Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the South of England Agricultural Society, the charity which funds and supports agricultural education and countryside learning. It set out a positive pathway for the future at its Annual General Meeting in March 2018 in Ardingly, West Sussex.
Charlie Burgoyne, Chairman of the South of England Agricultural Society reported that the Society had ended 2017 in surplus for the first time since 2011. He said, “We are pointing in the right direction and it is with huge credit and thanks to trustees, council members, dedicated staff and volunteers, who have been determined to build success and confidence, that we can say the future is looking positive for the Society.
“It’s particularly pleasing to have achieved this hard-fought success in the Society’s 50th anniversary year when we also welcomed our President, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to a wonderful celebration of farming, forestry, horticulture, equestrianism and countryside at the South of England Show 2017.”
Looking ahead, the Society will continue to increase its role in encouraging and supporting young, aspiring farmers and those who have chosen careers or are interested in the rural sector. It will provide further opportunities to achieve excellence through its competitions for craftsmen, ambitious horticulturists, young farmers, foresters and all young and mature students training or studying for careers in the countryside.
Iain Nicol, CEO of the Society reported the total income generated by the Society and the Event Centre in 2017 was up by 8% compared to the previous year with trade stands showing a 13% increase in income across the four seasonal shows. Membership subscriptions increased in 2017, the first time in three years by 7.5% and sponsorship income continued to perform well.
Growth of the Event Centre continued with revenue growing by 12.5% and a host of exciting new events booked in 2018 and beyond, alongside significant improvements to the Spring Show and Winter Fair. He said, “This success has been driven by the excellent service provided by our office staff, grounds team and in-house caterers, Graysons and augurs well for future growth of the venue and its support for the development of our all-important charitable objectives.”
The Society’s new President for 2018, Richard Benyon MP attended the AGM and said, “With an ever changing landscape, this is a very important time for agricultural societies and shows to demonstrate vision and drive for the future in order to keep business going. I am delighted to hear the positive reports from today and I am very much looking forward to attending other Society events this year.”
Mr Benyon also announced his chosen charity for the Society to support this year would be Plantlife, a wildlife conservation charity that manages over 4,500 acres of rare and important plant habitats, lobbying and campaigning in support of wild plant conservation and organising surveys aimed at generating public interest in wild plants. Its patron is HRH the Prince of Wales and the charity helps run the National Plant Monitoring Service and a rare species conservation programme, ‘Back from the Brink’, as well as being the lead partner in the Coronation Meadows project.
Special guest speaker, former Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales and organic Sussex beef & sheep farmer, Elizabeth Buchanan CVO, FRAgs from Fletching in East Sussex also gave a compelling talk about her history with the show and stressed the importance of working together as we face a time of change, transition and preparation for the future, “We need strength of spirit now more than ever as we face the biggest upheaval since the 1947 agricultural act was passed. I urge everyone to read the ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’ consultation paper before the deadline of 8 May.”
“This is probably the most significant piece of legislation that we have seen for the last 70 years which sets out the overall direction of travel of future agriculture policy, while inviting views on how best to achieve it,” said Elizabeth, who is also a consultant to Waitrose and Dairy Crest and a trustee of the Prince’s Countryside Fund.
The Society is looking forward to the start of the Show season at Ardingly with Spring Live! on 6 & 7 May and the South of England Show on 7, 8 and 9 June this year.
Becoming a member of the South of England Agricultural Society can support the charity’s educational work as well as granting free access to all its major shows during the year. For more information visit www.seas.org.uk