2012 Great Yorkshire Show - What went wrong and what happens next?
PUBLISHED: 22:26 05 September 2012 | UPDATED: 17:31 17 March 2016
The man who was forced to pull the plug on this year's Great Yorkshire Show talks to Chris Titley about what went wrong and what is planned to avoid another calamity next year<br/>Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Nigel Pulling gestured out of the window of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society in Harrogate. ‘Look out there. That was the horsebox park. That muddy field. That’s had a lot of work to get it back to that state. There were huge ruts in it.’ The field looked like it had been freshly ploughed.
This is a month after July’s Great Yorkshire Show became the first in 154 years to be cancelled due to bad weather, and the land still bears the scars.
There are psychological scars, too, for the 80-plus permanent staff at the society who worked year-round on their showpiece event, only to see the last two days of the show called off after torrential rainfall.‘It’s the highlight of what this organisation does,’ said Nigel, who has been chief executive of the society for 10 years. ‘It’s a showcase for farming and the countryside in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the north of England and the whole of England.
‘So not being able to deliver a full three days was a devastating blow.’
Financially the society and Yorkshire as a whole is still counting the cost.
The Country Land and Business Association puts the total loss at £4.5 million – and Nigel agreed that the society itself lost at least £2 million.
That’s quite a hole in their pocket considering the show accounts for about half the total income of the society.
The good news: it has substantial reserves and is in a position to return with next year’s show.
But how did one of Yorkshire’s crown jewel events come to be scrapped after only one day? To find out you have to rewind to the weekend before the show was due to open on July 9th.
By then, an eight-strong team at the society had spent much of the year preparing for the show. As the big day approached they were more sensitive than most to earlier wash outs. Badminton Horse Trials was cancelled.
Then the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone had major problems. ‘As the wet weather continued we began to review our contingency plans,’ said Nigel.
The problem was not so much the showground as the parking. The Great Yorkshire Show typically attracts 15,000 cars a day, 90 per cent of which are parked on grass. Already wet, the car park fields were getting wetter.
The society had previously invested in better drainage and knew that given three days of drier weather, the ground would be back to normal. But the rain didn’t let up, so additional measures were taken. A new park and ride scheme was set up at Plumpton Bar on the A661, south of Harrogate, to try to persuade more visitors to come by public transport.
‘We decided to improve some of the roads, some on a permanent basis, some on a temporary basis,’ said Nigel. Construction work took place on the Sunday before the show.
Tuesday, July 9th, and the Great Yorkshire Show opened as planned. ‘The first day, we had a good day. Inside the showground was pretty good. Then it poured down at about 3pm. That was when we were beginning to think we’re in serious difficulty here.’
Later that afternoon Nigel and his key staff were briefed by their experienced car parking contractor, SEP from Boroughbridge. The news was not good. Vehicles were getting stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out by tractors.
As the ground was churned up it became unusable for parking for the following day. The atmosphere was grim. ‘You were staring at a decision you knew you had to make but didn’t want to make. As it became obvious we hadn’t got the amount of parking we needed to hold the show safely, we then had to consider the consequences of how we get the message out as quickly as possible.’
The show was over. The announcement was released through Twitter and Facebook and on the early evening local TV news bulletins, while stallholders were given a written statement.
Those stuck on the ground were unhappy. Here is part of a comment left on the Guardian website by a stallholder: ‘The organisers were nowhere in sight – a few brave stewards were pushing people out of the mud, but otherwise, no preparation had been made.
‘No straw down on our row until the afternoon, which was a mud bath, and the car park was a quagmire when we arrived at six in the morning... no straw or rubber matting there either.’
It sounded chaotic. ‘I think chaotic’s unfair,’ said Nigel. ‘There are a huge number of people involved.’ He said they didn’t have straw but instead brought in a type of hardy grass called miscanthus to try to make the fields passable.
‘We bought ground guards, we hired ground guards, we had loads of miscanthus come in. You can always say, could you have done more? We did an awful lot to try and make sure the show could continue.’
The following day, the show organisers started to assess the damage. They had no insurance for such a calamity because ‘it didn’t make financial sense when you’d never cancelled in 153 shows. We would rather invest the money in our facilities than paying insurance premiums.’
Although not obliged to do so, the society decided to refund trade-stands two-thirds of what they’d paid. ‘People think that’s fair overall. It was the right thing to do, as a goodwill gesture.’
Despite the financial hit the Yorkshire Agricultural Society ‘has got healthy financial reserves, a lot of which is down to good management following the sale of land to Sainsbury’s in the early nineties,’ said Nigel. ‘One of the reasons why we didn’t insure was we knew we could cope with the loss of one show.’
Now they are considering ways to ‘minimise the chances of anything similar happening again.
‘That means improving the drainage, putting more hard standing in, looking at our contingency plans – and we’re on with that process now.’
Can he guarantee a full show next year? ‘We can deliver a three-day show. If it rains twice as much as it’s done this year, we will be in serious trouble. But if the rainfall is anything like the normal average we will be fine.
‘You can’t absolutely guarantee. But we will be better prepared next year. And we’ll be back with hopefully a bigger and better show.’
He looked out at that muddy field again. ‘You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.’