Message from The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

These have been days that defy description – unprecedented and certainly without comparison. I write this piece on yet another beautiful spring day in the county of Norfolk on the eastern side of the UK. During the past five weeks of ‘lockdown’ the UK has enjoyed one of the best spring seasons for many years. It is almost unreal and, to parody Charles Dickens’ words, both the best and worst of times.

Greg Smith, CE of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association

Aside from the human tragedy of the global pandemic – and in this country we have just passed 20,000 deaths – it is the sheer extent of the impact of its effects, biting hard into the core of business, economy and society. Close to home, the rapid progress of the virus in early March meant that we had no option but to put any plans we had for 2020 on hold. Our spring show for children, school activities and the Royal Norfolk Show all became casualties as the UK’s major event programme was brought abruptly to a close. The agricultural show world will, in the main, not happen this year, causing an existential threat to many long-established Show societies and agricultural associations. Survival for us and those who make up our major events – exhibitors, traders, artisan food producers, crafters and so on – is now the name of the game.

A major blow for us was the RASC’s decision that the Commonwealth Agriculture Conference could not go ahead. Many months of planning and preparation had gone into ‘Circular World’ and Norfolk was gearing up to welcoming delegates to enjoy an excellent summer conference, back in the UK after a decade. We were all bitterly disappointed, of course, and I am very grateful to everyone who had been working hard to bring the event together. I would like to thank the conference team of Faye Burrage and Jacob Stirling who will stand down at the end of April and have spent the past few weeks dealing with the aftermath of the decision.

But out of what Dickens called this ‘season of darkness’ there has been light – the response of our healthcare professionals in the NHS, communities working together to support those in greatest need, farmers and food producers shortening supply chains to meet the changed conditions of imposed lockdown, countless individuals who have put themselves before others. We have learnt new skills and adjusted to the new normal of remote working. And, as we come through the initial aftershocks, we’re now turning our thoughts to recreating our show ‘experiences’ in a virtual environment. It is clear to me that as smart organisations we should learn from these difficult days and come out of this better and stronger.

So, despite the bleak world we’re living in just now, I’m firmly believing in the ‘spring of hope’ and that we have ‘everything before us’. Let’s look forward to those days and especially the 2022 conference in South Africa.

Finally, I hope that you and yours are safe and healthy and look forward to seeing you again, before too long.

Greg Smith is CE of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association