It’s six months since James Cox was appointed secretary of the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. James says his plans for the 2020 event include more local producers, performing pigs and reduced-price tickets for early online bookers.
24-year-old James is taking on the show organiser duties from Sam Braddick, who retired after 24 years in the role. And he has been making some changes. The show has a new logo and its social media presence has been beefed up.
James has also launched a new website, with online ticket sales for the first time. “You can save 40% if you book online,” said James. He’s hoping the savings will encourage people to visit the new website. Advanced sales have been going well and James hopes the bookings will ensure that the crowds come out, even if there are showers on show day. “It just means that people can get the tickets cheaper, so if you can’t afford it on the day, you can afford it in advance,” he said.
James has also moved the show headquarters from Gillingham to Shaftesbury’s Wincombe Business Centre. “I was looking for a new office for a fresh start for me and our new team,” explained James. “It is a temporary office because we are hoping to move to the showground. We own that, so we want to have our permanent home there. It’ll be a lot easier for setup. We have a lot of showground events throughout the year, so it’ll make it much easier for ourselves and the showground team.”
Last summer, James said one of his first tasks would be to create a computer-aided design of the showground. This detailed, black-and-white plan was pinned on the wall behind his desk. It offered an instant overview of the show’s layout – from sheep and cattle areas to the dog arena and the new countryside zone.
“There’s even every portaloo on there as well, it’s that extreme,” laughed James. “It took about three weeks to do and it’s still not complete. We’ll be adding stuff to it at the very last minute. It just means you can see the whole show and the traders know where they are going. It helps with the logistics and you can work out how many cars you can fit into the car park.”
And that’s important. James says he is ‘in talks’ over increasing the number of vehicle spaces. He has drafted a five-year plan and his blueprint for growth aims to boost show attendance figures beyond the regular 20,000 people, to 25,000 visitors or more.
James is keen to stress that enhancing the show experience has equal weighting. “It’s not just about getting bigger. It’s about doing more with the size (of the event) that we have already. We will be improving what we are currently doing and making it better for everybody who comes to the show. The five-year plan includes increasing visitor numbers, more sponsors and more traders but it is also improving it as well,” he said.
There are broadly two sides to the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show – the agricultural and non-farming elements. James wants both sectors to be aware of the entire show offer. “When I came as a visitor in 2018 with my farming family, we spent all day in the farming area. I got home and looked at the map and realised there was an arts tent and I had no idea,” said James. “It’s about promoting it to people. We are doing very well with our agricultural side. Our tagline is ‘The Show Where Business Gets Done’. Farmers can speak to their neighbours and to their machinery dealers. Then we have the consumer side, which is the attractions, food and putting the consumer in contact with the producer. We have two very different types of visitors,” he added.
New for 2020 will be an area devoted to local, rural makers who craft their products. “We’re turning one side of the show into our countryside area. We will have a craft tent down there, showing the crafts that come from the countryside, like stick makers and potters,” said James.
Local food will be more prominent too. “Very much ‘on trend’ currently is where we get our food from. I think people want to know. As an agricultural show, we should be promoting that more than anything. We shouldn’t be getting it from a big supermarket. It should be coming from our local butcher or baker,” said James. “We will continue to showcase local food and drink in the food hall but also through the catering units. One thing we want to make sure of is that we are promoting Gillingham, Shaftesbury and the surrounding areas, and our counties, which are Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.”
There is a finite number of people working in agriculture locally so growth of the show will come from attracting the general public from further afield. James knows that compelling entertainment will help encourage new visitors. He’s been surfing the web and watching YouTube videos to discover engaging attractions to book.
One of those new events is ‘The Hogg Show’. Its organisers promise an informative and entertaining session as they introduce the audience to rare pigs. Some of the animals perform, strutting between slalom cones or walking up along a sloping plank Their star performers are ‘Will-I-Ham’ and ‘Del Boy Trotter’.
James jumped at the chance to introduce pigs. “We have judging classes for cattle and sheep but not pigs. It is an educational show about all different types of breeds, and it will be located in our fun, food and farming area. It was good to bring something different,” said James, adding, “Hopefully people will like it.”
Horseback falconer Jonathan Marshall is another new performer for 2020. His show combines Spanish dancing horses and trained birds of prey as he mixes horsemanship with medieval falconry, choreographed to music. “He is the Free Spirit Show. He is currently touring America. He is based in this area and goes to lots of different agricultural shows and events,” said James, who added that the show is ‘amazing’.
Another draw will be The Adrenaline Tour – bike stunt riders who will ‘fly’ 30ft above the showground and from ramp to ramp whilst undertaking aerial tricks. James hopes the new acts and new branding will keep the show fresh and bring new fans, whilst retaining the core agricultural values of the Southwest’s largest one day show. “We are moving forward and I wanted to reflect the new image of the show,” he said.
The Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show is on Wednesday 19th August. You can read more and book tickets at GillinghamAndShaftesburyShow.co.uk.