7 June 2002

NEW-LOOKSHOWREADYFOREASTOFENGLAND…

After disappointing results last year, the East of England

Show has a new format for the future with the

emphasis on entertainment. Mike Williams reports

FOOT-AND-MOUTH may have forced the cancellation of virtually all shows last year, but the East of England Show at Peterborough was one of the few exceptions.

It was a difficult decision says Andrew Mercer, who took over as the East of England Agricultural Societys chief executive officer just a few months before the F&M outbreak started. Approval to give the go-ahead to last years show was agreed because it offered an opportunity to explain the facts about the disease and to show that the farming industry was fighting back, he says.

The show regularly attracts large numbers of visitors with non-farming backgrounds, and one of its functions is to offer information about farming to some of the industrys customers. The NFU provided an exhibit about the F&M epidemic which explained the importance of factors such as imported meat and the implications of introducing vaccination, said Mr Mercer, and it generated a lot of interest from the general public.

Generally poor

"Generally it was a poor show, and the attendance was down. This was partly due to poor weather, and also the F&M situation. We had to cancel the cattle, sheep and pig classes, and concerns about the disease situation probably discouraged some farmers from attending," he adds. "But it is also a fact that the show format has become stale and visitor numbers have been dropping for several years."

In a bid to arrest the decline in ticket sales Mr Mercer and his team are offering a new-look show with a new layout, a new name, reduced admission charges and a beefed-up entertainment programme. The new name is the East of England Country Show, with the emphasis on the word Country, and the advertising slogan is: The Dawning of a new Show.

The new layout is based on zones, with traditional agricultural show features at the centre while the outer zones provide the general entertainment including the crafts area, a motor show and a gardening centre. Family tickets offering big cash savings have been introduced for the first time, and the attractions that aim to bring in more visitors through the gates include a generous sprinkling of well-known personalities taking part in the shows gardening and cookery areas.

This years show also features a strong entertainment programme on each of the three evenings.

"During last years show I was struck by the fact that everyone seemed to be in a rush to get away at 5pm, and I dont want that to happen this year," he said. "We have a very good programme of evening entertainment, and we want our visitors to spend longer on the showground and get much more out of their day at the show."

With so much emphasis on entertainment, critics have already complained that the show is moving away from its traditional farming origins, but Mr Mercer believes this is inevitable. The old format of a farming show where farmers meet each other is no longer relevant for a big show like the East of England, he says.

"What we cant do is to try to deliver the type of show that was popular 50 years ago."

The number of people directly involved in farming has become too small to support a big show. We have to broaden our appeal to survive, and this applies to the other big agricultural shows and not just to the East of England. But we have not forgotten our links with farming, and the East of England Agricultural Society has a good programme of demonstrations and other practical events for farmers.

Entertainment

"To attract the general public we must put more emphasis on entertainment and particularly on family entertainment, and it means making sure we offer value for money," says Mr Mercer. "The show is also an opportunity to promote farming to the general public, and the cookery and food demonstrations will feature quality produce from this area."

"I believe there are a lot of people out there who stopped coming to the show because it had become boring, and our job is to bring them back. To do that we need a new format, because the show was going nowhere with the old ideas," says Mr Mercer.

Above: Sheep-shearing demonstration.

Left: Andrew Mercer,

the East of England Agricultural Societys

chief executive officer.

&#8226 When: Fri, Sat and Sun, Jun 14, 15 and 16.

&#8226 Times: Gates open from 8am.

&#8226 Where: The East of England Showground is on the northern edge of Peterborough with easy access from the AI and A14. Access routes will be signposted.

&#8226 Cost: Family (2 adults + 2 children 5-16) £24, Adult £12, OAP £8, Child (5-16) £5.

&#8226 More details: Tel 01733-234451 or www.eastofengland.org.uk