County show organisers look to new income streams as pandemic forces cuts

Titan the Robot at the Suffolk Show

Suffolk Show organisers are looking to diversify in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic - Credit: Archant

Organisers of the Suffolk Show have had to tighten their belt following the collapse of events in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

With little to no income coming in other than from investments, and two successive shows cancelled, Ipswich-based farm charity Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) took the “difficult decision” to shed eight jobs in November 2020, slashing the workforce by 30%, trustees revealed in their report to members.

Luckily, an insurance payout of nearly £691k cushioned the blow after the cancellation of the 2020 show, but trustees have also decided that to go ahead with a June 2021 show would be “reckless”.

Members of the SAA are due to meet via Zoom for their annual general meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, May 5) after a hugely disappointing two years as a result of the pandemic.

But trustees were more upbeat about the future, and are now focusing on 2022 with cautious optimism.

“The prospects for holding the Suffolk Show in 2022 are looking hopeful with the news in December 2020 that the vaccine rollout has commenced,” they said.

“However, the SAA has developed a range of plans, from optimistic to pessimistic case scenarios, and the trustee board and senior management will continue to manage the SAA’s financial position prudently to maintain stability and protect the charity until normal life can resume.”

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Despite the challenges the SAA and its commercial events arm Trinity Park Events Ltd (TPEL) face, the financial position of the charity remains strong, members will hear.

It is underpinned by net assets worth nearly £12.8m providing it with a “secure base”, the report said. Total spending in the year to September 30, 2020, was £1.98m compared to £3.32m in 2019 when activities continued as normal. Its total consolidated income for 2020 was £1.8m compared to £3.4m in 2019.

It continued to invest in its showground and buildings at Trinity Park, including in IT and alarms systems.

Despite the cancellation of most events, it was able to draw in some revenue by hosting outdoor markets and drive-in cinema events.

Directors are now looking at establishing a caravan park on its Nacton car parking area to be operated by TPEL as part of a range of diversification ideas which it is developing to give it more resilience in the future.

“The success of similar events in Suffolk and Norfolk suggest that this project has a high likelihood of success,” the report said. 

It added that while the pandemic had had a “significant” impact on TPEL’s business in line with the whole hospitality sector, it had allowed directors to consider its strategy going forward.

Directors were now developing “a number” of revenue-generating opportunities to provide steady income streams.

In a review of the year, chief executive Phillip Ainsworth said the year had begun very promisingly and there was excitement building towards last year’s show and the School Farm and Country Fair.

But when the pandemic struck, they were “plunged into a situation that no one could have foreseen,” he said. Their approach had been to “control what you can control”.

He thanked staff, including those who had left the organisation.