Suffolk Agricultural Association boss Chris Bushby steps down

Dr Christopher Bushby is the executive director of the Suffolk Agricultural Association.

Dr Christopher Bushby is the executive director of the Suffolk Agricultural Association. - Credit: Su Anderson

A stalwart of the organisation behind the Suffolk Show has decided to step down after 20 years at the helm.

Chris Bushby, executive director at the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA), said he would leave some time before Christmas with happy memories of the great spirit and the sense of being part of a family which has held the county’s most important annual event together through thick and thin.

He started with the organisation 30 years ago as showground manager. His talent was nurtured by the organisation, which supported him in obtaining postgraduate qualifications in management studies. When the top job, then occupied by John Hargreaves, became vacant, he won through against stiff competition from 200 applicants from all over the country despite at that point being young and untested in the senior role.

The SAA’s faith in his abilities proved well-founded, and he presided over a sustained period of success for the organisation, including the addition of new educational events which fitted its aims, most notably the School Farm and Country Fair, started after the devastating 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, which today attracts 4,000 schoolchildren. The completion of the Trinity Park conference and events centre provided a potential income stream for the charitable organisation.

The Suffolk Show has proved a great survivor during Dr Bushby’s reign while other agricultural events, including The Royal Show, the East of England Show and the Essex Show, have fallen by the wayside.

The show, which attracts around 85,000 visitors over two days, has played host to top Royals during Dr Bushby’s tenure, including the late Princess of Wales, and this year, her son, Prince Harry.

“She was a lovely lady she had the ability to make you feel at ease but also make you feel important in the right way,” he recalled.

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Dr Bushby, 52, who is also vice president of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and has held a number of roles within local organisations and charities, said he started thinking about standing down from his post over the last few months, after notching up a number of achievements, including receiving honorary doctorates from Essex University and the University of East Anglia, an award for Partnership in Education from Raising the Bar initiative and the East Anglian Daily Times business award for Outstanding Achievement for the Suffolk Show sponsored by University Camps Suffolk.

During his time in the post, he has worked with a long list of show directors, volunteers voted in for three years, who lead the show day itself.

“Also the association has recently reviewed its Memorandum & Articles as all good charities should do from time to time and as a result has created a smaller Trustee Board chosen by the Associations Council to take on the challenges of ensuring the continuing progression and success of the SAA,” said Dr Bushby.

“My retiring allows the new board the opportunity to choose a successor to work with them in delivering the future strategic direction.

“It just felt it was time to look for new challenges and 30 years of service of which 20 have been leading the agricultural association, it was coming up with the brave decision to actually know when to cut the umbilical cord, because it’s a family and it’s a unique organisation that brings together so many in the community to put together the county show but all the other events as well,” he said.

“I like the events industry, I like working in the third sector, but I am also looking forward to furthering my interests in education.”

Although he would like to remain in Suffolk – he lives just a mile and a half from the showground – the right post may take him further afield, he said.

But he added: “I’m not going to be a stranger to the association.”

It was impossible to list all the highlights during his 30 year career leading and developing and delivering a strategy for the organisation, he said.

“Because each show is unique in what happens over those two days they have all been highlights,” he said.

The only low points were 2001, when the event had to be cancelled due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and 2012, when high winds cut the show short by a day at a cost of half a million pounds to the SAA.

During this year’s show, organisers had to battle against the problems caused when four inches of rain fell the day before the show started, causing havoc for those setting up.

But it was in these times that the whole organisation, including its 300 stewards, 16 senior stewards and show director and deputy, pulled together, he said.

“That’s where the strength of the organisation is - between that relationship between the volunteers and the executive,” he said.

“Because we have developed the right relationship that respects decisions taken in a sensible way and no one criticising afterwards. Being part of the Suffolk Agricultural Associations family over the last 30 years has been a privilege and a life enriching experience which I will be eternally grateful for.”

Robert Rous, chairman of the SAA, said: “Chris has lived and breathed the Suffolk Show for 30 years and it must have been a hard decision for him to stand aside to allow someone else to take over “his baby”. We look forward to showing our appreciation at a Presidents reception in due course. While we will now be looking for a replacement it is an exciting moment for the Suffolk Agricultural Association as after our recent Extraordinary General Meeting we move forward with a dynamic trustee board ready to take the show and the many events run at Trinity Park forward.”