How to Plan an Event: Tips from the Barnetts

How to Plan an Event: Tips from the Barnetts

The Launch of our Older People's Peer Action Research Project in September 2018

Planning a successful event is no easy job. If you’ve been tasked with organising your next corporate conference, or you’re simply looking to orchestrate a small reception, you should know that any event requires detailed planning and adequate time management.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak has caused most events to be cancelled or postponed, this isn’t to say normal activity won’t be resumed at one point or another. Therefore, for when that time comes, it’s important to know the key steps of planning a successful event.

At Toynbee Hall, we’ve been mastering the art of event planning and dining hospitality for nearly two centuries. We’ve put together a list of things to consider when organising an event, with some original tips from the Barnett family. 

1. Set a Goal

While defining the purpose of your event seems like the obvious thing to do, it’s pretty easy to drift away from your original goal and not get the desired outcome. Before doing anything else, you should think about what message your event should convey. Once you’ve established a specific objective, then you can start deciding on a format. 

For example, the Barnetts were renowned for hosting ‘Pals’ parties. Their aim was to get people to mingle and network, so they’d structure all their events in different group layers. Based on achieving ‘shared learning’, the Barnetts would then invite people from different communities and classes to encourage them to build relationships.

2. Choose a Location

The location of your event is one of the most important factors in achieving the desired outcome. First of all, you should always check the location personally and ensure that it has good transport links, necessary amenities and positive customer feedback. Your guests are far more likely to enjoy your event if you provide them with the required facilities and fantastic service. Here are some other key aspects to look out for: 


Be sure to inquire about the technology available and check that it matches the requirements of your event. Over a century ago, the residents at Toynbee Hall were considered hosts and were especially favoured by the Barnetts if they had musical instruments or improvised film projectors to entertain the guests.

The continuous technological shift in the last hundred years has set the bar even higher when it comes to creating the right event set-up. Toynbee Hall now provides high-quality AV equipment, large screens and speedy wifi, so you should look for a venue that can deliver the same technical support. 


An Irish proverb says “Laughter is brightest where the food is” and it couldn’t be more true. If your menu is up to scratch, your guests will remember you for it! Remember to include vegetarian and vegan alternatives and check those special dietary requirements can be attended to accordingly. 


Choosing the right location is also the precursor of determining the layout of your event, including how the furniture is arranged and where your guests will be seated. Henrietta Barnett used to draw a table plan using the “round robin” technique, to ensure the conversation was evenly distributed and that everyone was engaged. 

Based on the type of event you’ll be hosting, you too need to make sure that attention is focused on the key speaker and in the right place.

3. Send the Invitations

After setting a clear objective and choosing the right location, you should have a good idea of whom you’ll want to attend your event. There are two key aspects you should prioritise:

Don’t forget to invite your guests early! 

Sending last minute invites might leave you with only a handful of people attending. Depending on the nature of your event, you can post your invites or send out invitation emails. The Barnetts used to send “calling cards” for their events. Luckily, nowadays there is more than one way to invite people and drive action, so you can choose from a variety of mediums. 

Stay on Brand

Invitations are an extension of your brand. You need to ensure that your readers will associate your brand with the event and that your message is consistent across all channels. If you’re hosting a formal event, the idea should be conveyed accurately, regardless of you choosing emails over traditional paper invitations. 

Need Help?

If you’re looking to book a venue for your next event, Toynbee Hall is the right place. With over a century and a half of history, our halls have hosted more receptions than we can count – starting with those held during the times of the Barnett family. 

The Barnetts’ belief in friendship and hospitality was the key to producing successful events. We continue to draw from their own event planning tactics to achieve original events that leave your guests with beautiful memories and do justice to our long lasting legacy.

Whether you’re looking to plan a conference, reception or a small meeting, our expert team will produce your event from scratch. All you need to do is show up! Get in touch with us for more details.

Note: We would like to give special thanks to Dr. Lucinda Matthew-Jones for her time and contribution to this post.


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