Graduate finds new life as rural show organiser

Richard Ashworth, organiser of Pickering Game & Country Fair.
Richard Ashworth, organiser of Pickering Game & Country Fair.
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Richard Ashworth’s life would more than likely have taken a very different course if foot and mouth disease hadn’t cast its shadow across much of the north of England back in 2001. Around that time he seemed destined for a career in transportation and perhaps eventually taking over the reins of his parents’ livestock haulage company from their farm base at Cropton in the North York Moors.

Instead today, or rather the weeks leading up to today, you may have found him putting up roadside signs advertising his latest outdoor show. It’s just one of a multitude of tasks he undertakes personally in running five events a year that starts this morning with the 10th Annual Pickering Game & Country Fair at Pickering Showground that also takes place tomorrow. He’s the kind of person you might expect to see going around with his fingers permanently crossed, as his income, and the success of his shows, are fully determined by the weather, but he is relaxed ahead of the show.

“My parents ran Skelton Banks Farm as the 57-acre holding that my grandfather moved to in 1959. They had switched the farm from being a beef and pigs operation to pigs and poultry and had around 300-400 sows that with progeny led to around 5,000 pigs on site at any time; and 5,000 laying hens that had brought about an egg round covering Kirkbymoorside, Helmsley and Hovingham area.

“They also ran a feed company and a livestock transport company primarily hauling pigs, but everything finished around 2001. All of the livestock was sold, they stopped making feed and they sold all the trucks. Farmers just weren’t in a position to pay, through no fault of their own. Animal movement restrictions were in place and everyone was suffering.”

Although Richard stops short of the phrases ‘living nightmare’ and ‘unfortunate casualty’ it is a stark reminder of how some of agriculture’s ancillary businesses were dealt a fatal blow. His parents moved out of farming and the related agricultural businesses they had nurtured, although they have retained the farmhouse.

“When I came back from studying for my degree in transport logistics and business management at Newcastle the farm business was over. I started looking at other ideas and became an events manager when Pickering Showground was being developed. I was responsible for the launch of Pickering Game & Country Fair ten years ago and two years ago I launched my own company taking over the running of this show and others.

“I always worked on the farm as I was growing up and the transportation industry had interested me because it would have given me the opportunity of greater travel, but the business of putting on shows gets me out and about every day. I work seven days a week from around April until mid-September and I’m often away from home. I handle all of the organisation, administration, advertising and promotion - anything that needs to be done.”

Richard’s shows don’t include cattle and sheep that the many agricultural societies run throughout summer season but the likes of Pickering Game & Country Fair do include huge chunks of rural life and a decade on it is now a regular fixture that many agricultural show season diehards have accepted into their calendars.

“Pickering is now one of only two annual country and game fairs in Yorkshire. How I went about launching Pickering was visiting shows every weekend for a whole summer. I found out which attractions and competitions worked the best and in so doing I also picked up on section stewards who were interested in what I was doing.

“Game and shooting is a big draw, as is the increasingly popular lurcher and terrier show. We run companion dog competitions each day too for the general public to join in with the events and there’s a dog agility course. Phil Gibbons of Spennymoor, one of the section stewards who joined me, looks after the falconry section and we now have 100 metres of birds of prey. We also now have a big equestrian following. Alison Brown of Sinnington Riding School organises the show jumping section on Sunday. I organise the heavy horse show that runs to seven classes and includes the biggest names in Yorkshire, and we have a horse show too. They both run on the Saturday.

“People are genuinely interested in the countryside and country pursuits such as shooting and working with gun dogs. Competitors and visitors will travel from Ireland, the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and the south of England. We also offer demonstrations of old techniques used in the country such as long netting for catching rabbits, farriery and horse logging.”

The UK Tractor Show became a part of the show last year and this year there will be over 200 vintage tractors on display.

Richard’s show season

Besides this weekend’s Pickering Game & Country Fair, Richard Ashworth is the brains behind several other agricultural showpieces this summer.

Richard’s other events are the Modified Car Show, also held at Pickering Showground on 8 June; Cheshire Steam Fair at Warrington on 12-13 July; Astle Park Traction Engine Rally at Chelford on 9-10 August; and Nostell Priory Steam Fair, that he is resurrecting this year after a short absence, on 24-25 August.

Admission to the Pickering show today is £8 adults, £7 for over 65s, £4 under 16s and £20 for family tickets. Car parking is free.