The Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show is being held at Motcombe Showground next week, on Wednesday 14th August. As Alfred’s Keri Jones discovered, this year’s event is already a record-breaker and its organisers are confident that the varied mix of agricultural entries, crafts, food, entertainment and shopping opportunities will ensure that it is the best to date.
Anyone who has driven from Shaftesbury down to Gillingham recently will have noticed that show preparations are well-underway with some marquees and tents already erected. Sam Braddick, the Show Secretary, has arranged this event for the last 24 years, and says that last year’s one-day event enjoyed a massive attendance. “We had a cracking day, over 24,000 people. I think it was probably one of the most successful shows we’ve had,” said Sam.
“We’ve often claimed that we are the biggest one-day show in the southwest or even the whole country. It is very difficult to know, because the only basis for working these things out is the attendance figures,” said Sam. “They are totally governed by the weather. There are a lot of shows that get over 20,000 people, but ours is the best because we organise it, run it and we’re dedicated to it.”
Sam says the show is certainly the ‘best in the south-west’, and then he added that it was ‘perhaps the best in the south-east, too’. And he says that there are ‘no decent shows with such a strong agricultural input’ after you get past the New Forest Show.
The Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show’s reputation has spread beyond the Forest and Hampshire and Sam is proud that visitors come from an increasingly wide area. “I’m always surprised by the number of people that come in from North Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Not so much Devon and Cornwall, because they’ve got a lot of shows down there. We are a traditional show and we’ve got a bit of a niche there. We get quite a lot of people from the Isle of Wight, especially sheep exhibitors. I always hear people say, ‘my cousin is coming over from Australia especially for the show’,” said Sam.
He added that he doesn’t really think that people travel from Down Under primarily for the occasion. “There are always some people that are coming from abroad because they’ve lived here in the past and they want it to coincide with their holiday.”
Advance ticket sales are looking good for next week and Sam hopes this dry weather remains. Obviously, he doesn’t want rain, but unbroken sunshine isn’t perfect either. It encourages people to head to the beach.
There will certainly be a lot to see. With over a week to go, every trade stand is taken. Sam says the show has never been fully sold at this stage before. “It is exceptional in that respect,” he said. “We’re very excited about the quality of the stands we’ve got, as well as the volume. We want to get the variety right and fill the area as well,” said Sam, adding, “The important thing is we’ve got a lot of bookings from new people.”
This year attendees will notice that the motor trade will, once again, be represented on the showground. “Last year, car dealers were absent because sales were down and staff had been laid off. This year, we’ve got four new dealers. None of them has been before, so we’re very pleased about that and very excited about the future for that side of the show.”
During our chat, Sam mentioned the word ‘future’ on several occasions. Change is in the air. A new Show Secretary-Designate, James Cox, has been appointed ready to steer the show when Sam retires. And the farming sector, along with the rest of the country, is still uncertain what will happen with the UK’s EU membership.
“Brexit is having a big effect. Having been to other shows and watching people there, they are not spending in the same way as they did before. I think for a lot of stands it is really an opportunity to put their name in front of the public and let the public see what they’re offering. There’s definitely not the money being spent that there ought to be,” he said.
The vast produce tent offers a showcase for local food and drink manufacturers, many of whom have diversified from farming. “There is a demand to buy direct from the producer. It allows visitors to see what is readily available locally, and what high quality the producers are making. It’s a very important thing to the show,” said Sam.
Local produce and livestock competitions and classes are part of the show’s DNA. But because many of the residents who have moved into our area are unfamiliar with farming practices, Sam believes the event’s educational role is increasingly important.
“It’s very sad that people don’t realise that milk isn’t just in the bottle. It has to come from a cow, that has to eat some grass, concentrate feeds and has to be milked. We need to put across the cost of what’s involved in producing the milk, the eggs, the meat and corn. The public needs to know that it doesn’t all grow on trees and just can’t be picked off at a moment’s notice. We can’t cut corners to produce food any cheaper. We don’t want to try to lower standards because the first thing that we said is, ‘it’s the farmers’ fault’. The supermarkets are actually trying to drive the prices down,” said Sam.
