by Royal Welsh Agricultural Society Chief Executive, Steve Hughson
Much has changed in the last year. Who would have thought, as we celebrated the 100th Royal Welsh Show that a worldwide pandemic would lead to the cancellation of the 2020 Royal Welsh Smallholding and countryside Festival, Royal Welsh Show and pace the Winter Fair at risk.
Some have compared this crisis to ‘Foot and Mouth’ in 2001 and whilst I accept that was serious, this pandemic is much worse. In addition to our own events, all other planned events have been cancelled. The pandemic has affected everyone across all communities, with the tourism, leisure, hospitality and event sectors being among the worst affected. Events involving the ‘mass gathering’ of people were first to be affected by restrictions and will be last to recover.
As chair of the Mid Wales Tourism Forum, I have been proud to sit on the Welsh Government cOVID-19 Tourism taskforce. With many agricultural businesses diversifying into tourism, I am delighted that the First Minister was able to announce the first steps to opening up ‘self-catering’ and venues without shared facilities, benefiting the rural economy. I also sit on the Event Wales working group, where the landscape is very different! The opening up of the major event sectors, involving sport, arts and culture seems a very long way off and worryingly is not really part of the current agenda.
This creates huge uncertainty within a sector that includes agricultural shows, which are an integral part of our rural communities. Shows of all sizes bring people together, creating that ‘rural buzz’ and an opportunity to showcase the very best Welsh produce and Livestock. Many feel that it will be at least the spring of 2021 before income streams start again. That presents a huge challenge, particularly for mental health. The support of our membership is crucial at this challenging time.
The Society has also taken advantage of the Government Job retention scheme, placing the majority of our staff on ‘furlough’. Whilst we are extremely grateful for this and other Government support, on its own it will not be enough. The inevitable tapering of the ‘furlough’ payments, before any real prospect of income will create a gaping hole in our finances, which will be difficult to fill.
As an iconic Welsh cultural event of National importance, we hope that the Welsh Government will support the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society in the same way as the support already given to Eisteddfod yr urdd, the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Llangollen Eisteddfod
and hay Festival. We only want fair treatment.
Looking to the future, we continue to see opportunity and must move with the times. We will create an on-line version of ‘Y SIOE 2020’, with content that will educate the public about agriculture and Welsh produce, facilitate the transfer of knowledge within the industry, provide entertainment and create nostalgia. We can’t afford to sit still.
We hope you enjoy our on-line show, but most of all I hope to see you all on the Showground as soon as it is safe to do so. cadwch yn ddiogel.