West Dean House: An escape from the 9 to 5
Friday meetings, who'd have them? It is the end of the week and everybody has just about had enough and, if we are being brutally honest, has more than one eye on the weekend, which promises everything from a trip to the beach to an afternoon down the pub.
So when my colleagues and I were informed that we would be having a Friday away day, there was a moment’s nervous pause until we were told that we would be off to West Dean House, home to the internationally-renowned West Dean College of Arts and Conservation Six miles out from Chichester city centre, this magnificent 19th century flint-built mansion sits within a 6,350 acre estate and is the perfect place to forget your worries, making it an ideal place to generate unique ideas.
Both the house and award-winning gardens boast a rich artistic heritage with displays of work by Salvador Dali, a great friend of former owner Edward James who was a Surrealist patron and founder of the college.
In particular Dali’s red lobster telephone, encased in a see-through plastic box, is worth seeking out. Upstairs there is the recognisable pink Mae West Lips Sofa, while other renowned artists also have work on show. With such an inspiring setting it is easy to unwind and forget the stresses and strains of the office.
There are a number of meeting and breakout rooms companies can hire, whether it is for a group of six or a reception for 100 delegates.
These range from the large Old Library, with its opulent Edwardian décor, book lined walls and a splendid early 18th century tapestry panel, to the more intimate Music Room, home to a fascinating mix of traditional and surreal artwork.
We were in the Old Dining Room for our management day, with lunch served in the Oak Hall.
This elegant and impressive dining room boasts a large Victorian table, Dutch floral marquetry chairs and artworks.
If the weather is nice, you can do what we did and venture onto the manicured lawns and conduct part of the meeting within view of the glorious South Downs.
It is not only the surroundings which foster an atmosphere conducive to creativity - the hospitality is pretty special too.
West Dean’s dedicated conference host Jordan was, as always, excellent, ensured we were well looked after in every sense - coffee, South Downs Water and proper homemade biscuits were never that far away.
Head chef Dan Frowen and his team really did put on the most impressive of spreads with a menu consisting of:
Roasted vegetable and mozzarella salad with a pesto sauce, fennel, cranberry & orange salad, chicken liver pate with a three seed cracker and ale chutney, vegetable samosas & onion bhajis with a mango chutney, cheese and pickle quiche, smoked salmon and prawns platter, chorizo and salami, tuna steaks with a chilli dust and spinach and cream sauce, caramel filled eclairs with a Biscoffi crumb, meringues topped with whipped cream and strawberries, quinoa salad and freshly made sourdough
They make a point having a “high level of understanding of allergens” and cater for all dietary preference, putting delegates at ease.
Emma O’Donnell, who looks after bookings for conferences at West Dean, said: “Most valued is our flexibility and ethos of creating bespoke events which means clients get something unique that works for them, whether as a day conference or private dining event.”
The college is a creative environment and this extends to its conferences and private dining. They are seeing interest in more adventurous dining and the surreal inspired menus spark a lot of interest. The more inventive menus have included: ‘Tide for tea’ – into a bowl with a shell of frozen chicken consommé sat on top of sea vegetables, waiting staff poured from a teapot to melt the shell and form a hot consommé, and a palate of lemon tart with colourful accompaniments served on an artist’s palette complete with an edible brush.
West Dean’s team is focused on delivering healthy options to its guests – fresh, quality produce and this extends to grazing stations during conferences.
The food is locally sourced where possible, and the catering team is now creating more menus with West Dean sourced game.
West Dean offer clients range of activities that include house tours, garden tours, ukelele lessons, archery, painting and drawing, and other hands on activities.
Meetings and team building have never been so fun - even on a Friday.
For further information and availability, contact the dedicated conference and events team on 01243 818258 or email [email protected] More information on venue facilities at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation: www.westdeanvenues.org.uk/venue