Searching for a show home
The news that the Kennel Club has scrapped plans for the establishment of a new show centre at Chepstow racecourse may have come as a bit of a surprise, but far better that the decision has been made now, rather than let the project get underway, or worse still be completed, and then discover that the whole enterprise was not going to work.
I’m always rather suspicious of these joint ventures, especially in this case as it seemed as though the KC was putting in a lot yet letting the racecourse have more than its fair share in return. If the KC was really strapped for cash, and this was the only way to buy into this sort of facility that would be a different matter, but presumably the remains of the windfall received as a result of moving down Clarges Street, has been wisely invested, and is growing steadily, if slowly.
With suitable venues for holding shows becoming ever more difficult to find, it would seem that the provision of regional show centres should become a high priority. It’s all too easy to go down the ‘if only’ route, and bemoan the fact that the KC didn’t take advantage of the low prices being asked for substantial country estates in the 1950s. Instead we have to make the best of the situation that exists today, and just be thankful that there is a pot of money that is earmarked for this purpose.
We have the example of Stoneleigh to guide us, and while it certainly isn’t perfect, it is a starting point when looking to plan further dedicated canine venues.
It would seem logical that both the geographical location of such buildings, and exactly what facilities should be provided must be considered together.
Show venues come in roughly three sizes: those big enough to host a general championship show, those suitable for a decent sized all-breed open show, and those that will accommodate a breed club event.
Immediately we can see where Stoneleigh fails. It is completely unsuitable to house a general championship show, as it is nowhere near big enough. While the two halls are a suitable size for most open shows, the parking is a complete nightmare, being too far away to be convenient, and – even after the improvements paid for by the KC – potholed and rutted to the extent that getting clean, well-groomed dogs, even if they are in a trolley, safely inside the halls is almost impossible.
For single breed shows, apart from the numerically very strong, the halls are too large, and their hire charges too expensive.
As with everything else connected with dogs, there truly is no ‘one size fits all’, and even before the purchase of land or existing buildings is to be discussed, it is hoped that very careful consideration is given to exactly what is needed. Convenient, and even cost-cutting, as it might be there can be no standard design that can be used for every situation.
I’m assuming the KC is not nowadays looking for venues that could house a large general championship show. Prestigious as it might have been for the KC to have its own flagship showground, that probably isn’t practical. What is needed are a number of venues, strategically placed around the country, which are suitable for the needs of that area.
In practice this probably means a venue large enough to house the average open show, so around the same size as Stoneleigh, but with an equal area outside, suitably fenced and mown, so that outdoor rings are readily available when the weather is decent, and – most important of all – with good access and with plenty of parking.
Where can such places be found?
We really can’t expect KC employees to spend their days scouring the internet or property brochures in search of possible leads, so it really is up to us to help them in their task.
The first step is to identify how many KC centres are needed, what size they should be, and where they should be placed. Having made that decision, perhaps these findings could be widely publicised.
Exhibitors, estate agents, even commercial builders should be reminded that the KC is looking for suitable sites and information readily available as to who should be contacted with any suggestions. I know that when the idea of regional venues was first proposed, we ordinary dog folk were asked to help, by sending in any suggestions we might have. But who do we send them too? I confess I haven’t any idea.
What sort of size are we looking for?
I would suggest the area covered by a large rugby club or an equestrian centre would be ideal for an open show, while something akin to a large village hall is big enough for most breed clubs.
Any show site needs to be readily accessible by road, while a dedicated area set aside for caravans or motorhomes would be a real bonus for many of the societies that would use such a venue.
I’m quite sure that many such properties could readily be found, and at a realistic price. It just needs folk to be motivated to go out and find them. I am no property or planning expert, but a very quick internet search of commercial property for sale in my county threw up some ideas.
There are many industrial estates with buildings lying empty that would make ideal small canine centres, indeed some commercial concerns have already gone down that route – offering daycare as their core business, and then letting out their premises to dog clubs in the evening and at weekends.
Could that be a route for the KC to take?
Contracting out the premises to a commercial concern that will offer a high standard of daycare during the week – didn’t I read somewhere that the AKC offers just such a facility? Maybe having room for a resident groomer – or even a veterinary practice on site. With rooms suitable for seminars and club committee meetings, a carefully planned building could be operating at capacity throughout the week, and still be free for shows at weekends.
Being used on a regular basis would mean that such a venue would not only bring in a steady income, but with people being on the premises during the day, in the evening and at weekends, there would be less opportunity for vandals to cause damage.
There is no doubt that suitable pieces of land could be bought or established properties converted, so what is needed now is the KC to work in conjunction with show societies and breed clubs to establish where the need is most pressing, and then to motivate people to search for the right place. Include those who will use the venue in the search and the planning, and they will value it far more.
What is certain is that if nothing is done, there will soon be even fewer places to hold shows. Since the loss of venues is already one of the major factors in the decline of our open shows, we should be very worried about this, so the sooner we can have our own venues the better it will be.