Olivia Boswell, deputy operations manager for RHS Tatton Park Flower Show on building relationships, from contractors to her own steel-capped boots.
The diversity of show operations has never been more apparent to me after having worked at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
All can agree that operations cannot simply be seen as the stand-alone glamorous world of tentage and toilets, but is an integral part of all departments in order to achieve an event’s success.
It is the operations team that brings together all the promises and aims made by sponsorship, marketing, press, sales and show managers to blossom into a flower show.
Producing world-renowned flower shows for royal visitors, millions of BBC viewers and 100,000+ visitors is always going to be an incredible project to be a part of. For the RHS being at the pinnacle of the industry with its long-standing reputation and prowess, every year must be better than the last. From the attendance, to the press coverage, to the customer’s satisfaction with the loos – across all departments, we are striving for the same goal.
This diversity is what makes it interesting and keeps us all coming back for more each show season, but the growing scope of areas that operations covers throws a far wider spread of people into the mix.
Not only are you managing the projects, but an increasing variety of people and relationships as well. You find you are dealing with your high profile sponsor one minute, celebrity gardeners, BBC TV crews, politicians and royals and Bob the Builder the next. (No really, we have a builder named Bob). All of whom have different requirements, different ways of working and different ways to be approached. The skill of adapting to a situation quickly is paramount to the role of ops, but equally so is adapting to the person.
I found that the Chelsea Show week symbolised this rather nicely, transforming from weeks wearing an RHS Show t-shirt and steel-capped boots to floral dresses and stilettos in show week, ready to greet Her Majesty the Queen. Yet, after the Royal Open, heading back to the hotel, I found only my steel-capped boots to change into. While this was a very fetching outfit, I did feel it rather nicely represented the role of operations in a show. There are those that make it show week – the smart, beautiful and perfect event that everyone sees – but underneath making it all happen there is a pair of steel-capped boots.
It is the relationships with these steel-capped boots that I feel are the most important. At the end of the build-up process, it is not only the pride of seeing what was once your CAD plan and last year of planning, but what you achieved all together; perfectly ready for the dress and heels of the organisation to make it flourish into a show.
There is such a feeling of achievement, not only for having created something really rather beautiful, but also knowing you have rubbed alongside each other for six intense weeks, from field to flower show, in order to create it.
The role and the process of putting on a show can sometimes prove to be stressful at times for all those involved. If I were to write a risk assessment for the social aspects of the build and break down of a show, the combination of outdoor work at the mercy of the elements, over 25 groups of contractors working and living onsite at one time, constant negotiation between these groups and long hours could potentially seem a volatile mix. However, the extent of teamwork between contractors and operation team is always amazing. While you must adapt to a variety of different people, you must depend on your relationships with your contractors.
From my experiences at the RHS, where I have been lucky enough to work across Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park Flower Shows, it is the ability to work in an environment of open communication and transparency with one another that makes this work. If this culture were not in place, the structure of an event would crumble.
The foundations of each show are built on these reliable and successful relationships. You will always need every team of contractors to go above and beyond, and every time they do. While the role of operations is diverse in how far its scope stretches, it is the relationships with the steel-capped boots that make it happen for the whole show and all departments that depend on it. And if this was not the case, I imagine you would go to Tatton Park and find a very lonely me standing in a very lonely field with herds of deer and a dahlia, waiting for the Queen in my stilettos.