Suffolk: Curtain falls on ‘calamitous and tumultuous’ show year for Suffolk Agricultural Association
- Credit: Archant
SUFFOLK’S flagship farming body weathered a “calamitous” year, but came through the storm with flying colours, members heard this week.
The Suffolk Agricultural Association took a half a million pound hit when the Suffolk Show, its most prestigious event of the year, had to be cancelled on its second day last year due to high winds.
But members were determinedly upbeat about the future at their annual general meeting on Monday, and association stalwarts stressed the positives as they took their bows.
Among those retiring was president Lord Deben, who passed the baton to sheep farmer Stephen Cobbald. He will be assisted by president-elect the Countess of Euston.
Show director David Nunn said his goodbyes to the AGM as he is due to step down after this year’s show, which will be his third.
Association chairman Stephen Fletcher, is also set to retire in June.
“In reviewing the year you I am sure are expecting me to touch on the 2012 show,” said Mr Fletcher.
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“It was a calamitous and tumultuous event and to cancel the second day because of the weather for the first time in our history was an extremely difficult decision to take.”
But he said the association had come through it with its reputation intact, and thanked everyone who had helped in the difficult process of closing the event.
The association had also faced “hostile” trading conditions, with a “very difficult” financial period from 2008 onwards, but was benefiting from the expertise of new board members in helping in areas such as its conference and events business, he said.
“We have had to consolidate - there’s no question about that,” he said.
Longer term strategic work was being carried out, he said. including ongoing work in seeking planning permission for a residential development at the association’s home at Trinity Park in Ipswich as part of plans to improve the layout of the Suffolk Show.
The association was currently “locked in deep negotiation” with planners over a Section 106 agreement, where developer commitments are framed in a legal agreement, and was hoping to negotiate an outcome over the next three or four months, he said. However, a decision about disposing of the land will not be taken until the SAA is further down the line with the scheme.
“We have to have a very clear idea of what the site will look like,” he explained.
The association had been very much focused on the future, he told delegates.
“By this time next year we will have a very clear plan both physically and from a vision point of view about what this association will look like and do for the next five, 10 or 20 years,” he said.
When he took on his role, his aim was to strive for “an organisation which is at ease with itself”, he said, and was “reasonably confident” this had been achieved.
The AGM heard that the association had been able to purchase insurance covering various risks at a much more reasonable cost than that quoted to it last year.
Easton-based farmer John Kerr stood up to offer thanks to Lord Deben for his efforts during his one-year tenure as president.
“You have brought people to the show who have not been here before,” he said, adding that during last year’s show crisis, he had been “a reassuring hand on the tiller”.
“You led the PR to recover our reputation and in fact enhance our reputation,” he said.
Lord Deben said the way in which the huge core of volunteers at the association do their jobs in good times and bad was “quite remarkable”.
“I would like to make it clear that I really do think that the management we have got here and the advice we get is very very special,” he said.
He praised show director David Nunn and his deputy, John Taylor, who was described as the “Daniel Craig of the SAA” for his hands-on approach, for their good humour during what had not been an easy year.
He also paid tribute to the efforts of chair Stephen Fletcher and said the organisation was “lucky to have him”.
“I don’t know what people really realise what an enormous job Stephen has done for us and continues to do for us. It’s the toughest of jobs because you are in charge but not in charge. Stephen has to repeat himself on three separate occasions.”
People continued to show their commitment to the Suffolk Show, he said.
“Just think how many of the stallholders didn’t ask for a refund and how many of our supporters continue to do so. Already the sponsorship for this year’s show is going well. We have a lot of people outside to thank for their support,” he said. But many people were disconnected from farming, and the association was trying to address this through events including its School Farm Fair, he said.
“The fact we are so successful in this area is something we should be proud of,” he said.
Suffolk would “play its part” in the great challenges now facing agriculture, including a fast-growing world population, he said.