WHY EAST OF ENGLAND
MUST GO ON
With other agricultural shows closing their
gates because of foot-and-mouth disease,
the decision to go ahead with this years
East of England Show was far from
unanimous, as Mike Williams discovered
IT was an unenviable decision for Andrew Mercer to have to make, so soon after taking over as chief executive officer of the East of England Agricultural Society. He moved into his new job in January and by the middle of March, the foot-and-mouth outbreak was already raising a big question mark over events such as the East of England Show.
Organisers of most of the big shows and other agricultural events decided to play safe and cancel, but one of the few exceptions is the East of England Show, which will open on June 15, 16 and 17 as planned. The show-goes-on decision followed what Mr Mercer describes as "a very vigorous debate" in which the proposal to go ahead was eventually carried by a clear majority.
"It was a difficult situation, and we have received a small number of complaints from people who think we made the wrong decision, but we have also been delighted by the level of support from those who agree with the show opening," said Mr Mercer.
"Before reaching our decision, we took advice from a number of organisations about the risks involved, and the precautionary measures we will be taking during the show will be second to none."
The decision to hold the show was not taken for financial reasons. In spite of the 160,000 annual attendance figure, it is not a profit-making event, and the organisers rely on income from a busy schedule of other events at the Peterborough showground to cover the loss made by the East of England Show.
"We see the show as an excellent opportunity to inform the general public about the agricultural industry and the way safe, quality food is produced from British farms, and the foot-and-mouth situation makes that message even more important," said Mr Mercer.
Images on TV
"We have all seen the images on our TV screens as MAFF and the military try to eradicate the disease, and this is very alarming for the British public. We believe we are under an obligation to use this years show to demonstrate that British agriculture is fighting back and will continue to produce the best and safest food, and that is why we decided to go ahead with the show."
Because of the F&M situation, this years show – with Pearl insurance as the main sponsor – will be very different from previous ones. The F&M exhibit will feature prominently, but the livestock section – usually a big attraction – is restricted to horses. Entries for the equestrian competitions are at record levels this year, with some events over-subscribed, and Mr Mercer thinks this years long list of cancelled shows leaves horse-riding enthusiasts with few opportunities to compete.
The absence of farm livestock releases a large amount of space, and some of this has been allocated for a steam rally. There will also be an extended vintage section where tractor and machinery buffs can view developments through more than a century of mechanised farming, and there is also more space for the popular classic car display.
Other developments for the 2001 show include more emphasis on the Country Trail, a combined fun and learning attraction for school-age children. This activity, offering opportunities to win small prizes, attracted 1000 children last year, and the organisers hope to beat that total this time.
"Our job is to make sure the East of England Show is an attractive and enjoyable day out for the family, and we are unashamedly trying to attract all-comers," said Mr Mercer. "We want farmers and anyone else involved in the agricultural industry to enjoy the show, but we also want to attract people with no connection with farming.
"Our surveys show that about 100,000 of our visitors are in the non-farming category. We want to provide a programme they will enjoy, but we also want to provide them with an opportunity to learn something about farming, food production and the way farmers are protecting our countryside heritage."
EAST OF ENGLAND 2001
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 15 to 17.
Where: The East of England Showground is on the northern edge of Peterborough with easy access from the A1, and access routes will be signposted.
Admission: Charges at the gate are: adults £11, children aged 5-16 £5, senior citizens £8.