Q&A with Lucy Meehan - Business Development Manager at The Natural History Museum

Written by Paul Dec 21 2018

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Q&A with Lucy Meehan - Business Development Manager at The Natural History Museum in Kensington.

Tell us about your role at the venue and how long you’ve been there

I have been at the Natural History Museum for three and a half years. When I started at the museum I headed up the Sales Team, managing the venue diary, team performance and driving sales. Last year I went on maternity leave and this year I returned as Business Development Manager, creating opportunities for growth within the Venue Hire team by building relationships, improving our customer service and finally delivering memorable events for all our clients.

What’s the best thing about working at your venue?

I have always loved the Natural History Museum as an incredible building. It’s one of architectural brilliance and full of the most inspiring specimens and scientific research and knowing our venue hire team’s efforts are important funding from all of that is very self fulfilling. There have been some great events, but the best thing about working here is the fact that our amazing events and filming hires support this building, the maintenance of it, the research its scientists’ undertake and the members of the public of all ages that it engages and inspires.

How did you get into the industry?

My degree was in Music and Management which included a year in industry. In that time I worked at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in their education team that held the majority of their community and outreach work in their venue LSO St Luke’s. This listed building in Old Street is also a unique venue for events and in my graduating year I was offered a role in their sales team. I instantly took an interest in the events industry and enjoyed managing some incredible events that again went to sustaining and developing a great educational programme.

What’s the history of the venue?

An extensive natural history collection of 71,000 items was left to Parliament on the death of global collector Sir Henry Sloane in 1753. This led to the construction of The Museum, which first opened its doors on 18th April 1881. It was, unusually for the time, a free to enter museum with the public attracted by the incredible collection from around the world of extinct and still living species alongside the unique architecture and intricate interior decor. The Diplodocus skeleton cast took pride of place in the museums Hintze Hall and became an iconic sight for millions of visitors.

It was part of the British Museum until 1963, when a separate board of trustees was appointed and it was officially renamed The Natural History Museum in 1992. In 2017 a 25.2m blue whale skeleton replaced Diplodocus in Hintze Hall, serving as a reminder to visitors that humanity has a responsibility to protect the biodiversity of our planet.

Interesting fact about your venue/tell us something we wouldn’t know

I have a very personal ancestral connection with one particular artefact in the museum. In the dinosaur gallery there is a display dedicated to the discovery of a claw named ‘Baryonyx Walkeri’. ‘Walkeri’ referring to its discoverer, was found by my father’s uncle - amateur fossil collector William Walker. This discovery was brought to the Natural History Museum in 1983 and recognising its importance, palaeontologists Dr Alan Charig and Dr Angela Milner then led a three week excavation, uncovering the majority of the fossil skeleton. In 1986 Charig and Milner named a new genus Baryonyx.

The claw has made regular appearances on TV and in other media since its discovery; Baryonyx continues to amaze and remains the subject of ongoing study in the collections area, whilst a full-size replica of the skeleton is on display in the Museum.

I have always been aware of the link, so the Natural History Museum was a very appealing place to visit and eventually, to work in. For my whole family it is very fulfilling that the specimen is linked to our family and continues to educate people around the world.

What’s the coolest/best/most interesting event you’ve worked on, and how did the venue cope with it?

When anyone thinks of the Natural History Museum they think you must have big budgets and big guest numbers to do an event here. However I would say that the coolest and most interesting event I have worked on was in fact an intimate dinner for c.60 people in our Images of Nature Gallery. The client wanted something different, a chance to immerse their guests in a real experience. They also wanted a separate area for drinks before dinner to give their guests a chance to see more of the museum.

The venue was able to offer drinks in the Darwin Centre courtyard where guests could enjoy the summers evening. A circular central bar was surrounded with occasional wooden poseurs and beautiful floral arrangements complete with hung fabric butterflies (tying in with the Darwin Centre content). Following drinks and canapes guests made their way through the Dinosaur Gallery, giving them a private viewing of our most popular content. At the end of this walkthrough they received a short talk about ‘Dinosaur Evolution and Extinction’ from one of the senior researchers at the museum and the museum’s resident dinosaur expert. The guests then made their way to the Images of Nature gallery where a long table had been set down the centre of the room. They were surrounded by Waterhouse architecture and more than 100 images of how scientists and artists view the natural world. Following a beautiful intimate dinner the group were amazed by the after dinner experience. This time a talk with another scientist about museum collections and what happens when you discover a new species. He brought along with him a bottled specimen that had been collected by Darwin himself and allowed the guests the opportunity to handle the specimen, with white gloves of course! Guests left saying it was a once in a lifetime experience and how they would never forget that evening. For me that makes it the best event!

What events work best at the venue?

The beauty of the Natural History Museum is the variety of its spaces and therefore the variety of events it can deliver, so there really isn’t one type that works best. From small intimate dinners for 40 guests in our Earth’s Treasury, to drinks receptions for 1,200 guests in our Hintze Hall. In all of our spaces there are unique specimens, architectural features and experiential content that can be added to any event.

Why do clients choose to host events at your venue?

I think there are many reasons for this. Initially I think clients are attracted to the building itself, to the beauty of the spaces available to hire. Then when they see the spaces they are interested by the Natural History content in each space. I also think a big reason for some clients is what it means to have an event at ‘the Natural History Museum’ in terms of attendance figures and engagement with their guests. Because of the name and iconic reputation they know that guests will be keen to attend and witness an event at such a unique space, increasing their engagement. This is so important for event organisers.

What are your venues top 3 USPs that separate you from other venues?

There are many venues in London that have amazing architectural features or unique specimens or pieces of art but the museum offers all that and more. I would therefore say our 3 USPs are:

Ways to enhance – The museum offers many ways to further enhance any event. Clients can gain access to one of the Museum’s 300+ scientists through choosing an engaging talk or tour based on one of our collections.

Environment – The museum prides itself on having environmentally-friendly practices and sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We also evaluate the environmental performance of our suppliers and contractors.

Experience – The museum has a dedicated team that together have experience working across a number of difference venues and event companies. We have a fantastic understanding of our suppliers and what they can offer our clients and importantly we have the knowledge of our venue, how to use it differently and what works best.

What changes or exciting plans are coming up in 2019 for the venue?

Summer 2019 will see the spectacular Museum of the Moon, by artist Luke Jerram, installed in our Jerwood Gallery.

From Friday 17th May until Sunday 8th September 2019, event organisers will have the exclusive and one-off opportunity to host their events under the incredible moon.

The world renowned art installation, measuring six metres in diameter, features detailed NASA imagery to perfectly recreate the moon’s surface.

Museum of the Moon will take centre stage in the stripped back Jerwood Gallery. The gallery’s gilt and terracotta ceiling panels and stained glass windows, along with the moon artwork, will provide an elegant backdrop for summer events; from weddings and summer parties to dinners and networking events.

On arrival, guests can enjoy a drinks reception in the summer sun in the modern Darwin Centre courtyard, before moving through to the stunning nineteenth-century Waterhouse architecture of the Jerwood Gallery.

This is going to give clients a really unique and exclusive opportunity and we are so excited to add this to our offer.