EN speaks to James Gower, MD, The Game Fair, who remains positive and defiant in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak.
James Gower, who oversees the UK’s largest countryside festival, says he is ‘determined to run his event come
what may’. After being forced to move his event from July to September, he explains that he has a ‘compelling sense of duty’ to his exhibitors and visitors to push ahead with his event at Ragley Hall this September.
He said: “For many of the exhibitors, The Game Fair and other large outdoor events are the only source of revenues for their businesses. Many of them do the spring and summer ‘circuit’ instead of permanent retail premises. Some sectors of the shooting industry cannot trade online. The timing of Covid-19 sees warehouses full of stock ready for the spring and summer season, and with nearly every event cancelled, another crisis plagues these companies – limited or no distribution.
“In a bid to beat the virus and provide an opportunity to trade, we had to abandon our regular slot and selected new dates in the hope that some sense of normality will have returned to allow it to go ahead.”
Gower explains that the fair, now in its 62nd year and attracting over 120,000 visitors, couldn’t come at a better time. Millions of Brits have been forced to cancel overseas trips and are now investing in UK holidays.
“Campsite bookings and ticket sales are up year-on-year with people now planning mini-breaks in the UK. After many months of social distancing, it is our hope that The Game Fair will offer a vital lifeline for businesses and a celebration of the countryside for likeminded people, marking the end of a very challenging time,” he commented.
The annual outdoor event showcases popular country pursuits such as gundog handling, clay shooting, archery, fishing, falconry and ferreting. There will also be additional areas to fair to accommodate as many new exhibitors as possible that have been displaced from cancelled events such as The Royal Welsh, Royal Highland and Great Yorkshire show.
Gower added: “We will offer exhibition spaces to as many displaced companies as we can. We know many business rely solely on the show circuit for their revenues and we will do all that we can to help.”
Ian Bell, CEO, The British Association of Shooting and Conservation and a major partner of the event told EN: “BASC fully supports the difficult decision that has been taken by The Game Fair’s officials under challenging circumstances. We are confident the event in September will provide a much-needed life-line for rural businesses and something to look forward to for the many thousands of visitors that will be expected to attend.”
The Game Fair is famous for its innovation over recent years with many new feature areas, the introduction of celebrity chef James Martin, new show gardens and stabilising, important sponsorships from national and international sponsors including Qatar and Charles Stanley Wealth Managers. The Game Fair began in 1958 – before the Beatles were called the Beatles, as 25 million Hula-hoops were being manufactured for the first time in the US and as Russia’s Sputnik 1 was falling to earth.
Gower added: “Let’s be clear about the word game – which in this context means venison, pheasant, grouse, boar, salmon & trout and other delicious meat harvested sustainably and ethically from the English countryside. Since the beginning, more than five million people have attended.
“Now visitors come to see 1000 exhibitors (50,000sqm) with more than 10,000 people camping and separate
villages for gundog handlers, falconers, fishermen and shooting enthusiasts. The event is unique – it even sounds and smells unique. The Telegraph call it ‘Glastonbury for The Green Welly Brigade’. And the ‘brigade’ spent £60m with the exhibitors last year and another £30m in hotels, restaurants and theatres in the local community.”
Still located in its original venue at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, the event will take place from 18-20 September.
Gower explains his team is getting accustomed to working from home and applying new systems and processes.
The events supply chain, contractor base, local authority and other stakeholders are all taking a flexible and pragmatic approach in support of the event. The events large sponsors are also showing their support by continuing to pay the bills to keep up the cash flow.
“There is almost a community movement willing the event to succeed.” added James.