When one thinks of Peterborough Arena, its historical context of the East of England showground and its vast array of agricultural events come to mind.
Owned by the East of England Agricultural Society, the showground moved to the site in 1971, and made its name hosting a range of agricultural-focused events throughout the year, including the East of England Show.
“Over the last 30 years those events were the main stream of business, but we’ve gradually seen the decline in agricultural type of events and the way people in the industry work – a lot of money went out of the business,” said managing director of Peterborough Arena, Keith Dalton. “Historically, we have been a hidden jewel in the city’s crown – but that will change because we have a lot more to offer.”
The truth is that Peterborough Arena offers a lot more than its 250 acres of land. The site comprises a vast exhibition space offering free Wi-Fi, growing conference facilities, 22 miles of roadways, a speedway track and 22,000 free car parking spaces, off the A1.
The venue hosts events ranging from motor shows including the National Motorhome Show, to religious festivals such as Faith Camp which has 4,000 visitors stay at the venue, and popular entertainment-led events including Celebrities on Ice.
The last four years have seen a major restructuring within Peterborough Arena, with the build of a new 5,000sqm exhibition hall, which can accommodate a further 1,000sqm. A new team was introduced to the site, including Dalton who originally spent his time on the other side of the fence in event organising.
“I came here to look at developing the exhibitions and events portfolio from the opposite angle of agriculture,” said Dalton.
In March 2012, the venue underwent a rebranding exercise, changing its name from Peterborough EXEC, “to reflect the true nature of the venue and help place it firmly on the UK’s events map,” said Dalton.
“When I started at the site, we had about 40 clients in total, most were agricultural and the site had nine of its own internal shows. “Now two years along, we’ve got about 150 clients and we’ve moved away from solely producing agricultural shows,” said Dalton.
The portfolio that Peterborough Arena hosts has evolved into a hybrid between external and internal shows. “It was a big shock that the society didn’t get their head round at first, they didn’t understand that it’s a completely different market when you’re just doing outdoor events,” he said. “Introducing the new exhibition hall has opened up a completely different market to us now.”
On that basis, Dalton said it’s strategically a safer business. “It’s all about balance between the exhibitions, conferences, dinners and events – we’ve tried to spread ourselves into lots of different markets.”
With a “whatever you want it to be” strapline, the venue’s stance on business is saying yes, then figuring out how to perform the task later.
“It’s nice sometimes to have a challenge. If a client comes on board and says they’ve got a really weird idea, we’ll say ‘I think you’re a bit mad but we’ll find a way to do it’, it’s good fun,” said sales manager Charlie Lewis. “We like to say yes and then figure out how we’re going to do it rather than saying you can either have it in black or white and that’s the end of it. We’re acutely aware that in order to win business you’ve got to be flexible.”
In terms of new launches, Peterborough Arena offers a three-year contract aimed at helping companies lift their new shows off the ground. “In year one, we lower the rent, then we claw it back in year two, and we balance the books in year three. This works because it means their entry risk is a lot lower, we share that risk with them to get it off the ground,” said Dalton.
Earlier this year, the venue won the contract to host farm machinery and equipment show LAMMA. “We won that on the basis of our access because it attracts 40,000 farmers over two days, and will be held in January,” said Lewis. “The charity’s core objective is to promote agricultural and rural life – so we do still welcome these events.”
As EN went to press, the team was preparing for the 125th anniversary of the Festival of Hunting, welcoming more than 1,200 hounds. The venue is also preparing to welcome musical acts Peter Andre, Billy Ocean and Alexander O’Neal in September.
“It’d be nice to have a split between agricultural shows and other events, an ideal mix, I don’t think either should be top heavy,” added Dalton. “The challenge of the organiser is to create events that people want to go to.
“The venue and facilities coupled with an entrepreneurial organiser could actually spark something new,” said Dalton.
This was first published in the August issue of EN. Any comments? Email email@example.com