You have to get the right balance between entertainment and how many times you ask guests to put their hands in their pocket. These were the wise words of Mike Greenacre, managing director of Co-op Corporate Travel and chair of the Co-operative Group’s event steering committee.

The Manchester-based corporation held last month a masked Venetian ball, the final fundraiser to signal the end of a calendar of events in which the company raised money for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) – the Co-op’s nominated charity of 2009. Over 1,000 guests gathered at Manchester Central to be greeted on the red carpet by fire jugglers, stilt walkers and fire- eaters before making their way into a drinks reception that paid homage to a Venice of old. Palazzo-esque theming saw a stonework bar, a canal, Venetian bridges, mandolin artists, giant Venetian masks, fountains with running water

and a gondola, set the scene that had Co-op employees and suppliers enjoy an evening of fine food, and entertainment from Salford-born Russell Watson. Three Venetian bridges carried guests from

the drinks reception to the banquet hall, once a fan fare had been played and the banquet hall revealed.

Platinum preparation

Raising money for RNID, guests had the option to purchase a table package for 10 people, which started at £3,000 for bronze and peaked at £10,000 for a platinum table. In total, 106 table packages were purchased – including six platinum – yet each enjoyed the same carefully-selected menu prepared by Kudos Hospitality, Manchester Central’s sole caterer. Simon Firth, head chef of Kudos Hospitality at Manchester Central, described the menu: a leek and Gruyere cheese tart, fillet of beef with mushroom wellington and horseradish scalloped potatoes and an assiette of chocolate puddings – white chocolate panacotta, dark chocolate and Grand Marnier truffle and jaffa cake mousse. A Lancashire cheese board and coffee and mints also followed.

Working in close collaboration with the Co-operative’s event steering group and Donna Grayson of TMB Events – the ball’s event managers – Firth and his team began food preparation two days prior

to the ball. The event was confirmed 12 months ago, the menu was approved in April and a menu tasting took place in September. Such organisation allowed Firth to meticulous plan the food operation that saw Co-op provide the beef from one of its responsibly sourced farm suppliers.

Five kitchens, each containing a team of six, prepared the evening’s menu, whilst almost 200 waiting and bar staff made sure guests were well looked after. Stuart Lee, operations manager of Kudos Hospitality oversaw the event alongside John Wright and John Doyle, Kudos’ newly-appointed general manager and operations manager at the Manchester venue.

Charitable action

A charity auction formed part of the evening’s fundraising efforts, and raised £85,000. Russell Watson and Will Mellor performed during courses and a total of £251,000 was raised on the evening.

Said Donna Grayson of TMB Events: “We raised the money from table sales, photo sales, a diamond draw, a competition to win a car and the charity auction and it was a big success. The evening ended at 1pm, with guests staying in local hotels, which were included in the price of the table package.”

Grayson worked alongside Freya Jones and Linsey Knight, also of TMB Events, and sat on the Co-op’s steering group. TMB has previously worked with Co-op, and organised its bi-annual ball for 800 people in 2007 at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena.

Close cause

Co-operative Group chooses to raise funds for one organisation as part of a year-long campaign every other year. In previous years, Co-op has helped the British Heart Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support. In 2010, Co-op will not support a sole charity for 12 months, but will instead hold smaller events, raising funds on a lower scale. Added Greenacre: “The event steering group is a collection of people enthused about helping organise charity events for the good of the community. TMB Events joined the steering group in February. I’d previously worked on two events with the group CEO – Peter Marks – and so I knew that he’d want to celebrate the last 12 months of working with the RNID. “In 2007, the fundraising event was themed on James Bond. For some months, this year’s event was called Project Phantom because of the operatic link, but the name was soon changed when we knew the sole objective of the ball.

“We have a charity of the year, every other year, because it requires so much investment of people’s time, and at the end of the day the steering committee have day jobs too.

“In 2010, as there is no nominated charity, it gives individual divisions within the group a chance to raise money for particular causes close to their hearts, so we will be organising charity events but on a smaller scale.”

A nation in the grip of a recession is a current problem when organising charitable events, continued Greenacre. “The amount of money raised at the auction fell short of our aspirations, but we made up for it elsewhere. At the end of the day, we sold all of the tables, we raised

lots of money and we’re glad that people, who spent a lot of money on a table, had a good night out.”

Russell Watson performed a 45-minute set singing a range of classic opera and modern hits, and guests were also treated to performances from two aerial artists. Pete Marks, the group’s CEO, closed the evening’s antics, performing with his band Last Orders.