Deputy CEO of Yorkshire Agricultural Society and MD of the Society’s trading subsidiary company, Yorkshire Event Centre (YEC), Heather Parry tells CN about the transformations and strategies initiated at the grand old venue, which has recently seen a £11m development of Hall 1.
What trends are you seeing at YEC in 2017?
We have a demanding budget and we are on track to smash that. The trend we’re seeing is more last-minute bookings and greater variety of events. The old hall would predominantly attract exhibitions and the new hall is more of a blank canvas, so we have a much wider range of events.
What is behind the concept of the Regional Agricultural Centre (RAC) and Fodder?
In 2001 Foot and Mouth hit and made a major impact on the rural community and we thought about what we could do to help. The Great Yorkshire Show is terrific in pulling everyone together and we wanted to recreate that magic with the RAC and Fodder.
We wanted an office for our staff as well as not-for-profit rural business and so the RAC was born.
One of the best parts of the show is the food hall, so we decided to create Fodder which would champion local food all year round and support local farmers. It is the only café food hall of its kind in the UK where all profits raised go back to a farming charity.
Are organisers more particular now about their F&B provenance?
Yes. People want to know where the food comes from and that it celebrates the region they’re in. France and Italy are the best at it, although I think the UK is catching up. It’s not about big meals, but health, and local food is healthier because it’s fresher. Our menus are flexible according to the event, so a woodwork exhibition would be more bacon butties, while an embroidery show would be more salads. The catering is very important as the happier the delegates are the longer they stay.
How has the redeveloped Hall 1 impacted the business since opening?
Massively – it’s the biggest single investment we have made and we are beginning to reap the rewards and the wide-ranging nature of events that are now choosing us shows this.
What is the biggest difference between being in Harrogate and working down at Earls Court where you previously marketed events?
Space and fresh air!
I loved Earls Court, it was an amazing experience for seven years and a great grounding. I came to the Yorkshire Agricultural Society in 1993, to a business which was tiny yet had so much potential. (Since then the showground has been developed with Pavilions of Harrogate built in 1996, Fodder, RAC, Harrogate Caravan Park and the new look Yorkshire Event Centre).
What is the biggest challenge in marketing Harrogate as an events destination and what are the biggest draw cards of the town?
Harrogate is an easy sell because people love coming here. It’s a beautiful spa town with so many restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. It is easy for people to reach from Edinburgh to London, Blackpool to Hull, by both road and rail.
There are now direct trains from Harrogate to London every day, with more services planned. Leeds Bradford Airport is also just 20 minutes away.
What are your main goals for developing the business over the next five years?
Building the hotel, which will then lead to Pavilions and YEC being busier.
We are looking to have a refit at Fodder and we had Elton John perform here a few years ago so we would be open to hosting more events like that.
It’s about looking at every opportunity and making as much money as we can for the charity.