we as a venue have a role in that ambition. I’m excited to see what types of events that we could attract raising the profile of our city. Our football teams too, are already global brands, meaning people already know about Manchester, and it’s our job to build on that.”
We talk about collaboration, who are you collaborating with or would like to, and why?
“One of the things we are doing is to ‘reintroduce’ ourselves into the city. For so long, although everyone knows about Manchester Central, people drive past, pass it on the tram, walk alongside it, and they kind of take it for granted. ‘It’s there, but what is going on inside?’ We want to reintegrate it with the Manchester business community, the residents and visitor communities, so that people can interact with it. There are a number of businesses and individuals who don’t yet appreciate what they could do with Manchester Central. If you are an entrepreneur, research scientist or academic, and looking to grow your business or research, events such as conferences and exhibitions can be the ideal answer.
“We can manage events from 10 – 10,000 people. So, whether it’s a small management meeting, a product showcase, a supplier engagement event, a new product launch and so on, we can provide an opportunity. We want to reinforce the availability for all sizes and scales – we want to be at the heart of not just the Greater Manchester business community but the global business community. We recently had an ‘Open House Event’ to invite businesses and members of the public to come in and see the space, learn the history, take a tour and engage. We want people to experience the facility for themselves. Everyone knows the main hall and the arch (which is an iconic, highly photographed landmark for Manchester) but few know what’s going on inside or appreciate the variety and versatility of it all. 500,000 people visit the venue each year, with over 200 events taking place. The wider economic impact for the city is £150 million pounds a year. For every pound that is spent in the venue, another £5 is spent in Manchester – for example – the taxi companies, the bars and restaurants, shops, hotels and retailers. Furthermore, with business tourism being so critical to Manchester, Marketing Manchester have just launched their business tourism strategy to grow the region’s overall business tourism numbers in the next 5 years. It’s critical to Manchester’s success because those business tourists come back as leisure tourists. They may also make a decision to invest in Manchester – to open an office, begin a research facility and so on. We see ourselves as a stimulant for this legacy effect.”
Why don’t you utilise the space and add permanent bars and restaurants?
“Our clients want a blank canvas as far as the main hall is concerned. Flexibility is crucial. Around our location however is a thriving hospitality sector. Saying that there is the potential for more and more businesses to appear and even to take up space to grow within us too – for example Manchester Gin have set up, as one of our tenants, in one of our railway arches with a distillery, bar, restaurant and warehouse. There are a couple
more arches that are available too as we speak!”