The Whittlesea Agricultural Society is facing an uphill financial battle to stage the annual Whittlesea Show in November after not being able to run the show for the past two years due COVID-related issues. ​

By Courtney Black

The City of Whittlesea has proposed funding the Whittlesea Show, but show organisers say it won’t be enough to overcome two years of cancellations.

Due to the financial impact of cancelling the 2020 and 2021 shows, the council has proposed giving $20,000 to the Whittlesea Agricultural Society to assist with event operation expenses for the 2022 Whittlesea Show.

But society president Erica Hawke said the group was in a ‘far more fragile position financially’.

“The funding is fantastic … but it will take at least two to three years for us to get back on top,” she said.

Business Events Australia found that 50 percent of events businesses believe it will take three to five years to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Ms Hawke said in its 163-year history, the show was only completely cancelled during world wars.

“Last year the Department of Health would not sign off our COVID plan – we had no choice but to cancel and all that work is wasted,” she said.

Ms Hawke said government requirements for events including first aid, road safety and traffic management cost thousands of dollars and were going up every year.

According to the State Government, traffic management plans cost on average more than $1500, with an additional $80 per hour for traffic control devices, excluding application costs.

“Council staff have helped with the traffic management plan in the past – it is a big challenge, and I don’t expect that to change at all,” council chief executive Craig Lloyd said.

Mr Lloyd said the show was the largest event in the municipality and that hosting major events in a safe way was quite expensive.

Business Events Australia found during the pandemic that 41 percent of Australian events businesses accessed direct payments from state, territory or local governments.

Mr Lloyd said it was a shame that if an event was cancelled, the money was not always refundable for council to provide again.

“It’s very difficult for local governments to fund all these events, so, it’s important that all levels of government help where they can,” he said.

Mr Lloyd said the show’s funding would be available from July 1, after council voted in early June.

Ms Hawke said the support of new volunteers and sponsors was needed as many current volunteers were ageing and preparing to step down.

“If we don’t get volunteers, groups like the Country Women’s Association and the Lions Rotary Club will fade out … we supply over 20 local community groups … if we can’t stay on top, we can’t help everybody else,” she said.

Whittlesea Show had more than 250 sponsors in 2019. Ms Hawke expects sponsorships to decrease this year.

Ms Hawke said some of the show’s regular sponsors had gone out of business, and that it would be nice to have new sponsors on board.

She said residents could assist the Whittlesea Show through a $60 agricultural society membership, giving them tickets and members parking for both show days. Members can also become part of the society council to contribute to the show’s operation.

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