THE first salvos in the battle between the showground fairs giants saw up to 4000 exhibitors head to Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire earlier this month.
Following the much-publicised war of words between organisers and a game of musical chairs that has seen one fair move from RAF Swinderby to Lincoln, only to find another immediately take its place, exhibitors and buyers were faced with a number of choices.
Going head-to-head on October 6-7 were Arthur Swallow Fairs’ first Antiques & Home Show at the Lincolnshire Showground and IACF’s new event at RAF Swinderby, while both were followed on October 8-9 by the established fair at the Newark and Nottinghamshire showground.
No knockout blow was struck in the opening round but punches were landed.
Following uncertainty regarding the future of the disused airfield (it has been earmarked for gravel extraction by owners Cemex), Arthur Swallow had announced in August their move from the rough-and-ready Swinderby site to the relative luxury of the nearby Lincoln Showground.
The new venue has been much improved in recent years and – while space is at a premium – acclaim for the relocated event and its facilities (including the eco-friendly building that houses 300 exhibitors) was almost universal.
Swallow Fairs have signed a ten-year contract with the site owners.
Despite some minor teething problems, most of the 2000 exhibitors were in a tidy grid formation by 11am on Monday’s “setting-up day” – effectively the first day of trading – and the overwhelming majority of early buyers chose Lincoln as their first port of call because of the higher exhibitor numbers.
Lincoln had clearly taken the lion’s share of ‘old’ Swinderby exhibitors (many had booked before IACF had offered them a choice) and had picked up some new faces too.
However, the rival event at the disused airfield was not without merit. Exhibitor numbers across the Monday ‘set-up’ day at the ‘new’ Swinderby reached around 500 – not bad for an event that had been hurried on to the calendar.
While it was affected by poor weather on the Tuesday morning which prompted some exhibitors to pack up and leave, the event is not as dead in the water as some critics (and opponents) have argued. And, with many savings to be made when buying and selling at both this fair and Newark, it will appeal to cost-conscious sellers, particularly if rates at Lincoln, which are currently pegged at old levels, rise in the new year.
Entry to Swinderby will be free in December – and possibly in February too – to help the event through the winter months.
The final event in the new three-ring circus was Newark.
Any fears that IACF’s flagship might lose significant numbers of either buyers or sellers were dispelled on the Thursday morning. IACF reported more than 2500 exhibitors and it was certainly business as usual with a high turnout of overseas buyers. For now, at least, it remains unscathed.
By Ivor Hughes