Suffolk Show Part 2: How we coped with rain – and a major foot-and-mouth outbreak

PUBLISHED: 15:38 07 June 2020

One of Suffolk Show's golden moments  Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

One of Suffolk Show's golden moments Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The cancellation of this year’s Suffolk Show amid the coronavirus crisis was inevitable – but a devastating blow for the county and the event’s organisers.

Following on from the month the show would have taken place, we look back fondly on shows from the late 1990s into the early 2000s with the help of former show directors Mike Hollingsworth, John Wall and Stephen Miles – and on another show cancellation.

Suffolk Show 2007 as the audience watches the Teletubbies on the BBC Radio Suffolk Stand

  Picture: LUCY TAYLORSuffolk Show 2007 as the audience watches the Teletubbies on the BBC Radio Suffolk Stand Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Mike Hollingsworth: 1998-2000

The only way I am allowed to remember my show days as a director is the amount of rain we had over the six days. 1998 was the first show since 1946 when there was two wet show days.

We had to resort to using six foot fencing posts to hold the flower show up as the ground was saturated due to the torrential rain which fell the weekend before the show. Many stand holders had to improvise when erecting their stands.

A new product that became invaluable was woodchip, our local timber supplier said he had an ample supply, this was short-lived but very much appreciated on the showground and car parks, helping keep everything moving. In 1999 we made major changes to the vice presidents’, members’ and especially the sponsors’ areas, who were able to have their own ringside area giving them a much larger eating and lounge area.

HRH Princess Anne at the openning day of the Suffolk Show 2004  Picture: LUCY TAYLORHRH Princess Anne at the openning day of the Suffolk Show 2004 Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

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These changes were very well received especially by the sponsors whose support is so important to the show. Once again we had to cope with the rain on both days which was testing but had to be overcome. Luckily, our showground has light land. In 2000, we completed the refurbishment of the old stockman’s area which became known as the Trinity Rooms, giving a new kitchen area plus toilets and showers for our stockmen on show days. Their animals are such an important part of the show and a great attraction for our visitors. My lasting memories after three years as director was the wonderful support and enthusiasm, especially during the difficult times we faced, from our stewards, committee members, staff and your friends. Everybody came together as a team each year to put on the show for our then 75,000 to 80,000 loyal members of the public who support the show whatever the weather – all hugely rewarding.

Past Suffolk Show director John Wall on his farm in Framlingham looks back at his year at the helm  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPast Suffolk Show director John Wall on his farm in Framlingham looks back at his year at the helm Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

John Wall: 2001-2004

Having been deputy to three wet shows under Mike Hollingsworth, I thought I was prepared for anything. How wrong I was. Having to cancel the 2001 show because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak was devastating for all my team. At least I shall be remembered for being the first show director to cancel our county show in peace time. No time to dwell, we were able to move the showground east as we know it today. We also created the sports area, rearranged the flower show and the new conservation area. Our present president Bill Kemball’s late father Jack will always be remembered for cutting the first sod for that area. Successive show directors have continued to develop these areas as we know them today. HRH Princess Alexandra graced us with her presence at my first show in 2002 and I was given the enviable task of escorting her around some of the showground. We set off walking in among the crowd. I was just in front. We were chatting when I realised I had ‘lost’ her. Panic! Five minutes later, I noticed her protection officer pointing in the direction of HRH. She had stopped to talk to some of the crowd. What a charming lady and a delight to have at the show. Looking back in the 2003 show archives I noticed a photo of our president Dennis Dyball presenting a trophy to Paul Tuckwell and his son James for the most attractive farm machinery stand at the show (no grey hairs or grandchildren then Paul!). I was fortunate in having three excellent deputies, Peter Over, Bruce Kerr and Stephen Miles. I take no credit, but they have all become show directors. Sadly for Bruce, he had to cancel this year’s show, but am absolutely convinced that he and his team will produce a fantastic 2021 show and beyond. Cancelling the 2001 show allowed us to start the Children’s Farm Fair, an annual event, helping 4,500 children understand where and how this county produces such wonderful food, giving them a better understanding of the countryside. During my time as director I have made some great friends and met some wonderful people. Although hard work, it was all very satisfying and still is.

Stephen Miles: 2005-2007

Past Suffolk Show director Mike Hollingsworth looks back  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPast Suffolk Show director Mike Hollingsworth looks back Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

It was a time of change during these three years, with the re-branding of the association, the building of the events centre along with the new entrance incorporating the Suffolk Trinity plus layout changes and the building of a new workshop. The events centre enabled us to start the Lifestyle Pavilion. This year’s honorary director Bruce Kerr was then senior steward of Farming Anglia. The theme in 2005 was “Made in Suffolk” with cookery demonstrations promoting Suffolk produce. I remember the first day of the 2006 show being so cold that we had to get the family to bring in extra layers of clothes for my wife Petrina. In 2007 we had three inches of rain on the Sunday, causing flooding on the site, with a mass clear up by senior stewards, stewards, and showground staff. Thankfully with such team work and free draining land the site was in good order for the Show. It was a huge privilege to be show director and a lasting memory for me is all the support one receives from senior stewards and how hard they work, 300 plus stewards and all the show staff. It really is great teamwork. I am so pleased that all my deputy directors Robert Baker, David Nunn and Peter Over went on to become show directors.

