Demise of Game Fair is a loss to rural communuity

This year's CLA Game Fair at Harewood House. Picture by Simon Hulme
This year's CLA Game Fair at Harewood House. Picture by Simon Hulme
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THE MIGRATORY nature of the CLA Game Fair may have proven key in its downfall and its cancellation from the annual rural events calendar is part of a wider trend, agriculture leaders said.

This summer’s Game Fair at Harewood House near Leeds was the last time the three-day event will be held by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the membership organisation’s director general Helen Woolley announced this week, attributing the decision to falling attendance and dwindling income from the event over the last three years due to increasing competition from other outdoor events.

Like many areas of the country, Yorkshire has a packed schedule of countryside shows which vie for visitors over the summer, and the Game Fair, which specialises in rural pursuits and had been held at different estates around the country over the years, is not the first casualty. It joins the likes of the East of England Show which was held for the final time in 2012 after 200 years and the 160-year-old Royal Show which was held for the last time in 2009 by the Royal Agricultural Society of England. In both those cases, falling attendance was also cited as crucial factors for them coming to an end.

In her statement, Ms Woolley said the CLA’s decision to cancel the Game Fair was a difficult one that “we deeply regret having to take”, adding: “Unfortunately an increasingly crowded summer calendar of outdoor events has contributed to falling attendance in each of the last three years. This has led to the event failing to generate enough income and has made the event financially unsustainable.

“Over the last three years the Board made the decision to invest in the Game Fair because of our strong desire to turn the event around. We have been able to make this investment because of the otherwise robust financial position of the CLA. However we can no longer ask CLA members to allow their membership subscriptions to underwrite the losses the event makes.”

Reacting to the decision, Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society which organises the Great Yorkshire Show each July and its sister event Countryside Live, which returns to the YAS’s Harrogate showground on October 17-18, said: “It was successful in a lot of ways but the decision wasn’t much of a surprise. There is a reason that major agricultural shows have bought showgrounds - like the Great Yorkshire and Driffield - because it’s really expensive to go from place to place.”

Next year’s Game Fair was due to be held at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire but it has been cancelled as part of this week’s announcement.

Richard Pearson, regional director of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “It will be missed. The Game Fair has been an institution for a number of years and was looked forward to by many within the rural community.

“It’s sad to see these shows go - such as the East of England and the Royal - and we are lucky to still have the Great Yorkshire Show, but it just goes to show how expensive they are to put on.

“It’s always been tradition to have lots of shows and if you get the mix right they can still be successful.”

Could the Fair be revived?

Reports suggested that a number of parties were in talks with the CLA over acting as partners to revive the 2016 Game Fair at Ragley Hall.

In her statement, CLA director general Helen Woolley left the door open for the event to return in the future, saying “we are clear that the Game Fair can no longer be run by the CLA in its current form”.

And on Thursday, she told Country Week that talks were now underway with potential partners: “The CLA has begun a consultation period on the future of the Game Fair, and we are speaking with a number of organisations and companies which have expressed an interest in the future of the event.”