The Harrogate International Centre of today, with its modern event spaces and iconic auditorium, is the result of more than a century of evolution.
The history of events on the site begins back in1903 when trade exhibitions took place in the grand surroundings of the Royal Hall theatre and were scheduled around the tea dances and variety hall shows which were the venue’s staple.
It wasn’t until the thirties that Harrogate really started to gain its reputation as the place to hold business events and by 1937 the town was holding 30 events a year.
Following the Second World War the events industry in Harrogate continued to grow, now with the backing of the council, so that by 1953 almost 150 conferences were being held each year.
In 1959 we added the first of our purpose-built event halls and by 1961 we were hosting 170 annual conferences and welcoming 44,000 people to the region.
Further halls were added in 1966 and 1971 and it was shortly after these expansions that an independent study in to Harrogate’s business tourism industry recommended the building of a major conference centre in the town.
The report became the first step in the creation of our 2000-seat main auditorium which opened in 1982 with the hosting of the Eurovision Song contest, which you can watch here.
Throughout the eighties and nineties HIC continued to grow and establish more and more exhibitions, however it was becoming increasingly clear that our oldest and best-loved asset was in need of some attention.
Saving the past – building the future
The Royal Hall, at 100–years-old, was beginning to show its age and was in urgent need of repairs. An extensive structural survey revealed the extent to which the fabric of the building had suffered over the years and the future of the theatre, for while, was in serious doubt. Determined that the theatre had to be saved for the people of Harrogate, a multi-million pound fundraising campaign was launched by the newly-formed Royal Hall Restoration Trust.
The hard work of the trust attracted funding from the National Lottery, Harrogate Borough Council and a number of wealthy backers. The campaign went on to raise more than £10million and eventually saw the theatre returned to its Edwardian splendour in an opening ceremony conducted by HRH the Prince of Wales, in January 2008.
With the Royal Hall providing a second venue for large conferences, banquets and live entertainment, HIC once again turned to expanding its exhibition space and work began on the building of Halls G and H.
These large, modern, eco-friendly halls were opened in 2011, and brought a substantial increase to the overall floor space available for major events here at HIC.
Our latest asset came in 2014 when we opened an on-site 107-bedroom Premier Inn, which along with the existing Holiday Inn, brought the number of bedrooms with direct access to HIC Yorkshire, up to 320.
Today, as one of the country’s leading multi-use venues, we host major conferences, exhibitions and live acts year-round, helping to put more than £60million annually into the local economy.
In the year 2013/14 HIC had 180,409 conference and exhibition visitors and a further 49,262 people who come for entertainment events; a total of almost 230,000 people coming to Harrogate.