The educational space is clearly important, and its increased area represents its significance. “We’ve put extra tents on the end,” said Sam, who promises that a number of agricultural processes will be explained inside. “Local beekeepers are bringing a live hive so that you can watch the bees coming and going. BV Dairy is offering a display of how they produce products from the raw milk that comes from farms within the Vale. Live animals are coming here. We’ll be talking about the history of the wool and the Spinning Jenny. Cereals, corn and the grains that are grown in the area will be on display and they’ll be crushing the oil seed rape. We get these tiny black seeds and when you wind the handle, they get crushed and out comes golden oil. I wonder where all the black goes,” said Sam.
“There’s the model farm too and the team have been busy this year producing a series of jigsaws of animals and machinery for the children to put back together again,” he added.
So what about the show’s future? Sam has been working together with his soon-to-be successor, James, since June. We joked that James was Sam’s ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. “I will do my best to stand back but I find it very difficult,” Sam confided. “The trouble is, I’ve got so much up in my head and not written down. It’s difficult to pass on some of the information. But I want to be up here next year in some form because that will be my 25th show. They have got some jobs lined up for me, I’m pleased to say.”
James is now learning the specifics of this particular show but, in terms of agricultural events, he knows his stuff. He comes from a farming family and his long-interest in agricultural shows started when he volunteered with the Dorchester Show. That led to a full-time role at one of the west’s biggest events.
“I was Trade Stand Manager at the Royal Bath and West,” said James, who told me that moving to the top position at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show was ‘the next step’ for him. “I was looking for the next role, where I could get more involved with the whole event. I’m looking forward to being part of the marketing and the sponsorship and bringing it all together as one,” said James.
At 23 years of age, James is younger than many of the business managers, farmers and decision-makers he deals with. He doesn’t think his age is relevant. “I think you have to prove yourself. Hopefully you can prove that age doesn’t matter. It is your experience, not your age, which is the main thing.”
James says that he has been most excited by the level of support this show receives. “The number of volunteers is impressive, and everyone is so nice. They are a great bunch of people,” he said.
James’ background affords him a different perspective on how to approach the show’s organisation in years to come. “Everything I do is computer-based. I am very much commercially based as well,” James said. “Currently, I’m thinking about the marketing side and behind the scenes work, such as our logistics mapping.”
He had to explain that to me, describing it as a way of computer modelling show layouts. “You have every sort of detail on it, which helps your traders and everyone else.”
And he’s planning for the show’s growth. “Agriculture business has more potential. We need to make sure everyone is aware of what we do offer our farmers,” James said, adding that there could be more promotion of local food and drink in the future.
Ultimately, James believes the annual event can become bigger. “I’d like to increase our numbers, hopefully, in the next five years to about 25,000, maybe 30,000. I want to grow the visitor numbers and sponsorship numbers and things hopefully will continue to expand and grow.”
It seems that our local show will play an even greater role in encouraging visitors to our area. The show’s success is also good for local businesses who get involved and James had a final message for Shaftesbury’s business community. “The show is their show. We want them to work with us to promote and market them and tell us what they think of the show and how we can work together,” he said.
The first event on the show timetable is the Ridden Hunter classes at 8am. Other selected highlights include heavy horse judging at 9.30am.
The show jumping classes begin at 12noon and the Shetland ponies are scheduled to race at 5.15pm. There’s ferret racing in the Turnpike Ring at 10am, 10.45am,11.30am, 1pm and at 2.15pm.
You can watch the terrier racing at 11.45am and 3pm. A falconry display will take to the air above the showground at 12.15pm and 4.30pm.
Entertainment includes local band Mustang Sally, performing at 10.30am, 1pm and at 3pm. Special food events include hummus making at 10am in the food hall and ice cream demonstrations at 11am. The expert chefs will show you how to use local fish at 12noon and they will cook with local venison and lamb at 1pm.
At 2pm there’s a bread-making demonstration and Conker Spirit gin present their demonstration at 3pm. The last special event of the day is the balloon ascent at 6pm.
A rolling bus service will operate from outside Shaftesbury Town Hall to the showground and back during the day. Tickets for the show are £16 for adults on the show day or £14 in advance. Children aged between 5 and 16 years are either £4 on the day or £3 beforehand. Admission for under-fives is free.