The 61st edition of The Game Fair, Europe’s biggest annual countryside festival, underlined its status as one of the premier long-standing events in the UK calendar as it came to a close at Hatfield House on Sunday, with visitors, exhibitors and sponsors hailing the event as another big success despite the challenging weather.
Amid changeable conditions, which ranged from temperatures as high as 38.1°C to hail storms and torrential rain, 114,203 visitors came through the gates over three days, confirming the strength and relevance of the event and the passion of visiting communities.
The Game Fair managing director James Gower said: “I have worked in the events and exhibition industry for 30 years, but The Game Fair continues to be the highlight for me personally. This year has been another great success. I am excited and proud to be part of the wonderful collection of industries, business and communities that we serve, and I look forward to welcoming them all to Ragley Hall in Warwickshire next year.”
With nearly 1,000 exhibitors, around 200 of them attending for the first time, and an array of traditional favourites and exciting new features on offer at Hatfield House, visitors descended on the beautiful Hertfordshire estate, home to the 7thMarquess of Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, in their thousands.
Among them were passionate countryside enthusiasts who return year after year to enjoy top-level shooting; the best gundog competitions in the country; the exotic world of falconry, which for the second year was twinned with S’hail – a specialist hunting and falconry exhibition in Qatar;and everything else that the festival of the great British countryside is renowned for – fishing, food, land management, gardens, equestrianism and traditional craft … to name a few.
Susan Rought Whitta from Staffordshire, attending with her husband Steve for the third time, said: “We went on Sunday and had a wonderful day. The muddy underfoot and drizzly conditions certainly didn’t spoil the event. We saw everything we wanted to – hounds parading; a demonstration on how to butcher a wild boar; gundog displays – as well as managing some serious retail therapy.”
Held just 21 miles north of London this year, the show gave thousands of city dwellers a unique chance to experience everything that the countryside has to offer and they lapped it up. Farmers and landowners also took a respite from their harvest to share the joy and community spirit, and gardeners spent hours happily browsing Europe’s largest-ever show garden, built by Capel Manor College students for The Game Fair thanks to the support of wealth managers Charles Stanley.
The big spenders were out in force too, with many exhibitors reporting record sales. The diverse weather provided a unique market, with demand for sunglasses then being overtaken by demand for green wellies and steady sales reported across art, sporting guns, clothing and accessories. More than £60 million is thought to have been spent.
Many of the exhibitors are already preparing to book their slot for the 2020 event, which returns to Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, after a successful weekend showcasing their products in front of so many people.
Elaine Stewart, marketing director of Longthorne guns, commented: “The Game Fair 2019 has been absolutely great. It’s been one of our best. We’ve had some very healthy interest, with very positive vibes and in the coming weeks we’ll do very well out of it.”
Emma Brown, owner of luxury country clothing brand Emma Brown Tweed, said: “This is our fourth year as an exhibitor at The Game Fair and it is our favourite by far. We welcomed back lots of old clients who have since become friends and in equal measures have gratefully embraced new faces who we hope will become faithful customers. We look forward to seeing everyone again at The Game Fair 2020.”
Ben Buxton, events and retail manager at Fairfax & Favor, added: “We had such a fantastic time at The Game Fair this year. We launched the new limited edition Tan and Navy Regina, which was huge a success and nearly sold out. The improved layout made finding your way round much simpler and shopping much easier.”
Rob Fenwick, managing director of award-winning shooting ground E.J. Churchill, who ran the Subaru Shooting Line, commented: “The Game Fair was a great success and, considering the weather, I thought the attendance was remarkable. I have never seen so many people in the rain as I did on Saturday. I thought The Game Fair team did a great job considering the challenges, and it’s a credit to them for putting on such a brilliant event that the industry and visitors can be immensely proud of. We are looking forward to Ragley Hall already.”
In the week when Boris Jonson became Prime Minister amid Brexit uncertainty which continues to challenge the UKs landowners, the Carter Jonas Theatre was a hotbed for political and industry debate – and a hub for countryside organisations to exchange views and network with members and each other.
Sarah Lee, head of policy at Countryside Alliance, said: “We had a great weekend at The Game Fair, welcoming old and new members, friends and people who’ve just wanted to learn more about what we are doing and campaigning on.”
Austin Weldon, game and wildlife advisor at The Game Fair’s official charity this year, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), added: “We really enjoyed being able to come here and showcase what we’re doing with our research and engage with the public. Its been really useful for us seeing our members, but also other organisations that are working in the country sports sector, so that we can link in together and share ideas.”
Kate Broers, field secretary at The Kennel Club, added: “We’ve had an absolutely fantastic weekend at The Game Fair as we always do. We always enjoy the event – it’s our perfect audience.”
The importance of cultural exchange and international dialogue is another growing element of The Game Fair in more recent years.Malika Alshraim, a member of the higher organising committee for the S’hail Katara International Hunting and Falcons Exhibition, one of The Game Fair’s major sponsors, commented: “The meetings we had at The Game Fair were a success. Many of the companies we talked to were interested in becoming a part of our own 2019 festival and some promising as far as 2020.”
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