Norfolk Show preview: We meet the president of the show
14:21 23 June 2012
Archant © 2012
He’s a proper, old-fashioned teacher, from greying temples to comfortable leather shoes via sober suiting – never in-your-face, just quietly authoritative.
David Lawrence, principal of Easton College, one of Norfolk’s premier vocational education centres, may not an extrovert, but he is something of an evangelist. And he knows his stuff.
A consummate committee man, for more than 20 years he has tirelessly mined the seams of public funding to the benefit of Norfolk’s youth employment market, although he concedes that resource is now dwindling fast.
“In terms of investing for the future, we don’t like to stand still and we’re about to start work on a new animal care centre,” says Mr Lawrence, this year’s Royal Norfolk Show president. “However, capital funds will be very difficult for the foreseeable future, although we have been very lucky at Easton to secure the funding that we have.
“We are not just recipients, though. We are part of what’s happening in Norfolk, a developing institution, just as the workforce and economy of Norfolk is developing.”
He adds: “Our work at the college is all about getting students into long term careers. And there are places in farming for all our people.”
This year, the college has 1,200 full-time students aged 16-18; 2,000 adult students, many of them doing foundation degree work; 140 higher education students, working in conjunction with the UEA; 320 14-16 year-olds coming into Easton from school for a day a week; as well as more than 1,000 primary school visitors every year. There are some 320 staff at the college.
Mr Lawrence, resident at the college for 23 years and principal for the last 19, is adamant that agriculture has job vacancies for skilled workers – that is, people with the skills sets taught at Easton College.
“The long term decline in the agricultural workforce has bottomed out,” he explains. “Now we are seeing vacancies – and over several years we have not met the demand. An agricultural engineer can command an annual salary of £25-30,000 – you just can’t find them – and there is evidence that the most technically qualified people are moving into other industries.”
As the first Easton College principal to be chosen as president of the Royal Norfolk Show, Mr Lawrence is flattered and humbled; he is also delighted to be at the heart of the county’s annual showcase for farming and the ancilliary trades.
“You can’t start the process of learning too early,” he says. “And the show is so good at engaging with people at all levels. Our show is carrying out the same function today as it was set up to do in the 1840s: educating people about farming and how to improve it.”
A young farm manager before switching to the classroom, Mr Lawrence has been a regular showgoer for many years as a representative of Easton College.
“For me as a teacher, the show is an exceptionally important part of meeting the objectives of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association: to educate and to encourage further learning,” he says. “These objectives are very close to my personal objectives, so it’s a great honour to be president this year.
“It’s one of the few times in the year when the agricultural and rural communities can network and that in itself is very valuable.
“The EDP has recently reported a high official of the Bank of England declaring that agriculture has been one of the key industries to help us in the recession. So it is fantastic to have such a vibrant and farming-focused show in our county.
“It’s great to be a part of it.”