Heather Parry is deputy chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) and managing director of Yorkshire Event Centre Ltd. Here, she explains how the Society has forged ahead during her career to date.
I began working for YAS in 1993 (yes, I was a child!). Then, when people asked what I did and I mentioned the Showground, the response was almost always: “So you only work three days a year then!” That doesn’t happen often now.
Today’s Great Yorkshire Showground is almost unrecognisable. As a charity, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society is unique in how it raises money to support farmers and rural communities and champion quality and Yorkshire excellence in everything it does. It literally ‘sweats the asset’, using the Showground year round to help fund its charitable work. This can range from education initiatives to sponsoring a Nuffield scholar to our Future Farmers of Yorkshire group. The showground is now used by over 500,000 visitors each year.
We started by building Pavilions of Harrogate which is used at the Great Yorkshire Show by our members and officials. Its 14 function rooms are used daily for weddings, conferences, training, awards dinners and more. Then, in 2001, we built Hall 2 which has been used as a platform by international figures such Bill Clinton to address up to 1,200 people, through to trade and public exhibitions and corporate events.
In 2009 our offices were built and accommodate not only our staff but are a base for organisations with similar remits, creating a rural hub.
Then with the popularity of the Food Hall at the Great Yorkshire Show and our desire to help farmers sell their produce, we decided we could run a food shop. I clearly remember saying: “I shop, cook and eat - so running a shop will be easy.” Nothing could have been further from the truth but it’s been and remains, an amazing challenging and an enjoyable experience. Fodder champions over 350 Yorkshire farmers and producers and is a wonderful addition to our portfolio helping Yorkshire producers directly.
Three years ago we opened Harrogate Caravan Park and our most recent addition was in June when we opened the new Hall 1 - the biggest single space in the North East which is used for big events from exhibitions to conferences, as a music venue and for dinners of up to 2,500 guests, as well as education events and in January it will host a large agricultural machinery event.
So what’s next? First we are working with a gallery to showcase Yorkshire artists’ and we hope that a hotel will be built on site so that events visitors can stay.
If the next 23 years are as exciting as the last 23 years; then we are all in for a treat.