A few weeks ago I attended the Royal Welsh Show (Y Sioe Fawr) at Llanelwedd/Builth Wells. For a number of years I have been to the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston and have always thought it to be a large and busy event. But the Royal Welsh really lives up to its billing as the Big Show.
The sheer scale is daunting and one day is barely enough to really take it all in. My interest was in the retail provision and the efforts both national multiples, smaller retailers and the range of specialists put in to inform and sell products to the showgoers. Food and clothing are the obvious draws (assuming we are discounting machinery, equipment and other outdoor requirements for farming and rural life) and the range and quality is impressive in the main. The national retailers were there in their pavilions but it is the specialist food producers that are always fascinating for me. The variety and quality is tremendous (as it is in Edinburgh to be fair).
The show format is one that is overlooked in many discussions of the retail sector but the Royal Welsh is simply too big to be overlooked. The amount spent, the sales achieved and the deals done, let alone the boost to the local economy is far reaching.
The show concept of course harks back to a long tradition of local and regional markets and fairs. If we add in the modern version of these and yes I did go to the Lampeter Food Festival again this year, then it seems their significance as a leisure and retail format continues to grow, and to be underrepresented in our thinking and our data.
The Big Show was an eye-opener and was tremendously well organised – even if I could not find my car for ages in the Park and Ride. Very impressive all round.
We stayed the night before the show in Ludlow. We stupidly chose the day the 800 year old market does not trade, but instead used the excellent local independent stores and also visited the Ludlow Food Centre. The latter, a few miles out of town was controversial when it opened (for distracting trade from the heart of the town) but seems to have added to the overseas sense of Ludlow as a place for local and good food. A great place to visit and spend in a place that values localness and authenticity.
More worryingly though, many of the local shops had posters up bemoaning their rates increase and its unaffordability and its unfairness. The example below was not the highest increase I saw, but is typical. If we want to have such vibrant local food (and business) cultures we have to revise this ruinous state of affairs. The rates (and the corporation) tax system is not fit for purpose and is destroying the very elements we need to cherish and encourage.
But back to the show – if you can’t make the big ones, go to your local shows. Great food, interesting events and a reminder about the value of community in its widest sense.