Shooting Times and her sister magazines had a stand selling subscriptions at E.J. Churchill
By Will Finch
Wednesday, 08 August 2012
Defying the cancellation of the CLA event
It seemed like the rain would never stop. When the Met Office revealed that the three-month period from April to June this year was the wettest ever recorded, no-one was surprised. In such conditions, the cancellation of this year’s CLA Game Fair due to waterlogged ground was inevitable.
For many exhibitors, already reeling from the abandonment of events such as the Badminton Horse Trials and the Great Yorkshire Show, it was a crushing blow — the CLA estimated £150million could be lost to the rural economy.
The British bulldog spirit refused to be cowed, however, and, in a remarkable show of solidarity and energy, a series of “pop-up” fairs were held over the Game Fair weekend in an attempt to fill the gaping hole left by its cancellation.
Gun shops and shooting grounds around the country took part, providing space for retailers, suppliers and rural businesses to display their wares.
One of the largest was a two-day event held at E. J. Churchill’s shooting ground near High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, where more than 1,000 visitors and 40 exhibitors took part.
Managing director Rob Fenwick said: “It was quite remarkable what was achieved in such a short space of time using Facebook, Twitter and old-fashioned word-of-mouth. We’ve had so many lovely comments — it’s been really humbling.
“Credit must go to the team here for putting it on, but also to everyone who
supported it. Some of the stands we had were the exact stands that would have been on show at the Game Fair.
“Around 350 people enjoyed the shooting disciplines, we had a pet zoo, trick shooting displays, two types of archery, helicopter rides over the Chilterns, Land Rover demonstrations. It was brilliant — everyone rallied round and made a great job of it.
“We even had visitors from as far away as Hong Kong, Sweden, America and Canada who had already booked their flights to the Game Fair. They knew the big one had been cancelled, but came anyway.”
Another hastily-arranged event was held at John Bradshaw’s Gunshop in Peterborough, not far from the site of the Game Fair itself. Billed as an Open Weekend, at one point more than 700 people were on the premises.
Partner Marcus Simpson said: “We organised our event in less than a week, and it was very busy on both days. In the shop we had Edgar Brothers, Swarovski, Meopta and Ruag, as well as trade stands outside, including some of the food stands which would have been at the Game Fair.
“We obviously had lots of things planned for the weekend, so we thought we might as well make the most of what we had. I think it was such a success because people were staying in the area looking for something to do, and we were the nearest thing.”
Small businesses that were due to exhibit at the Game Fair and took part in the mini fairs instead say the hastily-arranged events were a great opportunity to rescue their season. Eleasha Sallis, of children’s country clothing company Dido and Bendigo, told Shooting Times that the mini game fairs gave her an opportunity to network with some influential people.
She said: “It was incredible how everything was pulled together in time; people really rallied round. Everyone made the best of the situation.
“My clothing label launched four months ago and everything was building up to the Game Fair. It would have been our main hit of the year. When we learned it had been cancelled it didn’t come as a huge shock, as I had already been to the site, but it didn’t make it less devastating.
“It’s certainly had a massive effect on our planning for the rest of the year, our products, funding and stock. Being a new company, we’re not in a position to put heavy discounts on our products.”
Eleasha believes that the Game Fair’s cancellation — for the second time in six years — will make a lot of businesses look at having smaller stands at future game fairs, and reducing the number of products on show.
“They’re thinking now that maybe it’s not wise to rely so heavily on one major event,” she said. “They’re saying that they cannot afford to take the risk of suffering such a big hit again.
“If the CLA is going to continue to put on an event such as the Game Fair, then it has a responsibility to investigate how it can provide something more secure in the future.”
Rob Fenwick agreed that the CLA must investigate potential Game Fair sites that are more capable of coping with prolonged wet weather.
He said: “It’s hard for the CLA — I know it desperately wanted it to go ahead. The sites where the Game Fair is held are beautiful, but a showground that can deal with heavy rain must be an option.
“No-one wants the Game Fair to be cancelled. It wouldn’t be so special if it went to Stoneleigh Park or somewhere like that, but at least you could be fairly sure it would go ahead. I really don’t know what the answer is.”
CLA Game Fair director Andrew Crawford told Shooting Times that organisers had looked at holding the Game Fair somewhere that wouldn’t be affected so much by the rain, but that there was “no showground big enough”.
He said: “We use just fewer than 600 acres and the challenge is to find somewhere big enough, somewhere with a lake, and somewhere where we can get the volume of traffic in and out without causing mayhem. I don’t believe such a site exists in this country.” He also said that a Game Fair on hard-standing would mean “ripping the heart out of what the Game Fair is all about”.
“It is a celebration of the countryside, and you’d get a different feel if you were walking down a Tarmacked avenue rather than grass. It’s not something that we have dismissed out of hand, but it would change the whole ambience of the event.”
Mr Crawford was delighted at how people had responded to the cancellation by evoking the “British Blitz spirit”. “People rallied together,” he said. “We tried to promote as many of the pop-up events as possible through our website and social media outlets, and hope that our exhibitors got some sales.
“More importantly, it’s the social aspect of the Game Fair that everyone was missing out on, so hopefully people from within the industry got to meet up, have a chat and do some business."
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