British Railway Modelling (BRM)
UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR EXHIBITIONS
With some exhibitions slowly beginning to emerge from the doldrums of Covid-19, will we ever see a return to pre-pandemic levels of exhibition attendance and support?
Over the past 18 months, we have had to learn to live with face masks, sanitiser and social distancing. All provide a challenge for any exhibition organiser.
Many of us will have missed the exhibition circuit even if we attend only one or two a year. We miss the social interface, the opportunity to see new developments, get inspiration for our own projects, and, above all, spend some of the money we have been saving.
We have lost many of our shows, including Warley for the remainder of this year and some next year may or may not take place. Those which make use of educational establishments are going to be a 'no go' area for the foreseeable future while those that take place in smaller venues such as a church or village halls may stand the best chance of being able to take place. The restricted space will ensure that these will be small and localised. Take out of the calendar all those exhibitions that use schools or campus facilities and that will mean a lot of exhibitions missing in 2022 and beyond.
Our local authority-owned and operated leisure centres or halls have also struggled for some time due to local government funding issues and this has led to increased costs over recent years and the situation is unlikely to improve. Some have been privatised or sold off and many no longer have free car parking spaces that they once enjoyed. Many of these facilities host club shows and, along with increased costs for everything else, could almost price many clubs out of the exhibition business in the future.
Exhibitions have long been part of the hobby.
Many are staged by clubs who will be facing their own reopening challenges, perhaps with reduced membership. We all know club people who are no longer with us due to the pandemic or who no longer feel comfortable being in the club room until things return to normal, assuming at some stage they will. Clubs will have not been building new layouts during the shutdown when clubs understandably couldn't operate. Many will still have had to pay the rent and, as a result, finances may not be in a healthy state. The lack of new layouts will result in some older ones having to remain available to exhibition organisers and running the risk of “we have seen them all before”.
Shows have been changing for some time. Health & Safety requirements mean that some shows are deemed construction sites during set up with High Visibility jackets needed – how long before hard hats and safety boots? Some require us to fill in risk assessment forms, and have electrical equipment professionally certified that it is safe to use (PAT testing). Just how far can we push both layout owners and traders before they consider “enough is enough”. Some will consider that post-Covid it is time for them to “hang their boots up” and leave it to others to provide layouts for shows in the future. We have all got a few years older and may lack the motivation to start again.
We can see the big shows surviving and initially, at least, the small ones in the village hall. It is the ones that have been held in leisure centres, local government and school premises that we should fear for – at least over the next few years.
Just as our real railways are finding attracting back customers requires a lot of effort. Attracting back exhibitors, traders, manufacturers as well as paying visitors, is going to require a lot more effort than it did prior to lockdown.
Let’s hope exhibitions return to previous levels, but it is not going to happen overnight. One thing is certain, the exhibition scene in 2022 is going to be a lot different from the one we all knew back in 2019.