Now in it’s 15th year, the UK Light Rail Conference is the premier gathering of light and urban rail professionals in the UK.
Background of event:
This two-day congress normally attracts between 250 and 300 participants, including representatives from all the key transport authorities, operators, financiers, planners, designers and a broad base of the manufacturing and supply chain from both the UK and overseas.
The event features an accompanying exhibition, technical visits and informal networking drinks and dinner events alongside the main schedule which is split into parallel streams focusing on strategic and developmental issues and technical and operational streams.
Under the necessary capacity restrictions, we had a ‘full house’ for 2021 – although we did miss our usual overseas guests due to the pandemic and travel restraints.
Interview with Simon Johnston, UK Light Rail Conference:
Why did you choose NewcastleGateshead as the location for your event?
We always look to a host city or region which is delivering active projects in the field of urban mobility. We were last in the Tyne and Wear region in 2010 as the Metro began its major modernisation programme. Ten years on, with most of the those works complete, and with preparations for a new fleet and further expansion underway, now was a great time to return.
Tour of Metro depot
What attracted you to choose Hilton NewcastleGateshead and By The River Brew Co. as the venues for your event
Hilton NewcastleGateshead and By The River Brew Co. both offered a great mixture of flexibility in adapting to the current pandemic environment, excellent locations and helpful and attentive teams on hand to help us successfully deliver this complex multi-location event under challenging circumstances.
How did NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau support you along the way, and did the support meet your expectations?
The NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau offered us superb support in helping us to source and negotiate with venues when travel and site visits were necessarily restricted during the planning of the event. The team were very helpful with last-minute requests when plans required changes due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
Did the venues meet your expectations and how?
Both venues were great in helping us to navigate the ever-changing landscape of running an event when much of the country was still living under Stage 3 guidelines and there was a lot of uncertainty among suppliers and participants.
Was there anything that made the event particularly memorable?
This was certainly one of our more memorable events, and definitely the most difficult so far in planning and delivery. Although our numbers were necessarily limited, there were so many highlights, but it is best to let the feedback of our guests speak for itself. A small sample of the comments are below:
“This year’s Light Rail Conference, held in the spectacular setting of the River Tyne, was not just a return to normal. It was a move to a degree of cohesiveness that I have not seen before as the light rail industry positions itself as a part of the solution to wider pressing issues in the UK. The conference was a great briefing on equipping us all to go out and articulate the increased relevance of light rail in a post-Covid world.”
“I hugely enjoyed the engagement of being amongst so many like-minded people in a ‘real’ forum rather than watching a strange world on a computer screen. The conference was a remarkable achievement in these challenging times. There were many excellent presentations, the venue could not have been better, and hopefully it brought home to all what a game changer the Tyne and Wear Metro is.”
“I think your team did an excellent job in organising this conference and working with the venue to make sure that it was definitely a memorable ‘first back’ event. Getting the opportunity to meet people from around the industry in a real face-to-face event had so many benefits – from the casual ‘brush by’ with the opportunity just to say ‘hi’ as you went from one part of the event to the next to those much more detailed conversations which are really difficult to have on Zoom or Teams calls.
“The venue layout was well planned and the very high level of compliance with Covid guidance meant that one felt quite safe moving around and interacting with other attendees. I am certainly looking forward to 2022.”
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, especially in business events. Did your event take any measures to be more sustainable?
Absolutely. We always look for ways to reduce the footprint of our events and this year was no exception. We encouraged the use of public transport wherever possible for participants, and likewise the majority of our team traveled to and from the conference by train or Metro.
As far as possible, delegate materials were distributed digitally, reducing the physical materials used. Any surplus materials have either been recycled, repurposed, or donated to worthy causes if they can used by others.
What did you have to do differently to align with Covid-19 safety measures?
Within an ever-shifting environment, a lot of time and effort was spent with our venues and suppliers to manage the in-person contact during the design and planning of the event. The compilation of detailed, and readily-available risk assessments also ensured that all participants were able to feel reassured that their safety and comfort was our number one priority without impacting too much on their enjoyment of the event.