Challenge for A&P Shows to satisfy demands of new public

The 148th Warkworth A&P Show was held on the Saturday of Auckland Anniversary Weekend on a very warm day with no fear of rain which at least alleviated the committee’s first concern. In the north at least feed is still plentiful, although rain would be welcome, but there is as yet no major worry of drought; so we were able to plan the event and welcome the weather forecast without a guilty conscience.


Two years ago there were rather more serious concerns the Show wouldn’t reach its 150th anniversary, but a few things have happened since then which have pushed this undesirable outcome into the background.


The first significant occurrence was the committee’s decision to tell the local community there was a real worry about the Show’s ability to survive. Local businesses and members of the public responded very positively, shocked by the possibility of losing such a longstanding focus of community pride. Donations and membership subscriptions have both increased significantly.


The A&P Society had lost its major sponsor as a result of the global financial crisis, but this turned out to be the wake up call needed to examine the benefit to sponsors in return for what was essentially a donation. The new major sponsor, real estate agency Bayleys in the North, works closely with the Society to provide assistance with marketing and fund raising which means there is a much more proactive relationship to each party’s mutual benefit.


Among other initiatives, Bayleys run an auction each year in aid of the Society, support A&P film nights at the Matakana Cinemas and they also ran a sausage sizzle at Saturday’s Show which raised several hundred dollars.


There are sponsors of individual sections, notably the equestrian competitions, cattle classes, sheep shearing and indoor produce classes, which get exposure on the website, in the catalogue and at the Show. The Puhoi axemen are always a big attraction and organise their own sponsorship to cover costs, while sheep shearing which has struggled for entries attracted 24 shearers this year.


An important development last year was a change to the name and identity of the Show, now known as the Warkworth A&P Lifestyle Show which reflects the massive change in recent years in the area’s demographic make up. To illustrate this Show secretary, Marjorie Blythen, and her ex-President husband Dean, run a sheep and beef farm and Hereford stud on the outskirts of Warkworth, but now have no less than 52 neighbouring properties, most of them lifestyle blocks.


There was not much future in continuing to cater for a fast diminishing farming community on the doorstep of the largest urban population in the country, because the economics of farming no longer match the returns from sub division, dictated by the inexorable growth in demand for land and as permitted by the Auckland Council.


In recent years the Show has welcomed Highland cattle and alpacas in addition to traditional beef breeds, supplemented this year by Maine Anjou for the first time. Another initiative was the introduction of the donkey section which will become a regular part of the Show next year with its own judges.


Apart from animal classes and competitions, entertainment for families and children is a critical part of any A&P Show. The Warkworth Show’s timing at the height of summer meant the blow up water slide was especially popular with children paying an all day fee for as many turns as they liked. There were mini hot rods for the young, helicopter rides for the whole family and plenty of quad bikes, tractors and mowers in the trade section.


A new attraction this year was French circus performer JP who put on magic shows and stunts to great amusement and applause, while buskers played music around the Showgrounds. And an important part of the Show’s character is the presence of Te Radar as MC and general announcer who has performed this role for the last three years.


The challenge faced by all A&P Shows is to remain relevant to their community in the 21st century in the face of changing demographics and forms of entertainment, an ageing farming community and increasing urbanisation. Despite an apparent disconnect between town and country, urban New Zealanders increasingly demonstrate a desire to come to the country, either to live or just to enjoy a day out of town.


A&P Shows have a great opportunity to bridge the rural-urban divide, but they also have to adjust to the changing needs of their customer base and the age profile of their members to remain financially viable.


Probably the biggest challenge of all is to find people who will run the A&P Shows of the future, because this has traditionally been the responsibility of a farming community which is fast approaching retirement. The next generation must step up to the plate.

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One Response to “Challenge for A&P Shows to satisfy demands of new public”

  1. Rural round-up | Homepaddock Says:

    […] Challenge for A&P Shows to satisfy demands of new public – Allan Barber: […]

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