Commissioned in 1756 by John, 1st Earl Spencer to become the family’s prestigious London home, Spencer House is London’s finest example of an eighteenth century private palace. Although still owned by the Earl Spencer (currently Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl and brother of Diana Princess of Wales), the lease was purchased in 1986 by the family company of Lord Rothschild and the State Rooms and garden restored to their original appearance. From conception, Spencer House was to be one of London’s most ambitious and lavish mansions; originally designed by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, the State Rooms are the first examples of the highly ornate, neo-classical style that was to sweep the country and are therefore of considerable historic significance.
Spencer House is available to hire as a venue for private and corporate events. The venue’s Events Director Chris Stallworthy and Metro Broadcast’s Kate Hills talk about the challenges and delights of producing beautiful events in one of London’s most sumptuous and historically precious settings.
Attracting a whole range of events from book launches to banquets and from civil weddings to conferences, the State Rooms at Spencer House contain some of London’s finest furnishings, fabrics, paintings and sculpture which need to be handled with extreme care and attention. Events Director Chris Stallworthy is responsible for ensuring the venue is utilised at its best for corporate and private events. In order to ensure the fabric of the building is preserved, Chris appoints only a few, approved production suppliers. Metro Broadcast has been working at Spencer House for almost 15 years and handles almost all of the venue’s audio and visual installations.
Chris said, “We don’t insist that our clients use our approved suppliers however we must ensure that there is a pre-agreed method for every detail of the installation whether it be AV equipment, lighting or flowers. Using our preferred suppliers saves a lot of time and also reduces the risk of damage.”
Kate Hills, Metro Broadcast’s dedicated account manager at Spencer House said, “Our crew understands the capabilities and the limitations of each room. We’ve run some large installations in Spencer House which span multiple rooms; each event has exclusive use of the whole venue therefore sound and visuals often need to be relayed from room to room. If we didn’t know the venue inside out, we’d need to spend a significant amount of time designing each installation.”
Prior to any event, Kate and Chris meet the client to discuss requirements and scope out the installation so that the scheme is approved in advance, expectations are set and there are no surprises on the day.
Loading in for Metro Broadcast usually means carrying equipment into position to reduce wear and tear to the flooring and carpets. Cabling needs to meet Health & Safety requirements and must be tidy. Cameras or plasma screens which need to be supported on stands are strategically placed to ensure there is no risk of damaging paintings, walls or carpets although they must still meet sight-line requirements as well as Health & Safety stipulations. Staging must be carefully supported and designed to work around carpets where possible.
Chris says, “Metro has worked to develop methods for installing combinations of different equipment in each of the rooms and Kate is almost always able to provide the same technicians. When Metro’s crew arrives on site, I know they will need minimal supervision and that the venue is in safe hands.”
RIT Capital Partners, the family business of Lord Rothschild, holds its AGM in Spencer House each year. Unable to predict attendance figures, Chris stages the main event in the largest event space, the Great Room. The main stage needs to accommodate up to 13 people and the room seats 100, theatre style. Plasma screens and sound must be relayed to other rooms to allow additional guests to view the presentations and to vote at the appropriate time. For larger conferences, Metro’s control desk is positioned out of view in an ante-room to create more seating. A camera in the Great Room produces a live relay to the technicians who are then able to manage the audio levels and visual cues from afar. This set up means that a video recording of the event can be easily made available.
Talking about the level of service required of Spencer House’s suppliers, Chris says, “There is only one standard at Spencer House and that is Excellence. Metro Broadcast is our preferred supplier because the company delivers to that standard and the team continually strives to maintain it and make improvements to the audio visual provision.”