A Shaftesbury hotel is launching a regular programme of evening talks featuring special guests who are at the top of their game. The autumn ticket-only events feature a million-selling author, a female adventurer and a writer who has been compared to Thomas Hardy.
Alfred’s Keri Jones went to find out more.
Grosvenor Arms Manager Kirsty Schmidt and her colleague Fiona Morrison, who looks after the hotel’s marketing, met me upstairs in the impressive, high ceiling Assembly Room. Both women are excited and, it is fair to say, slightly nervous about their new initiative. Although people in hospitality must be prepared for anything, choosing and arranging high profile speakers is not regular hotel business.
“We’ve taken inspiration from the community of Shaftesbury,” said Fiona. “We think it’s a very vibrant, cultural community with creative and interesting people. You only have to look at the success of the Shaftesbury Fringe to see that people here are very supportive of the arts. They are interested in ideas and what people have to say. Also, here in the Southwest, we’ve got a wealth of talented journalists, artists, authors and filmmakers who want to share their ideas. We thought we would bring these two together and create some talks, where we’ve got great speakers and, hopefully, a great audience.”
Fiona says the concept has been partly inspired by the huge success of TED talks. These are short, powerful presentations focusing on technology, entertainment and design. The Shaftesbury sessions will be similar to the extent that they’ll cater for people hungry for knowledge and keen for stimulating ideas. “We’re hoping that we can start some conversations. We hope we’re going to appeal to lots of different people and that they can leave with some great ideas,” Fiona said.
This is an experiment and, as this has never been done here before, both women are unsure what to expect. “We thought we’d start with a whole range of different people to see what local people like. There’s a wide range,” Fiona smiled.
Kirsty says the events are not designed as moneymaking activities for the hotel. The ticket price covers the guest speaker fees, expenses, meals and accommodation. She views these events as ‘putting the Grosvenor on the map’ and as a showcase for its impressive space.
“We have this extraordinary room on our first floor that’s not being used. We use it for weddings, wakes, christenings, birthday parties. What we want to do is provide something for the community,” said Kirsty. “For us, this isn’t a financial thing. We want people to come in and find something different to do of an evening. If they get their foot through the door, they may come back again.”
“We don’t mind if people do not drink or eat,” she added. “That’s not why we’re doing it. We want to see how many people we can get for the Assembly Room events. We have a capacity of up to sixty people. We’ve got a figure in mind of how many people we would like for the first talk but it’s all trial and error. We’re trying something completely new and rather different for a hotel.”
She hopes that some of the names will entice people over to Shaftesbury from surrounding areas and that, if they like what they see, they will be back. “By doing things like this, it will go further than Shaftesbury and will draw more people in for the tourism,” Kirsty said.
The hotel team hopes that the first four sessions will prove so popular the talks can become a regular fixture. “We really hope it’s going to be an ongoing event. After our autumn talk, we’ll have a break for Christmas. But then, hopefully in January, we will roll out the winter talks and spring talks,” said Fiona.
Kirsty welcomes speaker suggestions. “We want to hear from anyone locally that has any ideas. Please do get in touch,” she said.
At 7pm on Thursday 3rd October million-selling thriller and action novel writer Mark Dawson will share his expert knowledge. The author has earned an income of hundreds of thousands of pounds each year through self-publishing his work. It’s a must-attend event for anyone who believes they have an idea for a book.
At 7pm on Thursday 17th October, the author of the West Country Trilogy, Tim Pears, talks about his writing. He has been described as a modern-day Thomas Hardy.
The third talk, at 7pm on Thursday 7th November, is for lovers of the outdoors and adventure. Runner, skydiver, bungee jumper, climber, cyclist, world traveller and former banker, Sarah Williams, is now presenter of the weekly award-winning Tough Girl podcast.
The final 2019 talk takes place at 7pm on Thursday 21st November. Storyteller Jane Flood shares tales of the Arthurian legend and highlights its Dorset connections.
The events are ticket only and they are priced at £10. To book, visit GrosvenorArms.co.uk/autumn-talks.