The county show – can it be all things to all people?

Royal Cornwall Show 2008As I write this, Royal Cornwall Show is but hours away.  Traditionally agricultural shows have been the highlight of the year for many in the community; an opportunity to get away from the farm for a few days, to show off their livestock, and meet up with family and friends who live further away down or up county.  But our society is (and has been for some time) moving away from this and it is being replaced with cultural experiences such as festivals and community events.

The agricultural show itself has changed to become more of a trading event with the showing of livestock as only part of the event and certainly not the reason that most people go.  The show has changed to become a spectacle with people attending because it is huge and there are multiple activities including shopping, music & entertainment, displays, competitions, freebie giveaways from promotional stands, oh and the livestock and equine competitive elements.  There is a split in both activity and attendance as the core activity and audience remains the farmers, livestock showing and agricultural businesses but there is this other world of activity with retail, entertainment and promotions. It seems to have lost its way a little and is trying to be all things to all people, probably because that’s a route to sustaining it for the next year.

The development of this other world is not only part of making the show viable but is also an indicator of its success – businesses looked at the show 50 years ago or more and recognised that the show offered the opportunity to engage a large number of people in one go and the retail and promotional activity was born!  Originally focussed on agriculture-related businesses, this has now grown to include all sectors and all types of organisation.

I think we as a population are moving away from the mixed up bundle that is the county show to want to engage with spectacle that has focus and meaning and is open and accessible to all.  A place where we can be engaged and inspired, where we can meet up with those family and friends who live further away, where we can connect with new relationships, and connect with our sense of place.  This is vitally important from an events perspective in that we can create those spaces and places where this happens.  Working with the creative sector, like City of Lights and WildWorks, we (collectively) can meet that need that started the agricultural shows all those years ago – the need to meet, the need to connect, the need to share.

It is important to note this sense of place idea.  With the dissolving of the focus of the agricultural show, Royal Cornwall Show could be any other county show so where is our sense of place that this is ours or that this represents us as a county or as a region (or as an ethnic minority!!)?  Cultural events, and for Cornwall, particularly City of Lights, fills this gap that is about our cultural identity and the traditions of a place.  Whilst the main event is in Truro, there are hundreds if not thousands of smaller lantern events that have sprung up as a consequence of City of Lights and are used as a means to bring each community together, to create their own sense of place.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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