Alex Jenkins learns how conducting effective business meetings can sometimes need a change of scenery.
When you are trying to run a training session or a brainstorm day, phones incessantly ringing, emails pinging and taps on the door can really hinder productivity and disrupt focus.
In fact, sometimes you just need to get away from the office, ditch the ‘work clothes’, and immerse yourself in a different environment.
So this is what we did, heading to the spectacular setting of West Dean House – six miles out from Chichester city centre and home to West Dean College.
The magnificent 19th century flint-built mansion sits within a 6,350 acre estate and is a sight to behold.
Both the house and award-winning gardens boast an intriguing artistic heritage.
Lining the walls is work by Salvador Dali, a great friend of previous owner Edward James who was a Surrealist patron and founder of the college.
In particular Dali’s white 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.
It is hard not to feel inspired when surrounded by such history and this is further helped by the excellent staff who made sure our day ran smoothly.
West Dean’s dedicated conference host Jordan was excellent, ensuring we had everything we needed.
This included providing a data projector and screen, flip chart and pens and delegate stationary as well as refreshments throughout the day.
The latter in particular was superb, with hot drinks, fresh fruit and biscuits on arrival and mid morning, an excellent buffet lunch and then afternoon tea in the shape of a sweet bar.
Head chef Dan Frowen and his team did a superb job catering for all dietary requirements.
The menu consisted of asparagus and salmon; mixed pepper quiche; chicken chasseur; aubergine rolls; feta salad; duck breast; pesto pasta – the list goes on.
And dessert was just as excellent with Eton mess, cheesecake, and chocolate brûlée among others.
A short tour by house steward Emma gave us a flavour of what West Dean can offer and helped us appreciate how important this place is in the arts and crafts world.
This is not just in the sense of featuring world-renowned Surrealist artwork, but also working with up-and-coming artists and teaching students how to conserve and preserve historic artwork for future generations.
With this in mind, the arts college has a vibrant and jam-packed schedule, with short courses, degrees and diplomas.
These range from basketmaking, woodwork and gardening, to visual arts, creative writing and conservation management.
Every year West Dean holds an open weekend, which is the only chance for the public to see some of the house and its art/objects without having to attend a course or host an event.
This year it falls on April 30 - May 1 and is certainly worth marking in your diary.
Aside from conferences and meetings, West Dean House also caters for away days, private dinners and weddings.
Plus, with accommodation available, it also offers bed and breakfast throughout the year.
West Dean can tailor packages to suit any requirements and is sure to leave your colleagues and delegates feeling as impressed and inspired as we were on our day away from the office.
Meetings have never been so fun.
For further information and availability, contact the dedicated conference and events team on 01243 818258 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
More information can be found on the website www.westdean.org.uk