Firstly, to repeat what was announced on our web sites and in social media on 15th August:

  • The show planned for Saturday 14th November 2020 will not go ahead
  • The next National Garden Railway show will take place on Saturday 26th June 2021

I am writing this on the evening of Monday 11th January, against the backdrop of the current severe restrictions, which have amongst other things seen indoor events suspended, as Covid-19 infections surge out of control.  Dark though these times are, the Association still needs to plan for a future which isn’t hostage to the current pandemic, for bad as it is, it won’t last forever.

My conviction that this is the right thing to do is reinforced by the UK government’s Covid-19 vaccines delivery plan, announced in a press release today, signalling its clear intent to have offered Covid-19 vaccination to tens of millions of people by Spring.  England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said today, “the next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic”, but at the same time, the government’s ambitious immunisation plan, to have vaccinated all those over 50 by the end of April, offers guarded confidence that the current surge in infections will have been overcome and be in decline by Spring.  If this happens, we can anticipate gradual relaxation of the current restrictions and that the National Show will still be able to go ahead as planned, albeit with significant changes to its pre-Pandemic format.

The basis on which indoor events take place will continue to evolve and change, just as they do for most aspects of Covid-19 life, but at this stage we can anticipate that our show will need to change in various ways.  These are outlined below – clicking on each of the headings will reveal the detail.  Please recognise that these are preliminary and subject to ratification by the Peterborough local authority which will licence the show to take place in June.

Alan Regan, Chairman & Membership Secretary

The UK government has published in its guidance to the visitor economy permitted capacity for indoor events which vary by Tier.  Whilst these may change, at present, a venue in Tier 2 is has a permitted cap of 50% of the venue’s capacity or 2,000 people outdoors / 1,000 people indoors, whichever is lowest.  This capacity refers to the total number of people per event and does not include venue staff.  For the purposes of calculating capacity, those delivering the event, i.e., organisers, stewards, safety personnel, Arena staff and their contractors are excluded from this calculation.  Traders and layout operators are also excluded from the calculation providing their own risk assessments demonstrate the necessary Covid-19 compliance.  We as organisers need to establish greater space between layouts and traders than we have in the past, and this is now part of our draft show plan.  We also need to agree our plan and hall layout further in advance for the 2021 show than we have in the past, so last-minute changes are not likely to be possible.

At present, we have taken a conservative view of the number of visitors which we anticipate that we’ll be able to admit to the show at one time and have set this at 750 visitors, i.e., 75% of the maximum permitted indoor capacity.  To ensure that we don’t exceed this number, entry will be all ticket, sold in advance.  This is explained more fully below.  The Association has over 4,000 members and the National Show has since we’ve been using the Arena attracted over 2,000 visitors to each show.  Since we can’t accommodate that number at one time at the 2021 show, to maximise opportunity to attend the show, we will have morning and afternoon sessions, each three and a half hours long, the first starting at 09:30 and the second at 13:30.  There will be no admittance to the show between 13:00 and 13:30, so that we can ensure that all visitors to the morning session have left before we admit the afternoon session and for essential cleaning.  These two sessions will allow up to 1,500 visitors to enjoy the show, still a significant reduction on levels since we’ve been at the Arena.  We know that this may disappoint some members but we cannot see that more, shorter sessions are sustainable or that there’s much likelihood that we’ll be permitted to have greater than the planned numbers at these sessions.

The event will be all ticket, sold in advance of the day of the show.  To be very clear, you will not be able to buy entry tickets on the day of the show.  The strictures of Test and Trace mean that we would need to capture contact details for everyone that enters the show and doing this as we sell an on-the-day entry ticket is not something which we will be able to offer.  Your ticket will admit you to one of the two sessions described above and unfortunately, they won’t be transferable.  We expect that face coverings will be mandatory throughout the venue.  You’ll be expected to bring you own face covering and I’m afraid no covering will mean no entry unless a medical exemption applies.  To get you into the show as quickly as possible and thus maximise your time looking at trader offerings and layouts, we will make changes to the way that you come in.  We will increase significantly the number of entry points; we’ll have queue walkers to make sure that you are prepared for entry and we’ll make sure that any difficulty with individual visitors doesn’t slow the flow into the show.  There will be no assembly in the Atrium waiting for the doors to the main hall to open, you’ll come through the entry point and on into the show.  We’re not expecting to have to implement one-way systems, but we will have defined entry and exit paths.  Pass-outs will be available for those who need to leave and be readmitted to the same session.

Tickets already bought for the 2020 grand draw will be entered into the 2021 draw.  The list of prizes is not expected to change.  Tickets will be on sale at both sessions.  The draw will take place during the afternoon session.  We will change the way that the draw takes place, to avoid the transmission hazards of a large number of people congregating for 15 minutes or more in front of the draw table as happened at all previous shows, but we will ensure that the draw is as transparent as it has been in the past.  Draw winners will be contacted after the draw and their prizes will be posted to them unless they prefer to collect them.  This process will be no different to previous years.

Sadly these features will not be available at the 2021 show.

We can’t fairly judge MOTY until all entries have been received and registered.  Entrants need to take their entries home with them once judging is complete.  Registration and return needs to be carefully controlled – these entries are someone’s pride and joy and sometimes very valuable.  We don’t think that we can do all this, give visitors time to look at the entries and judge them in a three-and-a-half-hour session.

Similarly, for Member-to-Member Sales, we need to book items for sale in and if unsold, back out to their owners, and give prospective buyers time to look at what’s on offer and pay for what takes their fancy and finally, for the M2M team time to record and review sales and takings.  We don’t think that we can do this in a single session and we can’t spread it over two sessions, because the members bringing items for sale are only admitted for a single session.  Asking the team to do it twice, for morning and afternoon sessions, is unreasonable and probably unsafe, in terms of accurate recording of sales activity.

This will go ahead, what is displayed is likely to increase above that originally planned for April 2020 and we believe that sustaining the display over two sessions is achievable, with therefore potentially different content in each session.  Alan Finch, who leads this within the show team, will provide more details on his plans closer to the time.

The Arena and its suppliers will offer catering but the exact nature won’t be known until later in the year, as this area of the show will be subject to whatever restrictions apply to catering in the run-up to the show.

We have used the Cambridge Suite for M2M and the AGM in previous years.  It has its own entry point and can be isolated from the rest of the complex.  We can therefore use it for the AGM and if we bring the time of the meeting forward to 13:00, members who’ve attended the first session can attend the AGM after their session closes, likewise members visiting the second session can attend the AGM before entry to the main show.  The AGM will focus tightly on its primary business, so that it takes no more than half an hour.  The question-and-answer session which we’ve been able to hold in previous years may take place, though I recognise that visitors to the second session may find the contents of the halls more interesting and want to leave at that point.  Insofar as we have to verify each attendee’s current membership status, we can satisfy the needs of Test and Trace by recording the membership numbers of those that attend.

There are still many unknowns associated with the 2021 show, but we’ve done enough work to see that running a show can be made to work and that even with shortened visiting time, the show can be as rich, varied and vibrant as in the past.  Running and attending the show will require goodwill and tolerance on everyone’s part.  I believe that by June this year, we’ll be back outside enjoying our hobby, we’ll have learned how to interact with one another and at the same time keep the risk of propagating the virus at a low level and be ready to see what the trade and our fellow members have been working on for the last 15 months.  The virus will surely still be in the community, but hopefully at a level which doesn’t prevent us enjoying the show, as we have done in the past.  I’ll provide more information in my column in February, but for now, I hope this gives you an insight into our thinking and encourages you to keep Saturday 26th June 2021 free in your schedule.