Limmud's new venue should make this year the best conference yet, say organisers


Limmud’s switch from a campus to a city hotel is the biggest change in the conference for many years.

But the new venue has not put off the punters. When the event opens in Birmingham on Sunday – after a pre-conference Shabbaton – organisers expect a record attendance of more than 2,600 over the course of five days.

“The site move could have been a real negative for the organisation,” said executive member Jonathan Walters. “But we have ended up with something that should be better than before. We’re really excited.

“But it will still be Limmud. Limmud is not about bricks and mortar, it’s the people who come who make the atmosphere.”

While guests will be housed in as many as six hotels in the Pendigo Lake area, the main programme will be concentrated in one – the Hilton Metropole. “For disabled access, it should be a lot easier,” Mr Walters said. “Since it’s all in one building, you won’t have the 20 minute walk from one session to another you might have had on other sites.

“It will be really buzzy – a lot more people in a smaller area. You will definitely feel in the middle of something big.”

Limmud had in fact been in discussion with the Hilton since 2012. “It wasn’t possible to do it earlier because they have New Year’s Eve events, so if the conference runs over New Year, we couldn’t use them – but that won’t happen for the next 10 years.”

Conference teams arrived on Wednesday to begin setting up. But working out the logistics began well before.

Anthony Bunt, Limmud’s site co-ordinator, is used to big events, having looked after several stadia during the recent World Rugby Cup and having worked before at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“Our biggest challenge is to make sure it has the right feel for Limmud,” he said.

“At Warwick University [where Limmud was for eight years], there was a purpose-built cinema which we don’t have at the Hilton. We have to get a good sound system. There’s no point in putting on a film on a 30-inch TV. If we are going to do, it has to be a good experience.”

And though the Hilton has two pianos, he said, “neither can be moved because of their location so we had to go out and find some to enable presenters to use.”

The Hilton swimming pool– which Limmud-goers will be able to use – presented a different challenge as it is visible in part of the hotel. In case the sight of mixed bathers in swimsuits might upset anyone’s religious sensitivities, it will be discreetly screened off.

While the facilities will be better, Mr Walters said, “we wouldn’t have moved if it had meant a significant increase in price.”

For early bird bookers, the discounted price of £399 per person this year was only a small rise on the £390 charged for 2014. For a family of four, the discount price this year was £1,270.

A bursary pot of £16,000 has helped more than 100 people to attend who otherwise might have been unable to afford it.

“There will be more people per day than ever before,” Mr Walters said. “The number of people who are coming on a one-day basis is lower than last year, which means that more people are staying. We will have 2,300 accommodated – a number which we would not have been able to do at Warwick.

“That we are able to continue to run this event is not an inevitability. Finding a venue for 500 to 1,000 is not difficult. But 2,500 – that’s nearly impossible. This is a step forward which also secures us as an organisation.”

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