Food for thought: Weather the storm

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Bill Cowling, Honorary show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, on measures taken this year to attempt to ‘weatherproof’ the horticultural event Bad weather meant the cancellation of the final two days of the Great Yorkshire Show last year. The show has never been cancelled due to the weather in its history, and the first show was held in 1838. The run up in May and June were extremely wet, so contingency measures in terms of improving ground were put in place, which meant we were able to open on the first day. However, there was a torrential downpour which meant we had to take the decision to cancel the final two days to the public. Many of the competitive classes were judged, but it was strange not to have the public there to watch, which is a key part of the event. It costs approximately £1m per day to stage, so we lost £2m. This comprised refunds to exhibitors whose classes did not go ahead, to the public and we also decided to refund our trade stand holders for the lost two days, though our terms and conditions did not require this. We have a loyal customer base, and we are heartened that this year, the number of exhibitors who are returning stands at 92 per cent which is on a par with previous years. We were monitoring the situation in the days running up to the event with a core group representing the various elements of the event – including our car parking contractors, meeting to discuss developments. We looked at all the possibilties for continuing, but decided it was the right decision to cancel – a decision which even with hindsight was correct. Once the decision was made, our aim was to communicate that as quickly and efficiently as possible so the public knew not to come along. The Yorkshire Agricultural Society has set aside £500,000 to try and ‘weatherproof’ the show this July at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. Groundworks are underway to put in extra roadways, drainage systems and hard standing around car park gateways. In addition, we are looking at acquiring a number of pieces of land to boost our car parking capacity.
 We were not insured, as in the past the cost has been prohibitive and the exclusions made it unsuitable. However, it is something we have not ruled out. James Puxty, NEC Group head of communications, on the unusual situation of five simultaneous events hit by snow storms in January In the days leading up to January 18 (when the first events opened) there were significant weather warnings of snow. Although the snowfall wasn’t quite as significant as predicted, it did result in tough, icy, conditions, preventing members of the public travelling to Strictly Come Dancing at the NIA. In addition, some paying customers chose not to travel at all or arrived late to the event. The focus for the NEC trade shows (Interiors at the NEC, Motorcycle Trade Expo, The Hospitality Show) was on-going logistics management to ensure that the roads remained clear for vehicle access and that the correct procedures were in place for call-out staff in the event of on-going freezing conditions and snow. There was no significant impact on the events due to the weather by the time they opened on the Sunday/Monday. There were two distinct differences in the NEC Group approach. Strictly and Madagascar Live! were consumer events with significant social media interaction where customers were in dialogue with each venue’s social media channels (mainly Facebook and Twitter) debating who would make it to each show and whether events would be on/off/safe to attend. Statements were put together to inform, address criticism and reassure the public that the ‘show would go on’, but that safety was a priority, and so decisions had been made only after having sought the advice of local authorities. We ensured that weather bulletin links were added to our web pages to help our customers make an informed choice with regards to their journey to our venues.  The NEC venue events were trade shows who took the approach that it was ‘business as usual unless otherwise stated’. To keep on top of the constantly changing situation, staff monitored social media channels, websites, weather bulletins and Highways Agency updates, providing regular updates with key stakeholders. As a result of the experience, “on-call” and crisis management processes have been tightened up to accurately reflect the situations likely to be faced.Charlotte Harris, Event manager at Showplace Events, organisers of the Stratford Food Festival, which experienced the pros and cons of the weather For the Stratford Food Festival event this past September we saw both the positive and the negative affect the weather can have in the space of just 48 hours. Our first day we had glorious sunshine which drew in record crowds to the recreation ground and our exhibitors also sold very well. Sunday saw torrential rain which obviously lowered our footfall and affected trade. This weather also made the site waterlogged and if we had suffered this just 24 hours earlier it would have forced us to cancel the event completely. Thanks to Saturday’s high footfall, our financial impact wasn’t affected in a negative way. However, two days of Sunday’s weather would have changed this and I predict we would have suffered a loss on the project if this had been the case. When the site became waterlogged on Sunday, and for takedown on Monday, we restricted vehicle movements as much as possible as this would have damaged the grass further. We also ensured that takedown was completed as safely as possible and luckily the workers were not delayed in their efforts on this. As outdoor event organisers, we know that factors such as the weather are beyond our control but how you react to them is not, and we have learned to react in a safe, efficient and quick manner. Making quick decisions based on the condition of a waterlogged site is necessary.  We are very lucky that we had a good day of weather on the Saturday, however, our site on the riverbank was always at a high risk and is part of the reason why Stratford Racecourse has become the new venue for the event in 2013. We now have indoor space, hard standing surfaces and the positive of not being right next to the riverbank to help combat the issues that bad weather brings to these kind of events year round. While we’re disappointed to have to leave the recreation ground, the upside is that the racecourse offers us a long-term home and an exciting expansion opportunity, and being able to cope with wet weather. This was first published in the April edition of EN. Any comments? Email sarah@mashmedia.net
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