Suffolk Show team face ‘year of many challenges’ as they pick themselves up and start up again

Bruce Kerr of Kerr Farm near Woodbridge with this year's asparagus harvest
Byline: Sonya Duncan

Bruce Kerr of Kerr Farm near Woodbridge with this year's asparagus harvest Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

If this had been any normal May, farmer Bruce Kerr would have been making daily visits to the bustling home of the Suffolk Show on the outskirts of Ipswich.

Bruce Kerr, right, the new Suffolk Show director with his deputy James Nunn at the Suffolk Agricultu

Bruce Kerr, right, the new Suffolk Show director with his deputy James Nunn at the Suffolk Agricultural Association AGM Picture CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

But rather than filling up with marquees and displays, and brisk activity all around, the showground at Trinity Park remains deserted – bar a few people mowing lawns and maintaining the pristine grounds.

As the newly-elected Suffolk Show director, 2020 was set to be Bruce’s first show of three – but the coronavirus lockdown has put paid to all his ambitious plans for this year.

MORE – Bruce’s 2020 vision for next year’s Suffolk ShowOrganisers took the inevitable decision to cancel the county’s biggest annual showcase in March due to the deepening crisis, and attention is now turning to 2021.

Bruce – who currently heads up an army of farmer volunteers who put on the show every year on a not-for-profit basis – still visits the site regularly, but the focus is very different to what it might have been, he admits.

“The month of May, would have normally seen daily visits from me to the showground at Trinity Park in the month running up to the show,” he says. “Since the cancellation in March this commitment has changed dramatically, and although I have visited the site most weeks since the lockdown, the planning of the show in 2020 has not been on the agenda.”

However, show organisers have started conversations with those involved in the showcase event, and begun some initial planning for 2021.

“This is early days, and currently a large number of questions are being raised, most of which at the current stage we are unable to answer,” he admits.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the remaining team at Trinity Park not furloughed have been working hard to communicate their plans to all those engaged with the show and are due to update them all shortly.

Without all the planned activity, the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) – the organisation behind the show – has turned its attention to things it can do – such as making sure the grounds are in tip-top shape for next year.

Recent rains and a lack of activity caused weeds to emerge – something they would normally tackle in a phased way. But with the showground empty, the maintenance team has got to work on them in a much more comprehensive way.

“The grass is growing and our site looks magnificent,” says Bruce.

Back in Woodbridge, the farmer, who heads up a large growing operation near the Suffolk coast, is busy with his crops.

His asparagus harvest is five weeks in, and growing rapidly thanks to the dry and generally warm spring. He’s very grateful for the many local people who have joined the picking team this year, after lockdown made it harder for eastern Europeans – who make up the bulk of seasonal farm workers in the UK – to get across.

SAA chief executive Phillip Ainsworth admits that once the full extent of the coronavirus crisis became clear, change had been “incredibly rapid” but the team of employees at Trinity Park had “all responded with tremendous energy” to do what was necessary to close the site and liaise with customers and partners, he says.

“With much to look forward to and organise this year it came as a shock for us all that events for the foreseeable future have been either cancelled or postponed,” he admits.

“We are perhaps best known for organising the annual Suffolk Show – which in 2019 was independently voted as the best agricultural show in the UK – an accolade we were all so proud to have received.

“So with that recognition behind us we are hugely disappointed at not being able to hold a 2020 show.”

The focus now was on 2021, and welcoming the crowds back, he says.

Although responsibility for delivering the show rests with the show director, as a previous incumbent, SAA chairman David Nunn admits that he usually can’t help getting involved in some way, running errands around the showground or putting up banners.

“I would normally be helping Phillip our CEO with a lot of behind the scenes programmes for our president and other guests.” On show days he would be visiting trade stands and sponsors thanking them for their support, looking after guests and awarding trophies and rosettes.

“This year with the show being cancelled my role has dramatically changed,” he says.

The focus has shifted to communicating with visitors, sponsors and tradestand holders about what is going on, he says.

Trinity Park hosts more than 400 other events every year, making 2020 a challenging one from many perspectives.

“Although the show is a key focus for the association, we are primarily focused on educating people about food, farming and the environment, so depending on restrictions I will be ensuring we find ways to continue to do this as soon as we can,” says David.

“It will be a year of many challenges and some time before we get back to where we were pre-Covid-19.”

But as the team approaches the time when the show should have taken place, they are feeling “disappointed and a little sad”. But the focus now is on 2021, and putting on another “fabulous” Suffolk Show next year, he says.

David’s son – and deputy show director – James Nunn, had been working with Bruce on this year’s event since the middle of last year. He admits that with the middle of May approaching, it was “disheartening” to think there won’t be a 2020 Suffolk Show.

“The final few weeks leading up to the show dates would have been the culmination of a whole year’s hard work,” he says.

May should have been their busiest month – the culmination of a year’s worth of effort.

As deputy, he would have been attending show committee meetings and briefing of the 320-strong team of stewards, turning up at the showground on an almost-daily basis. In the final days, Trinity Park would have been a hive of activity, as livestock arrived, tradestands were set up and last-minute alterations made to exhibits.

Instead James is focusing on his day job as a farmer, working on the family farm at Stowupland.

“As sprayer operator for our business it is a particularly busy month with all of our crops needing attention,” he says.

But thoughts are already turning to 2021, he adds. “It’s not clear what restrictions will be in place, but we are hopeful we will have a show.” The SAA is also hopeful that other events planned for the autumn – such as a horse show in which James is involved – can still go ahead.

As the focus moves towards 2021, Bruce says he and the team are determined that next year they will put on “the best show that we possible can, representing all that is good about our marvellous county”.