By Jess McGovern, Head of Education and Development at the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society
I asked Dave Cottrell, the Events and Facility Manager at the RJA&HS, to reflect on the impact that COVID-19 is having upon the Showground and the wider events sector:
The Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker,
The Chef, the Musician and the Cocktail Shaker,
The Florist, the DJ and the Sound Engineer;
COVID-19 has brought us all much to fear!
The events sector is somewhat of a ‘Cinderella’ industry, which is surprising, considering how the events that they put on are often very high profile. In any normal year thousands of people in Jersey enjoy attending hundreds of events representing an extraordinary diversity of activity. Whether it is a wedding or a boat show, a charity dinner or the Battle of Flowers, the events industry in the Island is the magician, often behind the scenes, that ‘makes it all happen’.
The industry is staffed by highly skilled professionals with many years of experience who thrive on problem solving and delivering solutions, however the COVID-19 restrictions have got us beat. The limit of 40 people at gatherings means responsible practitioners cannot stage the large events that provide the majority of the industry’s business.
The medical reasons for this are well understood, but as the opening few lines show there are a huge number of businesses and people that this affects. Some are obvious such as marquee suppliers, but others less so. For example, who is aware of the crisis with grape producers in France who supply the champagne houses normally selling thousands of bottles and whose warehouses are full of unsold wine, leading to a collapse in the price they can pay for this year’s harvest?
The RJA&HS is a key player in this industry as the provider of a unique venue at the Royal Jersey Showground. A facility that is normally a hive of activity from March through to December. Not this year, and not for the foreseeable future. Large events take many months of planning and organisers cannot book suppliers unless they are confident that they will be able to stage their event. Although the tourism industry in the Island talks of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in ‘three winters in a row’, for the events industry it could be more like five. Many of the businesses have seen revenues collapse by 90% or more, and there is real concern that whenever life returns to normal there might not be the people to put on the events that help drive the economy and bring vitality to Island life.
At the Showground we are looking at how we can best utilise the facilities for the benefit of the community, something that the Society has a proud track record of doing. But the fact of the matter is that the Showground’s bookings calendar has been severely impacted by the pandemic and with it an essential income stream. The verse above, though light hearted, has a worrying resonance within these walls.
On the bright side, however, government is aware of the seriousness of the situation and is looking at how it can help retain the skills and infrastructure necessary to ensure that the events industry survives… but time is of the essence.