It is a big year for Balmoral Show, being the 150th, and a time when many people will be reflecting on their memories of this fantastic event and its importance in the local calendar.
I was around ten years old when I attended the first of many Balmoral Shows, and I clearly remember the excitement I felt when travelling there with my neighbour and friend.
The part that I was most looking forward to was seeing the cattle and the gleaming new machinery – an appeal which hasn’t changed for lots of people over the years, myself included. I know that now, as they did then, many schools give their pupils the day to attend – I suspect they know that the pull of the Show is too strong for pupils and parents alike!
In my professional career, I worked for what was then DARD and attended the Show offering technical advice to farmers. Since joining Ulster Bank I’ve attended almost every year. It’s a great chance to catch-up with people that you don’t necessarily get to see from year-to-year, and the atmosphere of the Show means that even if conditions haven’t been favourable for farming, it’s an opportunity for people to relax, reconnect with what’s going on in their sector, and maybe pick-up some news or new ideas. During that time, the bank has moved from being a small sponsor to principal sponsor, and as our involvement has grown, I’ve certainly seen the Show evolve – including big and welcome changes like the move to Balmoral Park, which has offered so much more space and more of a chance for people to see the best of the Show, and get involved.
One of the biggest changes to my mind has been the introduction of more and more food exhibitors. Previously, Balmoral Show had been a focus for those involved in primary agriculture, but that appeal – especially with the addition of a fourth day on Saturday – has broadened quite a bit. The influence of local supermarkets has been an important one in developing what the Show has become, but, if I had to pick one thing that will sustain and enhance the Show going forward, it is the continued broadening of its appeal to people outside the agri community. Farming is a crucial part of the Northern Ireland economy, and it deserves every chance to showcase it’s achievements with pride to a wider public. So to see car dealerships and home improvement stalls, sitting alongside the great indigenous and artisan food producers, is something that I think is very positive.