Meet Sheila Robinson - the woman behind the Great Eccleston Show
PUBLISHED: 14:00 28 April 2015
For more than 40 years Sheila Robinson has been at the helm of the Great Eccleston Show, one of the most popular events in the county calendar
In a tiny office at her whitewashed farmhouse Sheila Robinson is busy putting the finishing touches to this year’s Great Eccleston Show. It’s a pretty slick operation these days, but then she has been doing this for 41 years.
In 1974 Sheila was working as a cheesemaker and a milk recorder, visiting farms around Wyre when she was asked to become the show’s secretary. ‘I had never done any kind of secretarial work,’ she said. ‘I was visiting a farm when the farmer there said he had been asked to be the new chairman of the Great Eccleston Show and that he wanted me to be the secretary. I had been involved in the handicrafts section but never done anything like this so it was a big thing for me but I took the job on and I’m still doing it.’
At that time the show was a one-day event held in September which attracted just a handful of exhibitors and a relatively small crowd – a far cry from the modern busy and bustling weekend long show which regularly brings more than 40,000 people to the village showground each July.
‘The show had only just got going again properly after the war when I joined,’ Sheila added. ‘We were in a catch-22 situation where people weren’t coming to the show because there wasn’t much there and exhibitors weren’t coming in great numbers because there weren’t many people there. We had dairy cattle, sheep, handicrafts, domestic science and trade stands but it was a much smaller show than it is today.
‘We moved it to July a couple of years later, because we thought the rain would be warmer then. We did have some rough years with weather – one year the only marquee left standing was the beer tent.’
New attractions, events and classes have been added regularly over the years as the show has grown, including one of the highlights of the modern show, tractor pulling, which made its debut at the show in 1979 and was an instant hit. ‘Local farm lads souped up their tractors, it was completely different to what we have now with the modified tractors with aircraft engines but we could see it was going to be popular and built a track for it which we used for a good numbers of years before we built a new one.
‘You have to try to do something different each year to keep attracting people back. This year we are introducing a food theatre where we will stage cookery demonstrations by local producers and chefs. The cheesemaker Graham Kirkham will be there, as will Pebby’s bakery and Parkinson’s butcher’s and we’ll have the chefs from the Farmers Arms and the Cartford Inn, too. We’re hoping for a TV chef as well, but that’s not been finalised yet.
‘But the whole point of the show hasn’t changed, it is still all about promoting agriculture and the countryside.’
An agricultural show has been held in the area since 1853 when local farmers got together to hold a ploughing match and this year’s show will take place on Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19 – it is always now held on the first weekend after the Great Yorkshire Show.
Among the highlights will be the larger food section, the crafts and gifts marquee and the memory marquee with exhibits displayed by local historical societies, but the undoubted stars of the show are the animal classes. All creatures great and small will be exhibited, with classes for everything from rabbits up to shire horses, for whom the show is now a qualifier for the Shire Horse of the Year competition. And Sheila, who is also secretary of the Lancashire Holstein Club, will have a keen eye on the cattle classes.
Sheila, who grew up on a small farm in Hambleton, was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to agriculture because of her years of dedication to the show. She added: ‘It has been a part of my family’s life for so long. I have two children and I’ve been involved with the show all their lives.
‘I still find it very rewarding and get a real buzz every year. It’s wonderful when you see people come along and have a great time. I regard it as an honour and a great privilege to have been associated with the show for so long.
‘The show doesn’t just happen each year, it’s a year-round job. There is a tremendous committee of about 40 people who work very hard all year to make the show the best it can be. It’s a big commitment and if you don’t put your heart and soul into it, you don’t get anything out of it.
‘Someone said to me that everyone has a smile on their face at the Great Eccleston Show and I think that’s right, it’s a very happy show.’
For more details about the village show, go to greatecclestonshow.co.uk