The Royal Norfolk Show will return in 2021 – but perhaps not as we know it
Archant Norfolk 2018
On what should have been the opening day of the 158th Royal Norfolk Show, organisers have pledged that the colourful summer spectacle will return in 2021 – although perhaps not quite as we know it.
The loss of the Royal Norfolk Show is being felt across the county this week – and after battling to cope with its cancellation, organisers say the show could look very different when it returns in 2021.
The two-day summer showcase, which was due to open today, usually attracts more than 85,000 visitors and generates an estimated £20m a year for Norfolk’s economy.
But that was all lost when the deepening coronavirus crisis forced organisers at the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) to announce in March that the 158th event could not go ahead this year, along with several other events which bring revenue to the showground.
Chief executive Greg Smith said he spent the following months in a draining “battle rhythm” of crisis management and damage limitation, dismantling what should have been his final show at the helm before stepping down later this year.
But the RNAA has also been planning its recovery route for the future, working on how to generate extra revenue from its major asset of the Norfolk Showground in order to get back on a financial footing which will allow the staging of its flagship event next year – although it is likely to be “constrained” by its new circumstances.
“Part of that route, and maybe that peak in the distance that we are starting to see, is saying we will have a Royal Norfolk Show in 2021 – but anybody would be wrong to say it will be just like 2019 and we will start where we left off,” said Mr Smith.
“We will almost certainly need to trim back the scale and the components of the show. I would suggest it will focus in on some of the traditional pieces, but some of the other pieces may not feature or may not come back in the way they have in the past.
“Just through necessity we may need to not have as much retail in, either because we cannot get it in, or we might see that some retail may not come back. Some of the entertainment may have to be necessarily curtailed.
“We will still have to consider all the things we need to be considering now when it comes to mass participation public events. The global pandemic has not gone away at this stage, and some things just don’t work if we had social distancing or anything like that, we just wouldn’t be able to run the ‘funfair’ sorts of things. That could be really difficult.
“But there are other things we could make work. We have been doing some very early work on planning some of our spaces like the food hall. The food hall is always rammed with people, shoulder to shoulder, it is a gem. So what would we need to do in order to try and retain that vital platform to Norfolk’s food and drink producers? How can we do that in a way that meets the new conditions? We can see how we can do that and we would almost certainly need to make extra space available for that.”
Mr Smith said food and farming would continue to be core priorities for the show.
“The Royal Norfolk Show is a cornucopia of things, but at the heart of it is agriculture,” he said. “That is where we would need to put our priorities.
“The agricultural show world is a pretty tough world and it has got a little bit of resilience, so the determination is there that we will be back and do what we have done for over 170 years, which is to support the sector that is so vital not only to our region but also to the nation and the globe.
“I think what has happened in recent months has brought home to some people the importance of what is on their table, food and drink, the importance of local supply and of what the county’s farmers have continued to do brilliantly through these really difficult times.”
Mr Smith said he was also encouraged that the majority of this year’s ticket-holders, trade stands and sponsors had taken the option to roll-over their bookings for 2021, rather than accept the refunds offered.
“We view that as a mark of confidence that we will get through this and be up and running again next year,” he said.
He said the uncertain weeks since the show’s cancellation were the most difficult of his career.
“This was a bit like trying to navigate without a map in a thick fog and with a compass that isn’t working properly,” he said. “By the end of May we had got out head out of the clouds a bit and were actually able to look around a bit to assess where we were and start to find some routes toward recovery. I would hope to see some activity return to the Norfolk Showground, albeit in a setting that will be very different and new to us all.
“We are getting into the world of drive-in cinema at the Norfolk Showground. We have other streams of business starting at the showground involved in logistics, so we’re using our real estate in different ways. The changed conditions mean retailers, particularly the online retailers, need more resources, more space, so we are looking forward to seeing more of that.
“We have a small number of events still planned for the rest of the year at the showground which, with their promoters and organisers, we are still hoping to deliver. We are also planning to deliver some of the other things we have become really well known for before the end of the year, namely the Norwich HarFest and the Christmas Fayre events at Norwich Cathedral.
“It is early days, but I see those as waymarks along this route that we are planning. If we can get into 2021 with some of those things done, a bit of confidence about the future and people getting themselves adjusted to the new world we all find ourselves in, then we can look forward with hope and confidence to a brighter time.”
Some aspects of the 2020 show are happening online, including business networking meetings and the virtual agri-tech Innovation Hub, while the 2020 livestock rosettes can be won in an online livestock competition being run by Easton College. Meanwhile a new digital “legacy” project is also being planned, in partnership with the Suffolk Show Association, to extend the show’s momentum beyond its traditional summer show days.
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