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A Suffolk safari organiser is back on the trail after lockdown. Philip Charles returned from six years working as a bear guide and researcher in British Columbia in Canada to set up Spirit of Suffolk in his home county. But the newly-formed business took a temporary hit when the coronavirus crisis struck. As well as safaris, Phil also runs photography workshops, and produces prints and home-made short books. He is a lecturer at Suffolk New College, teaching wildlife and conservation-based modules on the Suffolk Rural campus in Otley. Through his business, he aims to build a conservation-based economy connecting visitors with Suffolk’s stunning countryside both digitally and physically through safaris and lectures. “I spend most of my time on safari in farmland habitat on the Shotley and Deben peninsulas,” he says. “This guiding season for Spirit of Suffolk started early March and I had several safari bookings as well as two photography workshops planned throughout March and April.” Philip was just one safari into the season – with one urban fox tour under his belt – with the business really taking off when lockdown measures were introduced on March 23, which meant he had to ditch his planned events. Lockdown hit him hard on a personal level too, he admits. “I always thought I would be able to head out to the countryside still, alone, and with caution. But as lockdown measures were introduced I realised this was not to be the case. “On a personal level this was deeply troubling as time spent in nature forms who I am as a person in both actions and spirit. “From a business perspective initially it felt shattering as I could not operate any of the core elements of the business, and to have started the season so spectacularly well with an amazing first safari and superb urban fox tour I really felt bad for the guests that had trips booked and were now not able to take them. “As a wildlife photographer but living in central Ipswich I also felt limited in what I could do photography-wise.” But he picked himself up and started working on his website and social media strategies. It was a “joy” to provide a vital connection with nature to people stuck at home, he said. “Early on in the lockdown I started a project called ‘On the Doorstep’ in which I would spend a little time each day stood on my doorstep and photograph the comings and goings of people.” The project now forms part of a cultural snapshot of Ipswich in 2020 collated by Suffolk Archives. He also used the downtime to create short books. The two titles – Suffolk Wildlife - A Photo Journey, and Spirit Bear - A True Story of Isolation and Survival – have been “very popular”, selling both in the UK and abroad. They even received an accolade from veteran environmentalist and wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough who described them as “delightful”. He has two more planned – the first of which is Bears and Hares, which is set to be followed by a collection of photo stories from the doorstep project. As lockdown eased in early August he was able to resume his safaris, initially on a two-week trial basis. The pilot proved very successful and as a result he was able to begin booking events again. “Although we are nearing the quieter season I continue to take people out who are keen on enjoying the beauty of Suffolk and its wonderful wildlife and I am personally excited for the beauty and joys of autumn,” he says. “People often purchase the safaris as a gift for someone else and this continues to be popular, as a birthday present or Christmas present that can be redeemed at any point in the future.” From October, he is also planning to resume his one-day photography workshops. “I have always loved showing people the wonders of nature, whether that be a grizzly, a barn owl, killer whales or an urban fox. I think the lockdown period offered a different appreciation for the things around us and I am ever so excited to be with people again and to be showing them all the wonderful wildlife of my favourite spots in Suffolk.” He has had to adapt the tours to ensure safety, but the changes are subtle and don’t detract from the main goal - which is seeing nature, he says. “I now encourage the guest to bring along their own drink and snacks and to also bring their own pair of binoculars. We do wear face coverings while in the vehicle and with the windows open to ensure ventilation. Such changes have been well received by the safari guests and we continue to have some great wildlife viewing.” He’ll be “forever grateful” to his customers and guests for their support and understanding during the pandemic. “Recovery all depends on the current status of local restrictions and the virus itself. I am hoping that a vaccine can be in place as soon as possible. As a fledgling business I have felt a hit, although the sales of short books has helped.” But he remains “positive and optimistic”, he says. “The only way is up,” he says. His hope is that Spirit of Suffolk will become a well-known brand. “I have long term goals of buying woodland for conservation and wildlife viewing and also establishing a small lodge where I can accommodate guests for taking multi-day safaris and tours. “For now I am happy to take things slowly and cautiously, testing the waters in certain areas as I continue to grow the brand and products that I provide. “It is exciting. I am so deeply passionate about what I do that I know it will continue to be a success.” Suffolk’s wildlife in spotlight as safaris get back on track