We recently caught up with James Cox, Show Organiser at The Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show and Membership Secretary at Association of Show & Agricultural Organisers (ASAO). We chatted about how the organising team has adapted its plans for the 2021 event and how the ASAO as a trade body has navigated its way through the pandemic.
It’s great news that you’re pressing ahead with the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Agricultural Show 2021. What’s allowed you to press ahead when others have decided not to take the risk?
We began working up different scenarios for how the 2021 show would work with social distancing. So, when the roadmap was announced in March, we already knew that we could make a smaller event work and the shape that might take. Usually, we would be a one-day show attracting circa. 25,000 visitors. As it stands, we’re looking at a two day show for 4000 people per day, with a view to increasing this to 10,000 per day if restrictions are lifted on 21st June.
As a well-attended show with a core audience, we’re fortunate that the ticket sales have been strong. We’ve managed to sell 30% of our tickets without any marketing which has saved a massive amount.
We’ve also managed our own risk internally by running smaller events on the showground. This has been beneficial in several ways. It has allowed us to generate an additional income stream and use what we’ve learned to improve the show. For example, we’ve moved to an online e-ticketing for the first time, we’re using TicketSRV and its system incorporates the NHS Track & Trace app.
What changes have you implementing to allow you to run the event safely?
The show itself will be spread out over a greater area to allow for social distancing and we’ve had to re-think our member dining experience. There will be a lot more to see at the show which will help to spread visitors out around the showground. There are new attractions like our Heavy Horse Display, we’ve increased the size of the main ring and increasing the dining marquee.
We’re also using traditional marquees from GHB Hire which are not only more cost effective but also deliver a ‘countryside’ look to the show. Also, from a practical perspective, the sides are easier to removed for improved ventilation. We’ve increased the footprint of our food and shopping areas, they’re now in a large outdoor space rather under cover in a clear span tent. This has been replaced with a Tipi, supplied by Southern Tipi Company, which provides shelter whilst creating a central feature with a festival feel.
There will be no tickets sold on the day, all visitors will have brought tickets in advance which makes ingress and egress, including traffic management much easier to control. We have three car parks, with lanes in and out and whilst we only have one entrance/ exit point, its nice and wide so there’s no issue with making that work. We’ve installed hand sanitising units across the site.
What sort of response have you had from stakeholders i.e. exhibitors/ visitors/ entertainers/ suppliers?
All our contractors have been incredibly supportive and gone out of their way to be helpful. Trade stand sales are slower than usual but given the turbulent year that everyone has experienced that’s to be expected. It’s a combination of hesitancy, people who are simply no longer in business or have moved their business completely online. However, a large percentage are absolutely thrilled that we’re back and are very keen to be involved and we’ve actually had a strong showing from our caterers. We’re still unsure about our competitor numbers, with so many shows not going ahead this year, there isn’t really a circuit and that’s having an impact.
What are the biggest challenges that you’re currently facing?
The uncertainty is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we’re facing. We’re managing that by working to the smallest number of visitors that are already currently allowed and keeping an extremely tight reign on our spending. It’s almost June already so there’s really not long to go. We have to hold our nerve – plan for the worst i.e. only 4,000 visitors a day are allowed – and hope for the best which is that we’re allowed 10,000 visitors a day if/ when restrictions lift.
Our business and indeed, our whole livelihood, is in the hands of the local authority and its willingness to support us. We absolutely need to run a safe event but our ability to ensure that we’re still standing in a year or 100 years’ time, rests with them. And, it isn’t just our business, it is also all the traders who rely on the show for their own businesses.
What insights or tips do you have for other event organisers?
Alongside the smaller events that we’ve launched that are generating an income we’ve also adapted our showground. We’ve installed outdoor showers and electric points and are opening as a campsite for the first time this year. They’re also positioned to work for the events that we organise so have a longer-term benefit to the show.
In addition, our office is now onsite within a portacabin rather than the more expensive office space in town that we previously operated from. This has also had the added benefit of allowing us to utilise the showground as we’re onsite.
You’re also the Member Secretary for the ASAO, how has the association navigated its way through the pandemic and supported members?
We’ve held virtual catch ups throughout the last year which have been well attended, some have attracted more than 100 members. We’ve used the sessions for idea sharing, not only for how we can move forward with our shows but also how we can diversify.
When we do return to normal, we’ll be much more robust as a sector. The work that has been done over the 12 months will have helped to future proof our businesses for many, many years to come!
For more information about the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show click here.