Man for all seasons
PUBLISHED: 09:00 11 April 2016
As venue and estates manager at the Norfolk Showground, Stephen Hood is enjoying a very busy springtime
LOOKING after 180 acres of landscaped parkland, seven miles of hedgerow, 16,000 square metres of permanent buildings and 10 acres of woodland is no small task. Norfolk Showground’s venue and estates manager, Stephen Hood, explains how one of the region’s most well-known landscapes has influenced his three decades in the job.
“The ground layout is very much the same as when the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association purchased it 60 years ago, the parkland is the one consistent element of the showground. People and events will come and go but the ground beneath our feet will always remain the same; we are really only its custodians for such a short time.”
The showground is home to the Royal Norfolk Show, the UK’s largest two-day county show, but surprisingly these two days are usually not hectic for Stephen and his team despite this being the largest event held at the showground.
“People always assume we are manically busy for the two days of the show, but the truth is if I’m busy on show days I’ve got it wrong! Show preparation starts in April, working on the ground, hedging and landscape and it normally takes us about eight weeks to return the site to normal after the event. We work tirelessly on the run up to the show to make sure everything is in place, from the 135,000 square metres of trade stand space, to the 194 emergency light bulbs and anything and everything else in between. Preparation is key and we’ve got this down to a fine art.”
The parkland at the showground requires constant maintenance. Specialist seed mix has been developed over the past 50 years which is resilient and repairs itself, but looking after the hundreds of acres of grass is a shared task. From September to March sheep from Easton and Otley College graze the ground on a rotation basis, stripping the previous year’s growth ready for the new growth in the spring.
Conservation plays a part in Stephen’s land management programme. All the trees on the showground have to be inspected each year to ensure they are growing safely and keep them in pristine condition; several are subject to Tree Preservation Orders, too. The hedges are all native species planted with guidance from FWAG –the Farming Wildlife Advisory Group - and where possible a margin is always left along hedgerows to encourage wildlife.
“You have to be weatherproof if you work at the showground! In early spring, the team carry out woodland work, building maintenance and checking the equipment that we need for the summer months, such as barriers and 800 bench seats are in good order. Every season brings new challenges and delights, and each event that comes to the showground changes the look and feel of the place. No two days are the same even after 28 years in the job!”