The top team keeping this year’s Suffolk Show on the road
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
They’ve been preparing for this moment since June 2019.
And now – finally – it’s almost within touching distance.
As the clock ticks down on the first day of 2022 Suffolk Show, deputies James Nunn, John Taylor and Tony Pulham are hard at work helping show director Bruce Kerr to apply the finishing touches.
The 300-strong show team – made up largely of working farmers from across the counties who give their time for free – has endured an agonising wait for the event to be revived following two Covid cancellations.
Maintaining morale and ensuring a cohesive approach has been vital. Bruce’s top team has been a crucial element in keeping the show on the road during the three-year hiatus.
“The trouble is a lot of us are farmers so we have got other responsibilities,” says John.
But good planning has been a real boon, he adds. “Effectively we cancelled two shows in the same year – that’s because of Bruce’s foresight.”
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Bruce’s decisiveness saved more pain – but over the last few weeks and months the team has still had to unwind its activities after three years in a state of suspension. The team has not been idle in that time, with meetings held online and lots of showground improvements green-lit during the pandemic – but there is still a lot of extra work involved.
Effectively, says John, they have been preparing for the show since June 2019 – as soon as that year’s show ended. “That’s when we started the debrief for next year,” he says. “We have been considering this a long while.”
The decisions to cancel the previous show was pretty much unanimous and there have been no regrets, they say. “Best to be safe than sorry,” says Tony.
It was important to control their costs as best they could and this has been a central concern. As a result, the show body is in better financial shape than many. Organisers had the foresight to insure the event well in the first year of the pandemic. It meant it was comfortably cushioned in 2020 – although by 2021 such policies were impossible to come by so all they could do was to minimise the damage.
“I know for some other shows it has been tough,” says Bruce. “We were very fortunate that several years ago our then board decided to take out insurance because of the windy year in 2012.”
Normally, a show director has only one deputy, but this year, Bruce has accumulated three – and counts himself very lucky.
Each of these has been assigned their own set of responsibilities, with John Taylor shadowing Bruce in readiness for his own three-year stint as director, which begins next year.
Tony – who has previously worked on ticketing and the gates – has been working with Bee Kemball on Suffolk – the Platinum Years – a huge exhibition celebrating Suffolk’s last 70 years to mark the Queen’s jubilee which will form a centrepiece for this year’s event.
James – the longest-serving of the deputies – was previously a livestock steward who was responsible for the very busy light horses competitions. He has enjoyed getting an overview of the show and seeing it from a very different perspective. He is “increasingly excited” as show momentum builds.
All three praise Bruce for his approach during such a difficult time.
“Bruce has been a real team leader. I think we have got to say the board of directors has backed Bruce and the show 150%. If it was not for the board members we would not be in the position we are now,” says Tony.
Excitement has been building for weeks. Stewards are hard at work being put through their paces as the final physical elements that go into making up the show arrive.
Earlier in May, there was a big meeting of more than 300 volunteers – a mass reunion after the pandemic.
“I saw people I hadn’t seen for three years,” says John.
During their prolonged absence, the showground hadn’t stood still. The Suffolk Agricultural Association – the farm charity which runs the show – forged ahead with a host of improvements, installing new toilet blocks and planting an avenue of trees to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
But reviving equipment lingering in storage for such an extended period has been a challenge, admits John, who was previously steward in charge of showground maintenance before taking on his new role.
“We have done a lot more decorating and maintenance during the lead-up because when you don’t use your site it gets a bit tired – I see that from the maintenance side.
“We might put a lick of paint on this and that and everything gets a bit of attention – but we have had a few years when that hasn’t happened.”
Although during the three year period, a few of the older stewards have dropped out, it has been heartening to see an influx of younger supporters this year. Among them are John’s children, Andy, 18, Rob, 23, and Pip, 22.
By its nature, with all the planning that has gone in early on, it is only the final days that some jobs can be done – so the work rate is intensive in the immediate build-up to the show.
“We would love to have said we are absolutely ready but the trouble is you do a lot of jobs before the show,” explains John.
But with morale high, the team is approaching this year’s event with an enormous sense of optimism.
“Everybody has said we’ll come back and we are going to try and make the show bigger and better,” says Tony.