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Scottish catering, events and venue operator Hickory expands to England with the Sands Centre partnership

Hickory MD Stephanie Stubbs

Award-winning Hickory appointed as exclusive caterer for destination venue The Sands Centre following multi-million-pound redevelopment

PREMIUM leisure and entertainment venue The Sands Centre in Carlisle, which is close to completing a multi-million pound redevelopment, has appointed Hickory, Scotland’s largest and fastest-growing independent catering, events and venue operators, as the exclusive catering partner.

In its first contract win outside Scotland, Hickory has fought off strong competition following a tender process to take over the catering operations at the centre, a focal point for culture and sport in the north of England.

The Sands Centre’s £27 million transformation, funded by Carlisle City Council and operated  by GLL, is due to be complete this autumn. The venue – which will combine two existing sites at The Sands Centre and The Pools – will provide first-class entertainment, leisure, swimming and eating and drinking facilities on a single site, with estimated yearly footfall of more than one million.

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The Sands Centre’s extensive catering facilities, operated by Hickory under the new 10-year partnership, will include a new restaurant with a range of dining areas, a coffee shop with separate indoor seating, two downstairs bars, an upstairs bar and a large outdoor terrace. Hickory will also service bespoke catering packages for meetings, conferences, and celebrations in The Sands Centre’s flexible function rooms.

With a versatile programme ranging from music and theatre to comedy and talks, some of the eclectic events drawing crowds to The Sands Centre this autumn include Blood Brothers, Russell Kane, The Proclaimers and Sarah Millican.

James McGarry, General Manager – The Sands Centre, said: “We’re excited to be nearing completion on our multi-million pound redevelopment. Our food and drink offering must be of the highest quality to reflect our new surroundings. That is why we’ve chosen Hickory as our exclusive catering partner. During the tender process, we were immediately attracted to their proposals for our extensive catering facilities and the expertise and enthusiasm of their people.

“Hickory clearly understands the wide range of customers that will visit The Sands Centre, the type of food and drink they will be looking for and the prestigious events we will be hosting. They also put a real emphasis on using the best local ingredients and treating staff well. We’re building a trusted relationship with Hickory and we’re pleased that our businesses share the same ethos.  We’re really looking forward to working closely with Hickory in the months and years to come.”

In 2023, The Sands Centre will host 200 professional events with capacity for over 250,000 customers. As well as its programmed events and performances, the facility will be home to a number of sporting events of regional and national significance including regional swimming galas, sports specific tournaments and competitions.

This latest success for Edinburgh-headquartered Hickory follows a string of business wins. It recently signed a partnership with the prestigious National Museum of Scotland to offer a range of food and drink experiences for the landmark venue’s private guests. It also recently gained a new contract to operate the hospitality at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, alongside working with Fringe by the Sea Festival for a second year running.


Stephanie Stubbs, Hickory Managing Director, said: “We’re excited to have won the tender to take over catering operations at such an important time for The Sands Centre following its major redevelopment. This appointment marks the first step in our plan to expand outside Scotland, while continuing to grow in our home market.

“The investment in The Sands Centre is a game-changer for Carlisle and the surrounding areas, with the venue now offering a wide range of cultural and sporting facilities that are world class. Our catering will reflect the venue’s premium position in Carlisle city centre where we’ll work with local suppliers and provide excellent employment opportunities.

“We understand the varying needs of the customers who will be visiting The Sands Centre and we have a created distinct and tempting food and beverage proposition that will appeal to them, making The Sands a destination for locals and visitors alike.”

The Sands Centre is operated by GLL in partnership with Carlisle City Council. Established in 1993, GLL is the largest UK-based charitable social enterprise delivering leisure, health and community services. 

Operating under the Better brand, GLL manage 258 public sport and leisure centres, 113 libraries and 10 children’s centres in partnership with 50 local councils, public agencies and sporting organisations. GLL has 850,000 members and welcomes 46 million customer visits per year.

Hickory has scooped several awards, winning the accolade of Food and Drink Company of the Year at Insider’s Made in Scotland awards, and is a finalist in the Best Scottish (Independent Business) category at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards.

Hickory will continue to expand its outside bar and food festival-style service supporting large-scale events, which has to-date included the provision of innovative seasonal catering and styling for the Borders Book Festival, Bars for the Genesis Scottish Open Golf Tournament in East Lothian and the Royal Highland Show.

It also delivers events at an extensive and eclectic portfolio of venues across Scotland, including the Assembly Rooms, Royal College of Physicians, Dovecot Studios, Newhall Estate and Neidpath Castle.  It exclusively operates the new Cairns Farm Estate in the Pentland Hills and Eskmills Venue on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

With an emphasis on sustainability, Hickory’s mission is to deliver the best events and hospitality experiences.  This is achieved by providing the highest-quality ingredients that are sourced locally by their professional culinary team and delivering the best quality seasonal food.

Stephanie Stubbs added: “One of the things that makes us stand out is the focus we put on supporting our loyal workforce through our in-house training programme, working towards ISO9001, and our early commitment to paying the Real Living Wage. Our approach encourages people to have a long-term future in the hospitality industry and this will be reflected in how we run the catering and bar service at The Sands Centre.”

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