Venues that aren’t venues

By Rebecca Bourne

Although no two events are ever truly the same, some event spaces have a quite predictable, ‘seen-it-all-before’ feel about them. Choosing such an event space can quickly trigger preconceptions in invited guests about how the venue and event styling will look and feel – greatly reducing the ‘wow’ factor.

A client recently asked us to find a venue in or close to the Melbourne CBD that few of their guests, if any, would have ever visited. This brief challenged us to be especially creative with our venue selection.

Melbourne certainly has no shortage of potential event spaces for hire – from boutique cafés and bars, to hotel ballrooms, galleries, and exhibition halls. While each is unique, we felt that to really do justice to the brief, we had to research spaces that are not traditionally regarded as event venues.

We started exploring large warehouses, bridges, gardens, the old abandoned buildings, shops, showrooms, and disused factories…  hidden gems that can begin as a blank canvas and be transformed into something extraordinary.

We have now found a location that ticks all the boxes – a large, underutilised gem, closely linked to our client’s heritage, on the edge of the CBD, which we can theme to create a wonderfully relevant environment and experience. Furniture, AV and catering will be brought in to ensure guests enjoy a wonderful evening in an environment that is exciting and unexpected.

Choose wisely

While a unique and unexpected space will typically come with an inherent ‘wow’ factor, there are some things to consider and work through when selecting a ‘non-venue venue’ for your next event. These include:

  • Weather: Is the space under cover, and what contingency is there for inclement weather?
  • Heating/cooling: Guest comfort is key to any event, so check whether the space has some form of air conditioning, or whether you’ll need to bring it in (consider any associated costs)
  • Power: Is there power connected to the site? Will it be sufficient to run all your lighting and AV, and if not, what are the costs and logistics of bringing in power (e.g. via large generators)
  • Toilets: Does the site have toilets and wash-room facilities? If so, are they sufficient to cater for all your guests, and if not, you might need to consider hiring portable facilities, or look for another site.
  • Environment: Is the floor level? Is the space clean? Have the birds been conducting their business inside? Once again consider the comfort and safety of your guests, and if the space is a little on the, err, rustic side, take into account the time and costs associated with a clean up or continue your search.
  • Set-up: Starting with a ‘blank canvas’ can be a dream for an event designer, but the time and equipment required can be challenging. Also, take into account how long it takes to fit out an empty space – and allow for this in your pre-event schedule and budget.
  • Permits or licenses: Most traditional event venues already have everything in place for it to be legally compliant in terms of serving alcohol, health and safety, noise, security and so on. Empty, untraditional venues typically don’t, so be sure to factor these into your budget, planning and schedule.
  • Cost: Site hire is just one thing to consider. Also take into account the expense of choosing a site that has few or no existing event-related assets, and requires you to bring everything in from third-party suppliers.
  • The curious public: Will your conversion of a space into an event venue attract unwanted attention, complaints or drop-ins from neighbours or passers-by, and if so, what do you need to put in place to protect the amenity of the neighbourhood and ensure the security of guests?
  • The list goes on!

While there’s a lot to consider, we love these blue-sky client briefs. That’s because, with the right creative insight, and a production team willing to push the boundaries, almost anything is possible – and the outcomes can be truly surprising and spectacular!

Have you been to an event in a venue that isn’t really a venue? What was your experience? We’d love to hear your story! 

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