Excitement builds as Suffolk Show venue wakes up

James Nunn, Bruce Kerr, John Taylor and Tony Pulham Suffolk Show Stewards 2022

James Nunn, Bruce Kerr, John Taylor and Tony Pulham prepare for Suffolk Show 2022 - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The excitement is palpable. With just over a week to go before the gates of Trinity Park open and the Suffolk Show begins, the grounds are alive with activity.

Everywhere there is machinery noise and bustle – contractors laying marquee carpets, giant mowers at work and maintenance workers trawling the facilities.

Rain showers overnight and into the morning have brought some welcome moisture – supplementing the work of the sprinklers. These are still hard at work on the struggling grass which is waking up after a long, dry spell.

A host of marquees and structures have sprouted up, and works vehicles litter the grounds. Contractors arm themselves with tools and set to work while delivery drivers clutching paperwork file through the showground office.

On Wednesday night (May 18), hundreds of volunteers assembled to get to grips with the task ahead and reacquaint themselves with the practicalities. The atmosphere, say those who attended, was electric.

This is a two-day annual show run with military precision – a mechanism made up of thousands of moving parts all of which must move in unison.

But this year – 2022 – will be like no other. The volunteer army of farmers who have stewarded the show faithfully for so many years have spent the last three years in limbo, waiting for the pandemic tide to turn and for normal service to resume after two cancelled years.

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Not that they’ve been idle – far from it. Aside from their farming day-jobs they have been busy planning for this year’s event.

None more so than the event’s key driver – Bruce Kerr. The Woodbridge farmer is set to host his first and only show as director on May 31 and June 1 this year.

There is a lot riding on what should have been his third and last show and he has kept a laser focus on the end goal.

When his top stewards couldn’t meet, they resorted to Zoom – but throughout have remained united in a common purpose – and totally committed to getting the show back up and running.

Many aspects of this year’s event – the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s 191st – will be familiar but some will be different. 

The biggest change will be the dates. The Suffolk Show normally runs on a Wednesday and Thursday but this year’s has been brought forward to the Tuesday to make way for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Bank Holidays on June 2 and 3.

Fittingly, the centrepiece will be a very large and colourful jubilee-inspired display taking visitors on a journey through the county’s last 60 years.

There will also be some new, younger faces among the stewards as a few of their seniors step aside. 

These will need to be put through their paces. And the older hands – even those with many years of show experience under their belts – will also be out of practice. 

They will be “ring rusty” as Bruce puts it. “It’s a technical horsey term which means you have not been out for a while. We have tried to stay one step ahead of it,” he says.

Even the equipment has needed an extra spruce-up as it is dragged out after three years in storage.

Then there’s all the usual last-minute hitches as the trade stand holders start to arrive and need attention. “We call it the ‘can you just?’ scenario – the builders call it snagging,” explains Bruce.

But another novelty this year is that effectively Bruce has three – not one – deputies to assist him. James Nunn, John Taylor and Tony Pulham are all determined to support Bruce and make this a show to remember.

The top team spent a long time unsure about what kind of show they would be able to hold this year and about whether any restrictions would still be in place. As part of their research they attended other shows including the Great Yorkshire to see how they’ve gone about it. They drafted up plans – but luckily will not need to implement them.

All of this has required time and effort. “We were planning this show thinking we might have to have restrictions right up to the end of January,” says Bruce. But they never considered giving up on the show, he says.

Throughout the long hiatus, Bruce has led from the front, adds his team.

“The majority of his (Bruce’s) waking hours have been about how can we improve with all the restrictions. It has been his life really,” says Tony.