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Published: April 5, 2022 | Updated: May 16, 2022

New countryside show springing into life this month owes its arrival to the Covid pandemic

James Cox, Show Organiser, Gillingham & Shaftesbury Agricultural Society. Picture: Alfred Radio 107.3 FM.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

It’s billed as Dorset’s newest – and freshest – rural show and it owes its arrival to the pandemic.

This month sees the first Spring Countryside Show from the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Agricultural Society.

Held on Saturday April 23 and Sunday April 24 it’s the new sister event to the society’s flagship Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show.

Like a lot of annual events in the Dorset calendar, the famous one-day show, which takes place in August, was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid.

Last year, it was split over two days to allow social distancing, one of just a small number of agricultural shows to be held in the UK in 2021.

It resulted in record visitor numbers – more than 30,000 people.

As the pandemic set in, show organiser James Cox had only just joined the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Agricultural Society.

Appointed to the role at the age of 23 he was the country’s youngest-ever show organiser.

James said: “As dreadful as Covid was in forcing us to cancel our annual show for a year, it was also the catalyst for us to expand.

“We realised that we could – and should – do more than one show a year to create a more effective business model.”

Months of dedicated hard work followed behind the scenes.

And now final preparations are being made for the Spring Countryside Show which takes place at the Turnpike Showground between Gillingham and Shaftesbury, pictured.

The theme is ‘Bring Spring to Life’.

A line-up of more than 50 exhibits, demonstrations and attractions include open-air and indoor interests aimed at the whole family.

James said: “We’re so excited to bring this new country show to the Turnpike Showground.

“The arrival of spring is always such a positive time of year and this show embraces and highlights all the wonderful rural pursuits, traditions and talented craftspeople our region has to offer.

“There really is something for everyone to enjoy over the two days.

“There are many new acts and traders, never before seen at our show in August.”

James, who turns 26 a day before the Spring Countryside Show opens, was born and raised on his family’s farm near Dorchester.

A former student at Kingston Maurward College in Dorchester, he volunteered and then worked in agricultural shows, starting his career as Assistant Show Secretary at the Dorset County Show.

James then honed his skills at the Royal Bath and West of England Society as Show Team Assistant, Marketing and Sponsorship Officer and, latterly, Trade Manager.

While at the society he worked on a variety of major agricultural shows including Grassland UK, The Dairy Show and The Royal Bath & West Show.

Through the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Agricultural Society, James has been instrumental in establishing a Student Support Fund.

Its aim is to support students entering agricultural, horticultural and countryside courses.

He said: “The idea for this also came about during Covid where we saw a real and pressing need to help students and apprentices entering careers in agriculture and land-based industries.

James Cox and his small team of Louise Harris and Bonnie Cradock who organise the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Shows.

“The Support Fund offers help with costs towards college or university course fees, books and equipment or even to help meet the significant transport costs of getting to a place of study from a rural location.”

Tickets for the Spring Countryside Show start from £8.50 for adults and £1 for children but the price will increase when a quota is reached.

If you have a country craft or tradition to showcase, or want to exhibit a show garden or floral display, there’s still time to get involved.

For tickets, more information and details on how to exhibit, visit springcountrysideshow.co.uk or telephone 01747 823955

More information on the Student Support Fund can be found here.

This year’s Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show is on Wednesday August 17.