We recently spoke to Shella Palmer, Event Sales Director at Wilderness Reserve, to get an exclusive look behind the scenes at this 5,000 acre private estate.
Tell us a little bit about your venue
Wilderness offers 5,000 acres of classic English countryside situated two hours away from London, in the Suffolk countryside. Offering a unique alternative to the traditional hotel format, Wilderness has a selection of exclusive-use accommodation with the benefits of service when the guest requires it. We offer a selection of traditional buildings lovingly restored and updated to offer laid-back luxury accommodation in an English Arcadia reminiscent of pasture, woods and serpentine lakes created by the great 18th Century landscape architect Capability Brown.
What’s the ideal-sized event for you to host?
The joy of the Wilderness concept is that a party of any size will feel like they have a slice of exclusivity on their own estate. From gatherings of four guests up to parties of over 100, Wilderness will always feel like a private retreat from city life with total flexibility within the houses.
The style and design is certainly amazing! Who designed it and what was the inspiration behind it?
The Houses and Wilderness itself have been restored to their original state and more by the great landscape designer Kim Walkie and the amazing architect Argus Hardy. All houses have been created and designed to be highly authentic, luxurious and unique. Each has its own history, its own style and its own purpose.
What do you love most about being a part of the Wilderness Reserve team?
Wilderness is a really small team of people who are incredibly passionate about offering a truly personal experience. We have a lot of fun working with client briefs and seeing how far we can push beyond expectations. Together we have created some incredible events.
We love that, we at event-venues.com are also a small team, passionate about our industry! What element of the venue do you consider to be the wow factor?
The wow factor is definitively in the parklands. This isn’t a manicured garden but an unfenced territory where the sheep and cows are a few steps away, you enjoy the healthy air while hearing the birds singing, the lake is surrounded by grassy banks, pastures and woods. It really feels like a bubble of authentic countryside, away from the stress of the city.
Any top tips for our readers when it comes to selecting an event venue?
Focus on the feel of the event, be it formal, fun or relaxed and find spaces that are conducive to this. It’s easy to fall in love with a venue and then realise later that all the meeting spaces are too formal or that there isn’t any flexibility to make it what you want. It’s important that the space can be tailored to your event and there is the opportunity to transform the venue and make it your own.
What sets you apart from other London event venues?
Wilderness is a totally different concept to a traditional event venue or a hotel. We’ve taken the benefits of both opportunities but completely re-thought what it is that makes an event space successful. By making sure each property can be hired exclusively in its own right or in combination with other properties we’ve created a feel that your space is your own for the time you’re there. By moving tea and coffee facilities from the bedrooms into a shared kitchen we’ve found that groups organically come together and enjoy the company of their other guests much more easily. Of course, we do our best to make your event easier to organise, smoother to run and you’ll receive tailored advice and recommendations on each and every request made.
What kind of food is available for corporate events?
Of course we’ve done all styles of catering including formal tasting menus and three-course menus with specifically requested ingredients, but where our chefs excel is the more informal menus. Our Fire Feast experience is a four-course menu cooked over a bonfire in the woods, a truly magical take on alfresco dining which is unique to Wilderness. We also see a huge success with our Family Style Suppers, where big, beautiful dishes are laid along the centre of the table for guests to share, discuss and enjoy.
Do you have any exciting developments on the horizon that we can share with our readers?
Our new estate will launch in October. Still part of Wilderness in Suffolk and very much the same concept, this new venture will be called Chapel Barn Estate. It will feature six houses within walking distance of each other.
Chapel Barn: 14 bedrooms, additional beds available in our Grains Siler, indoor pool and hot tub, terrace, games rooms and a tennis court
The Grange: 7 bedrooms, outdoor pool and hot tub, private terrace and sliding glass doors with natural daylight inside the kitchen and living space
The Cider House: 6 bedrooms, outdoor swimming pool, huge glass sliding doors opening on a private terrace
Moat Cottage: 6 bedrooms, access via a footbridge, private terrace, hot tub and a separate master bedroom by the moat
Tennis Pavilion: 2 bedroom family property
The Hovel: 1 bedroom, romantic cottage, hot tub
The Tabernacle: 1 bedroom by the moat, access to a private island featuring a hot tub via a footbridge, bath
Wow we can’t wait for the Chapel Barn Estate to launch. Tell us about one of the most creative events that’s been held at your venue?
We’ve had some wonderful events on the estate and some of the weddings we’ve hosted have been spectacular. My personal favourite though is a much smaller event for 20 guests for a beauty product launch. The menus throughout the stay were tailored to the ingredients in the products, the florals were themed across the different spaces and the overall effect was breathtaking. It certainly helped that the sun shone thoughout the event too.
What would you say are the key elements required to deliver a successful event?
Firstly, I would say you need something fun or memorable. Many of our guest’s travel around the world and often stay in wonderful places. For an event to capture the imagination it needs to offer an authentic and memorable experience. People enjoy themselves most when they forge connections with others so enabling this with unique experiences such as a bonfire or storytelling experience is worthwhile.
Second, is help. You need a team who want your event to be different and successful rather than a cookie cutter version of any other event. We often say that our clients hire Wilderness so they can dream big, and we can deliver it beyond those dreams. We are at the client’s disposal and ready for any activity you would like to organise. We can help with anything: lighting, sound, catering, set-up, organising activities, etc.
What would be the perfect event for the Wilderness Reserve setting?
Any event which focuses on getting guests outside of their usual experiences and connecting with the estate and each other. We love an event which thinks differently about how they engage with people and how they use different spaces.
If Wilderness Reserve were a person, past or present, who would they be?
Capability Brown, the creator of landscapes which span as far as the eye can see with no interruption. Wilderness is all about experiencing the wild English outdoors without hinderance.
What is the Wilderness Reserve mantra/philosophy you live by, or quote that sums you up best?
Don’t accept the mundane. It is always better to do things your own unique way, to take a risk than to simply follow what has been done before.