Martin's Mailbox: It's showtime!

Martin's Mailbox: It's showtime!


You know that Christmas is just around the corner when the Guy Fawkes Night bonfires blaze, the Queen leads the country’s sombre thoughts on Remembrance Sunday and the great and good of the lending world gather for Mortgage Business Expo.


And so it was for two full days last week, but instead of the usual trek to the faded art deco splendour that was Earl’s Court, or to its close rival the Olympia, it was eastwards to London’s resurgent (allegedly) Docklands and the ExCel Centre.


Resembling something the Graf von Zeppelin could have designed to house several of his eponymous behemoths of the air, ExCel is of a scale that speaks of a more confident and hubristic time in our recent history. It’s huge, straddling the full length between two Tube stations, but soulless.


As I disembarked at Custom House DLR station – a reminder of the capital’s past glories as one of the world’s greatest inland ports – I wondered why so many students and techie-looking geeks would be attracted to a mortgage exhibition. As I was used to having the Expo staged pretty much as a solus event in one of the two west London arenas, I hadn’t bargained on sharing ‘our’ event with a university entrance clearing show and various hi-tech focused gigs.


My first mistake was leaving the train at Custom House. Had I read the MBE website properly, I would have known to stay on the train until the next stop. Instead, I had the pleasure of what seemed like a several-mile hike past serried ranks of smelly fast-food joints (Spud-U-Like, anyone?) and the depressingly ubiquitous coffee shops (with not a tax inspector in sight!). L

uckily, I had bumped into a certain Mr Ian Balfour en route and he kept me company as the trek continued. 


After walking for what seemed like several days, and with no sign of the MBE hall or anything indicating where it might be, I checked my ticket to make sure I had the right venue, day, month or year. Eventually, the familiar blue signage came into view and I knew I’d made it. Phew.


The exhibition hall itself was a disappointment. Its curt boxiness lacked any character whatsoever and didn’t compare well with the more free-wheeling spaces offered by Earl’s Court and Olympia. It seemed to me to pen its exhibitors and visitors in an oppressive little space, from which the only escape was the cavernous central mall outside.


In fairness, I suspect all the exhibition halls at ExCel are equally uninspiring. But the atmosphere (or lack of one) the room exuded appeared to have a dampening effect on the assembled ranks of brokers, lenders, valuers, conveyancers and a few lost souls who appeared to have wandered in by error.


As anticipated, bridging was very much in evidence with most of the big lenders displaying their wares. A good number of bridging intermediaries were on show, too, together with a surprisingly large contingent of secured loan providers. By contrast, the mainstream boys appeared thin on the ground.


For a number of reasons, Omni Capital decided not to exhibit this year. Instead, we hosted a modest lunch table at a nearby Italian eatery. Our guests comprised registered visitors to the Expo, including some broker friends, a few media chums and a goodly number of familiar faces we encountered on the day. I’d like to think it gave them an opportunity to re-charge their batteries for a couple of hours.


Am I being too harsh about the event? Perhaps, and others will have seen it differently. To their great credit, James Prosser and his team have kept the Expo going when many thought it was certain to fail; the economic headwinds have been unfavourable for several years now and marketing budgets are feeling the pinch. The fact so many made the pilgrimage east suggests there’s life in the old dog yet. James must certainly believe so, as I hear he has already signed the contract for next year’s show to take place at ExCel. If so, don’t get off at Custom House!


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