Suffolk Show organisers describe 'year of survival'

Dogs enjoy a day out at the Suffolk Show

'It’s been a very difficult year, and just a year of survival' SAA chairman David Nunn told members - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

With two Suffolk Shows now cancelled as a result of the Covid pandemic, the farmers who organise the event could be forgiven for feeling downbeat.

But they were putting on a brave face as more than 50 members of the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) — the charity behind the event — got to grips with Zoom to hold their annual general meeting on May 5.

Farmers have been determined to use the downtime wisely and continue to make improvements and upgrade the Trinity Park showground at Nacton in Ipswich in preparation for the reopening of site, including new toilets and an IT overhaul. 

They are also looking at new uses for the site during the “shoulder” months outside of the peak summer and Christmas periods and are exploring setting up a caravan park on one of the ground’s car parks and other activities to bolster their finances.

Luckily, the organisation remains on a firm footing, members were told — although the inability to hold events has put a big dent in their finances.

It’s been a grim year. Eight members of staff were made redundant last year — around 30% of the paid workforce at Trinity Park.

On top of this, £400k had to be raised to prop up the charity’s commercial arm, Trinity Park Events Ltd (TPEL), to cover losses and forecast losses, explained treasurer Simon Tucker.

Because of the dire effects of the pandemic, they are still “burning through cash” to keep going, in spite of making use of government support mechanisms such as furlough, he said. To get through to the end of the year without going cash negative would be a “superb” result in the circumstances, he added.

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Keeping that liquidity had been a key aim, he explained. A hard-won insurance claim of £691k against the cancellation of last year’s show cushioned the charity — but they were looking at the flexibility of the business model for an events-driven charity with the show at its heart. 

“We do need to invest in new incomes streams for TPEL,” he told members. These would fill the “trough” months and help put it on a firmer footing, he said.

“The year very much has been the impact of the cancellation of the shows,” he added.

Outgoing SAA chairman David Nunn told members: “It’s been a very difficult year, and just a year of survival.”

Member James Black agreed that it had been “a pretty torrid time” for the association, as he applauded the way the finance team had handled the difficult problems the organisation faced. 

Former treasurer Loudon Greenlees agreed. “It must have been terrible,” he said, as he offered them “a big pat on the back”.

Former show director Bill Baker is set to replace David Nunn as SAA chairman and David Barker was voted in as honorary president, which means that he will preside over next year’s show.

SAA vice chairman Peter Over, who proposed him as president, said it was an honour the veteran farmer “richly deserves”. He added: “It goes without saying that the 2022 show will be very different and have many challenges.”

David Barker said it was “a huge honour”. “The SAA has been a part of my life for a very long time — in fact I was born on Suffolk Show day,” he said. 

Andrew Fane — chairman and owner of Collins Skip Hire — was voted in as president elect. He said it was a “great pleasure and privilege”.

Outgoing president Bill Kemball thanked David Nunn for his contribution as chairman after taking up the role in 2017. He had guided the SAA through “a very, very difficult time”, he said.

“You have had the Covid crisis hanging around for 18 months now. You have had to take the decision to cancel two shows — all very difficult decisions for which I admire you greatly.”

David Nunn said the SAA was “probably one of the best clubs anyone could be involved in”. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working for the association,” he added.

Bill Baker praised him as “wise” and “calm” during the pandemic. “We have been incredibly fortunate to have you,” he said.

“I look forward to taking up the role,” said the new chairman, adding that he was under no illusion of the challenges he faced.

Show director Bruce Kerr is now looking forward to going into his third and final year and his first show in 2022 following the two cancellations. He will be assisted by James Nunn and Tony Pulham, who have been appointed deputy show directors for 2022. 

John Taylor is show director elect, which means he will be responsible for organisation Suffolk Show 2023.

Planning for next year’s event will need to take on “an enhanced level of flexibility”, said Bruce, and predicted there would be “many challenges”. But the dedication of the show committee was humbling, he said. Among the changes they were planning was to simplify ticketing arrangements to eliminate the handling of cash, he said.