The empty showground says it all — roll on Suffolk Show 2022

An empty Grand Ring at Trinity Park, home of the Suffolk Show

An empty Grand Ring at Trinity Park on what would have been Suffolk Show 2021 - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The showground which hosts Suffolk’s biggest and most prestigious annual event stands empty.

The sunny green fields of Trinity Park on the edge of Ipswich should have been alive with the sound of cheering crowds, lowing cattle, breezy brass bands and intermittent tannoy announcements from the show rings during the late May bank holiday week.

Instead, the farmers who put on the Suffolk Show are quietly reflecting on a bruising two years.

They are also looking ahead, and working on how to put on a show to remember in 2022 — the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

This year’s two-day farming extravaganza would have taken place on June 2 and 3 — but as events unfolded in 2020 it soon became clear that it wasn’t to be. Organisers cancelled early to ensure they weren’t faced with a big bill and nothing to show for it.

It was a painful decision — but given the turn of events it’s not one they’ve had cause to regret.

Suffolk Show director Bruce Kerr and Suffolk Agricultural Association chairman Bill Baker

Suffolk Show director Bruce Kerr at Trinity Park on the date when Suffolk Show 2021 should have been happening. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The charity behind the event — the Suffolk Agricultural Association — remains deeply grateful to the GP who has guided them skilfully through the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Richard West of Woolpit Health Centre sits on the show committee as an honorary medical officer and his advice has been invaluable — and his predictions very accurate, say the show’s top team.

He forewarned them about the probable course of the virus — and the second wave — which meant show director Bruce Kerr and his team were able to steer a clear course through two very challenging years.

With few to no events, Trinity Park Events — the commercial arm of the organisation — has had to tighten its belt through a combination of furlough and redundancies.

But the slimmed-down team at Suffolk Agricultural Association has kept going and has stayed focus on improving the quality of the grounds and the show experience. Old toilet blocks are set to be demolished to make way for new ones, the grounds have been given a good spruce-up and the SAA has invested heavily in IT.

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2022 will be the only Suffolk Show run by Bruce as he reaches the end of his three-year tenure next year and he wants it to be an event to remember. He will be supported by show director-elect John Taylor and two deputy show directors James Nunn and Tony Pulham.

The Suffolk Show team in June 2021

David Barker, Tony Pulham, Phillip Ainsworth, Bill Baker, Bruce Kerr and John Taylor in the Grand Ring at Trinity Park - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Ironically, this year’s show weather — had the event gone ahead — has been ideal and would have attracted big crowds. No one yet knows exactly how the next year will pan out, but there is a sense that nothing will be quite the same again. For better or for worse, the events and hospitality trade has changed for good. For one thing, technology has moved on. For another, attitudes are changing. The pandemic has prompted the events industry to hit the reset button and look again at how things are done.

As people return to workplaces in greater numbers and society returns to normal over June and July, Bruce and the SAA will be engaging with the stallholders, sponsors and various groups who make the show happen. He and the team will also be watching carefully to see how things change on the ground.

The show will be taking place at the height of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations. The dates have been brought forward to Tuesday, May 31, and Wednesday, June 1, 2022, as the Thursday and Friday (June 2 and 3) of that week have been earmarked for a specially-extended bank holiday to mark her reign. The aim will be to end the show on a high with a jubilee pageant.

It is likely to be a very busy time — both in Suffolk and elsewhere — and Bruce and the team will have their work cut out.
“We know we are going to have competition with other events going on around the jubilee,” says Bruce.

There will be other logistical problems too. Restrictions on numbers indoors and hygiene rules are likely to be tighter and show organisers will need to consider a host of extra measures around ensuring a free flow of people, and avoiding bottlenecks. Busier areas such as catering and the food hall will one of the areas they will be focusing on. A cashless system is among the innovations under consideration, but will require underpinning with the right infrastructure. 

Other events in the lead-up to the show will help them to firm up their plans and the loss of the show this year means more time to get it right. The show relies on hundreds of volunteers from the farming community who muck in with gusto — but after a three year break they will inevitably be rusty.

And show organisers will be working more closely than ever with East Suffolk council to ensure the right systems in place after such a major public health crisis. 

“They have been absolutely great,” says Bruce. But added: “We will need to be fleet of foot and reactive to the circumstances as they present themselves.”