Arena Seating is a global supplier of temporary and permanent seating from the 2012 London Olympics to the first F1 Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia
Dan Cooper interviews Arena Seating managing director Terry Smith about the company's 50 years of success.
Arena Seating all started with an idea for a table tennis match between England and the USA in the old Corn Exchange in Newbury in 1967.
Fast forward five decades and now Membury’s Arena Seating has evolved into a truly global company, supplying both temporary and permanent seating for some of the world’s biggest events.
These include, most recently, the Olympics in Tokyo and the inaugural F1 Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia.
It has also provided seating for the Wimbledon tennis championships as well as local events including the Royal County of Berkshire Show and outdoor concerts at Englefield House.
The company was founded by husband-and-wife Ron and Grace Smith under the original name of Arena Promotional Facilities Ltd in 1971 and has grown rapidly ever since.
The couple were born and raised in the Newbury area and before starting the business Mr Smith worked as a draughtsman engineer at Plenty’s, a well-established Newbury company.
Sadly, the pair have since both passed away and now it is up to their son Terry Smith and his sister, Jackie Godwin, to carry on their legacy.
Mr Smith has been part of the business since he was a teenager and has worked his way up from site crew to site manager, operations manager and operations director before becoming MD in 2018.
Jackie, meanwhile, has been the company’s finance manager for 40 years.
Speaking to Newbury Business Today, he said: “It’s quite emotional really.
“Mum and dad created this all those years ago and now I’m running their business. It really feels like I’m carrying on my parents’ legacy.”
Arena Seating had operated as a family-run business for 24 years up until the mid-90s, when it was brought out.
Following a period of continued growth, the company floated on the AMES market four years ago and is now part of the Arena Group.
It no longer just provides temporary and permanent seating – it also installs marques, and ice-skating rinks as well other event services all over the UK and overseas too.
These often include sporting events, outdoor concerts and various other events, meaning there is a constant demand for their services.
The company was originally based in the old Newbury Greenacres Squash Club and then relocated to what used to be a riding school behind Tesco in Pinchington Lane.
It then moved to different sites in Bone Lane and Hambridge Lane in Newbury for many years before relocating to Hermitage and then in 2000 to Membury, where it is based now.
“We started out in Newbury, it’s where mum and dad grew up and it’s where I grew up,” said Mr Smith.
“We also have a lot of loyal and dedicated staff who still live there so we have always seen ourselves as a Newbury company, even though we aren’t based there anymore.”
Speaking about how the company was started, Mr Smith said: “My father was heavily involved in local sport, in particular table tennis, and used to play regularly.
“Back in the late 60s and early 70s Newbury had really become a hotbed for table tennis and my father was asked to put on an exhibition match between England and the USA in the old Corn Exchange.
“Luckily he had some good contacts at the old American airbase and had this ingenious idea of getting them to persuade the American football team to use their temporary seating.
“He used that to give the audience a better view of the action and it turned out to be a massive success.
“He thought to himself, there’s a real demand for this and decided to design and manufacture some temporary seating soon after and literally grew the business from there.
“Now, 50 years on we are covering some of the biggest events in the world. It’s just incredible how its grown really. From that one idea back in the 60s to a truly worldwide business.”
Mr Smith says the work he’s most proud of is the London 2012 Olympics, when the company provided the venue for the beach volleyball in Horseguards Parade.
“We delivered the whole venue for the Olympic Committee, including the marquee structure and seating for the pitches,” he said.
“We managed to build everything in 33 days, which was quite an achievement. We’ve been at other Olympics, but because it was in London, our home Olympics, it just made it that little bit more special.
“It was an amazing thing to be involved in and probably to this day the biggest challenge we have ever undertaken.
“That for me is probably the highlight. We even got to meet the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, as we were practically building seats in his back garden.
"It was such a proud moment watching the Games on TV and thinking ‘those are our seats’.
"I do it all the time. We’ll be watching something, and I’ll turn to the wife and kids and say ‘that’s us, we did that’.
"I never get bored of it.”