THE overall picture for air shows in the UK is not a rosy one – unless you head to Torbay that is. 

High-profile seaside air shows such as Margate, Lowestoft and Southend have all stopped running and the debut Great Yarmouth Air Show had to be postponed last summer.

In that context Torbay Council might be considered bold for deciding to launch their own aerial extravaganza last year, but the second show at the start of June was a resounding success.

Not that the road to this point has been smooth – far from it. The 2016 Torbay Air Show put a strain on the council’s finances, generated plenty of traffic complaints and nobody would have blamed the local authority if they’d decided not to stage another one.

One of the major differences between year one and year two was the introduction of Richmond Event Management to work alongside Torbay Council.

Having run the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and Bristol Harbour Festival for many years, and managed the 175th anniversary celebrations of the Cunard Line sailings from Liverpool, the team brought considerable experience to a show which had much promise but had got off to a rocky start.

In fact given that the senior management trio on site included the former ops director of Glastonbury Festival (Tim Roberts), the project director of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta (Ben Hardy) and Mike Richmond himself, there could hardly have been a better team to turn to.

“It was a case of remodelling the air show,” said Mike Richmond, who was site manager at Torbay. “In the first year of any show organisers often try and replicate what they’ve seen elsewhere but for me, you have to look at the context of the environment around you. Don’t use an outdated model just because you have seen it work elsewhere.

“With Torbay because finance was an issue, it was a question of looking at how much income they could generate versus the investment they were making, and narrowing the gap between the two.”

£250,000 Saved

In a dramatic shift from the previous year, the 2017 Torbay Air Show was put on for £250,000 less without reducing the amount of air displays, a huge plus point for a small council who would find it challenging to raise significant extra revenue.

“That’s a political win,” added Mike. “The air show was put on this year for the equivalent of spending £1.80 for every person who came to watch. And that spend is now delivering more because people are having a better time, they’re spending more time and more money on site, they’re staying in hotels and they can get there.”

Transport was a key issue for the REM team. In 2016 Torbay Council had gone to great lengths to lay on park-and-ride facilities but few people took up the offer. Tweaking the transport plan and bringing some fresh, experienced eyes to the situation proved crucial, as Ben Hardy, project manager for REM at Torbay, explains.

“We took the decision not to close Paignton down for two days. The show ran between 11am and 7pm each day which gave traffic a chance to flow the rest of the time – that was an operational decision.

“Every train that came down from Newton Abbott was full, and we parked significantly more cars than the previous year. We got the word out there about public transport options as much as we could.”

REM’s experience has taught them that there are multiple stakeholders at any event, and it’s making sure all the different parties are working together that can make the difference between a good event and a great one.

Working on events like the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta had helped forge a strong relationship between REM and the British Air Display Association and TSA Consulting.

“It cannot be underestimated what a good job the guys like Ian Sheeley at TSA do getting the Red Arrows and Typhoons in the air,” said Ben. “They are second to none.”

Safety strengthened in light of recent terror attacks 

Working closely with Devon and Cornwall Police and the South Western Ambulance Service not only ironed out some tension points from 2016 but also proved invaluable because of dramatic developments.

“Confidence – other people need to have it in you and you need to have it them It’s beneficial,” said Mike. “Otherwise you get unnecessary conflict. It’s where expertise, knowledge and competence are so important. Ben, in particular, did a great job working with the statutory authorities.”

Those relationships were key when, as the whole management team were taking stock between the Saturday and Sunday events, terrorists struck 200 miles to the east in Borough Market.

The risk assessment for Torbay Air Show had been strengthened following the Manchester Arena bombing, but what followed the London attacks illustrated how with event management, it’s the all-round approach that comes from decades of experience that can make the difference.

“We regrouped Sunday morning and decided that before anything happened, we were going to have a minute’s silence,” said Ben. “It was one of those situations where event managers are not just about nuts and bolts, it’s about sensitivity and creativity as well.

“So we spoke to our PR team, made suggestions to the organisers and made sure the commentator and the Mayor were correctly briefed.

“That was when our all-round experience kicked in. Mike texted me to make sure the fairground operator knew to turn his rides and music off which was something I hadn’t  considered. We also made sure all the traders knew what was happening along with the people who run the pier.”

And so, on the dot of 2pm, the entire promenade rose as one and fell silent, the end of the minute signalled by the engines of two Spitfires as they flew past.

On a day when people were not just nervous about mass gatherings but looking to do something in solidarity with those who were suffering elsewhere, it was the perfect response and added to the sense of an event being well managed.

Specialist Event Firms

“Overall, they key was the team we took down to Devon,” said Mike. “We had an experienced event PR team in Plaster Creative Communications, for example.”
“I always look at the analogy of tiling your bathroom,” added Ben. “We’ve all stood there and thought we could do it ourselves and save some money, but you can be sure you’ll end up with something that doesn’t look as good as it should when you could have spent a little bit of money and got an expert to do it.

“That’s why we engaged an events PR team to work in tandem with the council press office to promote the show and get a great social media reach.

For the same reason we used an events security company and an event electrician. There are differences between them and other companies.”

5-year Business Plan

With a successful 2017 Torbay Air Show behind them, the REM team are already looking at how the event could be yet further improved in years to come.

Mike said: “Anyone looking at an event like this should, in terms of negative to positive feedback, look at the first one being red, the second amber and the third one green. The expenditure vs generation of income model that REM brought to Torbay means we are, I would say, flashing amber. And in doing so we’ve made the operation a lot neater.

“We’ve reduced the council’s subsidy dramatically and they’re now looking at a five-year business plan that will eventually reduce their investment to £50,000.

“All local authorities under pressure so for Torbay to be able to tap into a model that gives them sustainability in their event spending and also helps them reduce their subsidy over time is unique.

“I would love to be involved again because we can see potential to grow the event, bring in more people and because it’s early in the year there is potential attraction to brands.

“It’s definitely an event that can spread its wings.”

Key Suppliers:

Public address – WE Audio, Fencing – Brandon Hire, Toilets – Brandon Hire, Marquees – Andrews Marquee Hire, Media – Plaster Communications, Traffic Management – The AA, Health and Safety – The Event Safety Shop, Medics – St Johns Ambulance, Security – AP Security


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