Exhibitions in the West Country

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More exhibitions are heading to the south west of England, as organisers see the potential of tapping into an underserved, wealthy and growing population. The issue is, where to host your event? Bristol was recently voted the best city in the UK, according to a Quality of Living Index report conducted by MoneySupermarket. The report, which gauged residents’ wealth and happiness, praised the city’s green credentials, education and buoyant property market. Put another way, the familiar trinity of sustainability, content and ROI springs to mind – phrases constantly connected to exhibitions. Which makes you wonder, why does a city like Bristol not have a proper exhibition venue? The city is in the top 10 urban built-up areas by population, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), has a vibrant festival scene and excellent marketing initiatives (the recent Gromit Unleashed city-wide art exhibition being a prime example). Yet, when it comes to exhibitions, the people of Bristol, and the entire, sprawling south west region, have to trek as far as London or Birmingham. If you live in Cornwall, that’s a near impossible day trip for a show. A careful glance at the latest Census figures released this March make interesting reading, with the ONS stating the South West has the highest proportion of over 65s in England. As of mid-2011, 19.7 per cent of residents in the region were aged 65 and over, compared to a national average of 17.5 per cent and 11.1 per cent in London. The region also saw the highest migration rate from other UK areas. This makes fascinating reading for an organiser like Rob McCaffrey and his 50+ Show, and is why he is now heading to Exeter for the latest addition to the senior lifestyle show’s portfolio. “For years we’ve been receiving letters and postcards from people in the West Country, asking us to bring the 50+ Show a bit closer to them,” McCaffrey told EN last month. “We had previously had visitors come from Truro to our London 50+ Show, so we knew that the ‘fervour’ was there. We’re expecting to bring in visitors to Exeter from Truro, Plymouth, Barnstable, Bideford, Bridgewater, Yeovil, Okehampton, Dorchester, Weymouth, Torquay, Exeter, Bristol, Bath, Bournemouth and even from south Wales. “I visited a number of possible sites for the show and Westpoint was easily the best.”Weighing in with a 4,590sqm column-free hall, Westpoint certainly has the size and facilities to be taken seriously. On top of that there are 150 acres of landscaped grounds which organisers can make full use of, and more than a mile of internal roads (something McCaffrey has his eye on for electric bicycles). Touring the grounds of the former farm (which was established 25 years ago by the agricultural society as a permanent home for the Devon County Show), you get a sense of the potential, the opportunity to make a suitable exhibition much more than what goes on within the walls of the main hall. So what is the right kind of show for Westpoint? “We work very closely with new and existing event organisers to ensure the venue meets their needs as best as possible,” says business manager Emily Egan. “We are lucky to have a diverse mix of exhibitions and events at Westpoint, covering a whole range of sectors. Two thirds of events are consumer shows and one third trade.” Egan cited successful concerts held at Westpoint (including Robbie Williams and Florence + the Machine) to show that people in the area have a passion for live events on their doorstep. She claims the venue has 500,000 people within half an hour, and three million within 90 minutes. Savvy organisers have already been doing well at Westpoint, with ICHF’s Stitch, Sew and Hobbycrafts show in September attracting around 18,000 visitors over four days. ICHF has been at Westpoint for 25 years. “In January we have Giving and Living – the largest trade show in the South West,” says Egan. “Stitch, Sew and Hobbycrafts is the highest attended consumer show at Westpoint and has been with the venue since the very beginning. We also have the Renewables Roadshow.” Elsewhere on the calendar are two caravan, motorhome and static home shows which make the full use of the hall and outdoor space, the free parking, excellent road links to the M5, and free, upgraded Wi-Fi. New for 2014 will be a ubiquitous baking show (The Big Cake Show, 28-30 March) which completes the cake, craft, caravan formula, and the addition of The 50+ Show seems a sensible move bearing in mind the demographic. However, you can’t help feeling that with so many people heading here in the summer months to camp and enjoy the more active side of the south west, something like The Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show would be an obvious addition. Westpoint certainly has the grounds and the ‘passing trade’ to warrant such a show. “The Big Cake Show is coming to Westpoint at the end of March,” says Egan. “This is a brand new show by two local event organisers. It has already been very well received and has Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood lined up to attend. “We are also very excited to host the 50+ Show in September, and have a number of very positive enquiries. These events are really exciting, and very different, for Westpoint.” Building on this momentum, Westpoint is launching a new website this month and has engaged marketing and PR agency Destination CMS to promote the venue and ultimately attract more exhibitions to complement the various live shows and annual county show. “We work closely with new event organisers to develop three-to-five year rental deals which offers them assistance in the early years while shows are establishing,” says Egan. “Exhibitions can use as much or as little of the hall as they require for their event (a marquee can be put up outside the hall if the event needs more space). For shows that do not use all of the hall we can pro-rata the rental. “The price of a set up or breakdown day at Westpoint is only 18 per cent of a show day. Westpoint keeps the price of these days low because we recognise they aren’t revenue earners for the event organisers. We are also able to offer 24-hour access to the site, ensuring non earning days are kept to a minimum.” It’s this kind of appreciation and understanding of the organiser that might well put Westpoint on a map that extends beyond its West Country roots. This was first published in the November issue of Exhibition News. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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