The Great Yorkshire Show's values remind us of what we share - Helen-Ann Hartley

Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon and an area bishop of the Diocese of Leeds

The kindly farmer stood in front of my car, arms folded for a brief moment and then one hand raised to his chin in a thoughtful manner. ‘Hmmm’, he said, ‘are you new, vicar?’

A lady shouted from across the village green, ‘It’s the Bishop!’

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Soon a small concerned group gathered round to witness my plight: I had slightly wedged my car on an unseen boulder whilst attempting a sharp left-hand turn to secure a parking spot.

Tthe Great Yorkshire Show in 2019. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The farmer had come out of his yard to offer some advice, which he duly did; ‘Right then, this is what you are going to do…’ and to cut a longish story short, he managed to successfully direct me out of the difficulty and safely to my parking place.

I was a little bit annoyed at myself if I’m honest, but mostly I smiled at this real-time in-person encounter. Not something you can really experience on Zoom I guess.

The event that gave rise to my parking challenge was the welcoming of a new priest into one of our rural communities.

It was a joyful occasion, even with face-masks, distancing and choir-only singing. It was just good to be doing it together, reaffirming community and all that is to be celebrated in the stories our rural contexts have to share.

All the more reason then, to celebrate the return of the Great Yorkshire Show this week. How we have missed it!

And this year it lasts for four days rather than the usual three, to consider the need for ongoing restrictions.

Looking back at my 2019 photos of the Show, I recall the value of meeting people (and animals!) and the interactions that were hugely significant but which I perhaps then took for granted: the interfaith conversations hosted by the NFU, as a sure reminder of the diverse networks that underpin the rural economy.

And then there are numerous photos of my favourite Belted Galloways, and some interesting images of me attempting to ‘milk’ a model cow: fodder (pardon the agricultural pun) for a caption competition that thankfully won’t see the light of day almost two years down the line.

The return of the GYS neatly coincides with the publication of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission report.

The report doesn’t particularly tell us anything we didn’t know already, but it does provide some good data and worked examples that illustrate the challenges our region faces.

The report makes lots of bold demands of central and regional Government (I note that the word ‘must’ is used in abundance), but time will tell if those challenges will be heeded.

Devolution might create the right conditions for better policy implementation, but unless a political ethos exists that truly seeks to balance people and places with profit it’s hard to see what might change?

Driving back to Ripon after the service to welcome the new priest (car successfully on the road again), I noticed the summer sunset light as it danced off the dales and the winding river.

As I slowed down to turn into Grassington, I saw a curlew standing on a fence-post. It waited for a while before flying away.

As I continued on my way, I recalled that curlews are endangered, and gave thanks that clearly the local conditions in that part of North Yorkshire were such that they were able to exist still.

In under a minute I had been reminded of the beauty and the fragility of life.

It resonated strongly with so much of what I had experienced over the last 18 months, and it reminded me of the interconnectedness of our lives: human with human, and human with the natural world.

That’s why this year’s Great Yorkshire Show matters, particularly when many smaller shows are unable to go ahead.

Visible reminders of our connections, and the important ways in which the rural economy sustains so much of our identity in this part of the country. Behind the word ‘economy’ lies the meaning ‘managing the household’.

One question that comes to mind as we continue to emerge from this challenging season is what sort of communities to we want to see into the future?

In other words, what kind of ‘homes’ do we want to create?

This leads me back to the point about the dynamic between people, places and profit.

When the three are in balance, then maybe we might glimpse a more hopeful future?

It takes an in-person Show to fulfil what NFU President Minette Batters describes as the importance of ‘championing the positive messages of our industry’.

Our rural economy has a real opportunity to lead the way in finding that balance, because in so many places that is exactly what those in agriculture seek to do.

Welcome back, Great Yorkshire Show!