UK Agricultural Show Organisers declare national 2017 Conference in Yorkshire a success
The Association of Shows & Agricultural Organisation’s 61st annual November Conference has been declared a roaring success, following some excellent feedback and the highest number of delegates in attendance for some years.
Over 120 show organisers and administrators from all over the UK, spent the weekend at York’s Principal Hotel earlier this month, as part of a three-day programme of presentations, syndicate group sessions and valuable business networking, organised by Chief Executive Officer, David Tite and his team from the Driffield Agricultural Society.
The timetable included 8 papers covering some challenging, and at times controversial, subjects including the relevance of agricultural societies and shows in modern times, increasingly stiff competition for public interest, the impact of show activities on visitor health and safety and the commercial input required for agricultural shows to survive in the current economic climate.
One of the most impactful speakers on Saturday was Alan Lyons, Head of Shows at the Royal Bath & West, with a candid look at the stiff competition facing Britain’s agricultural shows in the light of more leisure time choices for the general public.
His paper prompted a lively discussion on how organisers might meet the very real marketing challenges head on.
New research stats from the National Land Based College suggesting that a staggering 60,000 new employees are needed to replace existing workers by 2020* means that ASAO work to champion the land-based sector as a source of careers for young people is even more vital. The pressure is on, so not surprisingly, ‘education at shows’ was a key thread on the Conference agenda and a hot topic in syndicate sessions.
Jerry Hammer, General Manager of the Minnesota State Fair, was one of the headline speakers over the weekend, and gave a fascinating and thought-provoking insight into how shows across the pond engage with younger visitors throughout the year.
Although the Minnesota State Fair is a large-scale event (2 million visitors over 12 days), the challenges are no different, and delegates were able to glean inspiration from Jerry’s paper and images.
ASAO Chairman and Westmorland Show Chief Executive Christine Knipe opened the Conference, beginning with a minute’s silence to demonstrate the industry’s respect for former Royal Norfolk Show CEO John Purling, who sadly passed away in April this year.
It was also an opportunity for her to recognise the achievement of ASAO Council Member, Ron Wilson, Secretary of the Border Union Agricultural Society, who received a Lifetime Achievement accolade at the 2017 Scottish Borders Business Excellence Awards, the day before the Conference.
Christine congratulated the Driffield Showground, saying: “David and his team at Driffield have put together a superb Conference programme and it was wonderful to see an increased number of delegates this year, and a lot of new faces too.
Our annual get-together is vital to help us all realise that we are not alone in the challenges we face, and I do hope that rather than feeling daunted by the level of expertise and years of experience in the room, first-time delegates will have made lots of new contacts able to help them with inspiration and problem-solving for their own activities.”
The Conference was, as always, a chance for the ASAO Secretariat, led by Royal Bath & West Society Secretary, Paul Hooper OBE, to update members on its involvement with industry partners like the Health & Safety Executive, the Valuation Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, on the Purple Guide, charitable reviews and data protection rules respectively.
Other speakers included Joke and Mariel Ruesink, organisers of the Farm and Country Fair in The Netherlands, and ACT National leader, Phil Atkinson, a health and safety professional for more than 20 years and a risk consultant with one of the world’s largest insurance brokers.
As part of the Conference programme, the Driffield Showground created the Great Ideas Forum this year, inviting show organisers to share their money-saving tips and time-saving ideas ahead of the Conference weekend.
The winner was the Suffolk Agricultural Association with its innovative use of pallets for extra seating at the Suffolk Show.
The 2018 Conference is being held on Sunday 11th – Tuesday 13th November in Hampshire and is being hosted by the New Forest Agricultural Show Society.
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The ASAO works hard to encourage and share best practice between agricultural societies and related organisations.
It is consulted and included in regular discussions with a number of consultative bodies including breed societies, charity commissioners, DEFRA, Health and Safety Executive and Police and Trading Standards. www.asao.co.uk
*Stats taken from NFU Online