Ask the Expert: Transforming a conference venue into a hospital

Emma Broadhurst

Emma Broadhurst

Business Development Officer

For centuries, Leeds has played a huge role in supporting the field of medicine. Whether it’s the invention of the modern clinical thermometer, the discovery of DNA structure or even the UK’s very first hand transplant, there is no question that Leeds and its residents have been instrumental in the field of medicine. 

And right now during the global pandemic of COVID-19, the University has stepped up to tackle the crisis by marshalling world-leading expertise and equipment, as well as influential networks in the collaborative fight against the virus.  

Just down the road in Harrogate it is no different. Harrogate Convention Centre, which offers world-leading facilities for events, recently transformed itself into a Nightingale Hospital for Yorkshire and The Humber.  

We spoke with the Director of Harrogate Convention Centre, Paula Lorimer, on how they achieved this incredible feat and what it means for the future of venues. 

Conference chairs

What changes have you had to make in such a short space of time to transform Harrogate Convention Centre into Nightingale Hospital for Yorkshire and The Humber, and what impact has this had?

Everyone at Harrogate Convention Centre and Harrogate Borough Council worked seamlessly together to play our part in facilitating the building of the NHS Nightingale Yorkshire and Humberside.

Our role was to support and enable the NHS, Army, and contractors to find the most suitable way of adapting our current footprint to produce a fit for purpose hospital. Although many aspects of the work we carried out were similar to those we deliver in every event we build at the venue, there were a few unique elements that had to be delivered. Our teams embedded themselves within the NHS teams and we worked closely together to make some alterations to the building that enabled them to install oxygen pipes, which ran the entire length of the building, and we also increased the water capacity at the venue to sustain a working hospital environment. I think the biggest visible change though was the two enormous gas cylinders erected outside of the Royal Hall – our beautiful Grade 2 listed theatre. These images made it into the national press and were a sobering reminder of the gravity of the epidemic facing our country.

The experience for all our team was an emotional one. I think the venue now stands as a beacon; it’s a visible embodiment of how we can stand up and be counted when needed most. That will be a legacy for our venue as it continues to serve Harrogate in the future.

We are very honoured to be of service to the NHS while they fight this terrible COVID19 virus, and we will be look back with pride on the small part we have played in their heroic effort.” – Paula Lorimer, Director HCC.  

We are humbled by the awe-inspiring dedication and work of our friends at Harrogate Convention Centre and the many stakeholders that worked together to make HCC one of the many beacons standing proud across the UK in tackling the crisis.

Tomorrow, in the next ‘Ask the Expert’ blog we are catching up with Conference News to find out how the effects of COVID-19 had an impact on the conferencing media landscape.