While farmers are used to playing the long game, just think of lambing sheds and fields of wheat waiting to ripen, there is unease about how many events have already been cancelled. Some big names such as the Suffolk Show, the Royal Berkshire and Ryedale Show (going virtual) have already bitten the dust, saying they couldn’t run the financial risk of continuing show preparations while uncertainty about Covid-19 still abounds.
Back in the good old days of 2019, when country shows were as much a part of summer as an ice cream, they generated £128.6m of income. A further £14.5m was raised for charities. It’s hard for those of us who look at shows through nostalgic rose-tinted glasses to grasp the money side of things; but the mass cancellations last year led to a £36.5m loss, while the impact on the wider economy was an estimated £810m.
But romantic about them this writer is. Standing on the lawn at the Great Yorkshire Show, as I have for at least the last 40 years, is without doubt the most important event of the year. Far more so than birthdays or any other celebration. It’s in the DNA.
Farming is an isolated way of life; with many going weeks without seeing another person. To bump into old acquaintances while walking around the cattle lines, sheep pens or rows of machinery is good for the very soul of the agricultural community.
The Daughter handed Her Majesty the Queen a little posy of flowers picked from the garden when she visited in 2008. We were flustered; three generations of us with my late grandmother. Having got stuck in traffic we thought we wouldn’t get a glimpse of the Royal visitor. But just as we walked in, the guest of honour was making her way back across the lawn with former show director Bill Cowling and our seven year-old was in the right place at the right time.
Fast-forward to this month and (now aged 20) she danced around the kitchen table with her younger brother when it was announced plans are still afoot to go ahead with the show. “We’re off to the Yorkshire Show!” they sang …
There wasn’t the heart to tell them that it’s not exactly written in stone that the three-day extravaganza will go ahead. At the moment the Harrogate site is being used as a coronavirus vaccination centre but, thank goodness, there is hope.
In an announcement, Charles Mills, honorary show director, revealed: “Following the publication of the Government’s roadmap we are pleased to confirm that we are planning to hold the Great Yorkshire Show on 13-15 July 2021.
“This will of course have to be reviewed regularly... we will only go ahead with the Show if we can do so safely for all concerned.”
Scotland’s premier farming event, the Royal Highland Show, has since announced that it has pulled the plug on its plans of hosting a traditional event and has switched to an online format. The idea is that livestock classes, showjumping and other competitions will still take place, but in front of a recording camera rather than a live audience.
Last year it launched a £2m funding appeal to try to plug a £6m gap in its finances after the show was cancelled and has faced some fairly outspoken criticism for not throwing in the towel and cutting its losses. What a poisoned chalice, damned if they’d gone ahead and damned when they don’t.
So far we’ve talked about the big boys; but the hundreds of small shows need our support now more than ever. While there is huge sentiment about the Great Yorkshire Show, there are equally fond memories of the small gatherings that punctuate the very essence of life in our county.
We’ve entered everything from guinea pigs to half a dozen eggs. There’s been baking, booze and best animal made out of a vegetable (tortoise from a melon if memory serves correct). We’ve come back with a goldfish in a bag from the lucky dip, mucky jodhpurs from falling off ponies and been towed out of fields by tractors.
The worry is that if some of these shows miss two years they will disappear, older organisers retiring making it hard to get the momentum going again. We owe it to the next generation to help keep our country shows on the road.
Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.
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