The Great Yorkshire Show

If you like food and live in Harrogate then the Great Yorkshire Show will certainly be in your diary. Harrogate hosts the Great Yorkshire Show every July – but how much do you know about the work that goes into putting it on? We spoke to the organisers to find out…

From the time the Great Yorkshire Show opens its gates on a Tuesday morning in July, the site is packed with thousands of visitors, exhibitors, competitors and animals.
The following three days are filled with classes, judging, activities, entertainment and plenty of food and drink before, on the Thursday evening, the event closes and the visitors go home. The animals and participants follow soon afterwards, and the site is quiet once more.
Behind the scenes, however, there is no time to relax. The closing of the gates simply means it is time to start the lengthy process of analysing, reviewing and planning ahead for next year.

You plan for all sorts, including everything from major incidents down to traffic issues or issues with the animals.

Nigel Morgan, the show’s operations manager, said: “Immediately after the show, we have the review and look at what went well, what needs improving, and what changed we need to make. That goes on until about the end of October.
“That kicks off the planning phase for the following year’s show. You are quite busy from October to December looking at any changes you need to make, bringing in new contractors and so on.
“Then there’s a quieter period from early December to the end of January, then everything gets going and once you are into March, momentum increases considerably. May and June, you have non-stop meetings, you’re briefing temporary staff – we have almost 400 of them – and final meetings with the traffic management group and finalising the safety aspects. It’s full-on then.”

At its heart, the Great Yorkshire Show is still a traditional agriculture show, with animal classes and competitions every day.

At its heart, the Great Yorkshire Show is still a traditional agriculture show, with animal classes and competitions every day.

As the man who looks after most of the technical and planning aspects of the show, from traffic management to animal welfare, Nigel has plenty on his plate. He liaises with other organisations throughout the year, including local authorities, police, the fire and rescue service, the Highways Agency and more, to try to prepare for every eventuality.
“You plan for all sorts, including everything from major incidents down to traffic issues or issues with the animals,” he said.
“I just don’t know what might come up. There are numerous contingency arrangements that we have to put into place if something was to happen. Most of the things never do happen, but we have got contingencies for it just in case.
“That’s why we work closely with the other organisations like the police and the fire service. I’m in constant touch with them to make sure things do go well.”
One of the biggest annual challenges Nigel faces is traffic. For many years, the Great Yorkshire Show brought with it long queues on most of the main roads around Harrogate. Nigel, along with his partners at the various other organisations, has spent a lot of time creating a more effective traffic plan.
Although bringing tens of thousands more cars into Harrogate during a working week will of course create some queues, Nigel is proud to say the situation has improved significantly in recent years.
“It’s evolving all the time,” he said. “We review, sit down with the other agencies, and it has improved considerably.
“When you think back many years, the congestion that there used to be was very severe. We would like to think we have got it pretty good at the moment, but with anything as far as the show is concerned – traffic, public safety, or animals – you can’t be complacent.”
That sentiment is echoed by Bill Cowling, who has been honorary show director for 10 years and will be stepping down after this year’s event. Over the last decade, and before that when he led the team of cattle stewards, he has learned to expect the unexpected.
In almost 200 years of history, the Great Yorkshire Show has only been cancelled a handful of times. It was postponed during the First World War and Second World War but, from the 1950s onwards, it was a reliable feature in the calendar.
That changed in 2001 when it was called off amid the foot and mouth crisis. However, that was a predictable and manageable change compared to what happened 11 years later.

In almost 200 years of history, the Great Yorkshire Show has only been cancelled a handful of times.

After days of heavy rain, leaving the site saturated and the car parks turning to quagmires, the organisers made the unprecedented decision to close the show after just one day.
“When we lost the show to foot and mouth, it was bad enough, but it was soon enough that quite a bit of expense wasn’t incurred,” said Bill. “With the show being lost part way through, everything was under way and we had spent the money already.”
The headache of dealing with the cancellation aside, he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as honorary show director. Each year brings small developments and changes, with new challenges, but there are a few memories which he holds particularly dear.
“It’s a bit of a cliché, but meeting the Queen and members of the Royal family has been a real highlight,” he said. “I never dreamed I would be honoured to show them around.