The National Traction Engine Trust


Further to my post last week I would like to thank everyone for their replies. Many of you have kindly acknowledged that there are genuine and serious reasons for the GDSF having to change its dates for 2016 and, on behalf of the GDSF Board of Directors, I appreciate your support.
The harsh reality of the situation is that school term dates are now a major issue for the GDSF and this year’s show has conclusively proved that the show will be financially unsustainable if we continue to clash on a regular basis with the start of the new school year. Thousands of families were “prevented” from attending the 2015 event and anyone who was at the GDSF this year would have seen a noticeable absence of children and families on site, particularly on the first three days (Wednesday, Thursday & Friday). This cannot happen again.

School term dates do not only affect visitor numbers. Importantly, exhibitors were also greatly affected this year, this being a key point discussed at our recent GDSF Section Leaders meeting whereby the new dates for 2016 were unanimously supported. Virtually all of our Section Leaders confirmed that many exhibitors had experienced difficulties in attending the 2015 GDSF due to the clash with school dates.

For trade stand holders, caterers and fairground operators, the decrease in footfall at the 2015 GDSF meant that, in most cases, customer spend was down and there is no doubt that for 2016 we have to reassure them footfall will return to the healthy levels we had before the beginning of school term time became a serious issue. If the problem is not addressed now, we will inevitably lose their support.

Whilst our traditional dates do not affect all schools across the country in 2016, there are a significant number of counties which are affected and crucially for the GDSF, the schools in Dorset and in our neighbouring counties of Somerset, Wiltshire and Devon, all go back on the Thursday FOLLOWING the August Bank Holiday next year, a fact which clearly endorses our decision to now bring the show forward by a week back into the school holidays. The South West is a key catchment area for us and we simply MUST ensure the dates of the GDSF allow for families to attend without the restriction of school term time.
As regards the matter of the GDSF regularly coinciding with other key events in our own county of Dorset, this has been a growing concern for a number of years. Clearly it has never been a good situation for us but it is something which until now we have accepted. However, the impact of school term time on the GDSF has “tipped” the balance with regard to how we now have to perceive both the Dorchester Show and the Bournemouth Air Show and the competition for visitors that they undoubtedly provide.

The impact that both these events have on the GDSF may not be entirely evident to those people who don’t live in our area. However, the Dorchester Show is the “Dorset County Show” and is a fabulous agricultural show always held on the first weekend in September. Being held only 20 miles down the road from the GDSF showground and with over 60,000 people through the gate, its obvious competition is there for all to see. Similarly, the Bournemouth Air Show is a superb event and is regarded as one of the biggest free entry Air Shows in Europe. Again only 20 miles away from the GDSF it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors over its 4 day duration, according to official figures from Bournemouth Tourism. Moving the GDSF to the Bank Holiday weekend will mean we will no longer have the obstacle of clashing dates with either the Dorchester Show or the Bournemouth Air Show. No one can sensibly argue against that. The same applies to the Beaulieu International Auto Jumble and we will not coincide with them next year either.

We do recognise that there are other established STEAM events which take place over the August Bank Holiday weekend and it is certainly not our intention to purposely clash with any of these rallies. However, the land we use is only available to us for a short window each year and means that the ONLY possible alternative date for us to hold the GDSF is over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Our Tarrant Hinton showground is a working farm and with over 50% of the acreage we use in arable crops there is no possibility of the GDSF coming any earlier than the Bank Holiday weekend. Harvest has to be a paramount consideration for both us and the landowners and there is simply no other date option for us to consider.
It is fully appreciated that there will inevitably be some exhibitor crossover between the GDSF and other steam rallies traditionally held over the Bank Holiday weekend but what else is the GDSF meant to do if it needs to change its dates in order to be sustainable and the only dates available are the Bank Holiday weekend? We do understand that some exhibitors will be faced with a hard choice but we will completely understand those wishing to continue to support their regular Bank Holiday shows. Any exhibitors who cannot make next year’s GDSF for this reason, we thank you for your past support.

This has been a very difficult decision for the GDSF Board of Directors to make but there are times when tough choices have to be made and when things need to be changed and adapted. We have given considerable thought to all the implications and feel we have come to a sensible and the right decision to ensure the viability of the GDSF for generations more to enjoy. Our usual dates following the Bank Holiday Monday each year that have traditionally served us well are no longer acceptable. As I highlighted in my previous post, the 2015 show has been a defining year. Quite simply, we either do something about the school situation now or we do nothing and watch the show collapse in the next year or two. Something has had to change and that is to move the show to enable it to fall back within the school summer holidays.

I can assure those people who have expressed their frustration at our decision that it has not been taken lightly and we know that unfortunately not everyone will be happy. But you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Also, it should be remembered that not everyone wishes to go to the GDSF. For those people who think we have changed our dates for 2016 out of monetary “greed” or that we are “selfish”, nothing could be further from the truth. We have been open and honest in our explanations and frankly with the GDSF now costing over £2.5 million to stage each year, it HAS to come down to being a business decision, it is the only way forward, it has to be our priority and it has to be this way in order for the GDSF to survive.

Kind regards,

Martin Oliver

01 Dec 2015