When a former chairman of council challenged the agricultural industry to promote food and farming 20 years ago, a new child-focused event was to emerge.
The Spring Fling will hold its 20th event on April 11, 2019 having “growed like Topsy” to become a sell-out event for the past seven years.
Originally aimed at youngsters up to the age of 12, accompanied by their parents, it attracted an initial attendance of about 900 including volunteer stewards and helpers on two dozen stands on April 19, 2000.
Henry Cator urged an invited audience at the RNAA’s MacGregor building to think about new ways to connect to consumers and especially younger children. Michael Pollitt, then the EDP’s agricultural editor, floated an idea of a spring event held during the Easter holidays, which would feature farm livestock, tractor and trailer rides and food demonstrations . . . . and a hog roast lunch and milk all in the ticket price.
Mr Cator and the then chief executive John Purling backed the idea. Incidentally, it took its name from the Norfolk Holstein Breeders’ Club, which had held a national show – the Spring Fling – at the showground two years earlier.
It was agreed at the outset that the Spring Fling would be run on a not-for-profit basis by volunteers. And the entry charge, which would include the hog roast, would be kept as reasonable as possible to encourage children and parents to visit. Several farming charities and businesses also helped by paying for bus transport for groups, including Guides and Scouts and children and parents from schools in Norwich, Yarmouth and Thetford.
The “see, touch, feel” approach was to become a key element as hundreds queued for tractor/ trailer rides around the showground – always one of the most popular attractions after the hog roast. And the chance to sit on a modern tractor was another huge draw – and remains so today.
Sausage-making by retired butcher Terry Beales, assisted by Ladies in Pigs, cooking alongside was a hit while North Elmham baker Norman Olley gave away coloured bread and rolls. Scientists from the Norwich Research Park, led by Dr Belinda Clarke, were another key element. The Norfolk Women’s Institutes with Frances Mobbs and Norfolk Young Farmers, initially with Ches Broom and Moira Harrison, also became mainstays of the Spring Fling.
Although the world’s worst epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in spring and summer 2001 brought the countryside to a standstill, organisers decided to stage a “Spring Fling in the Autumn.” That October more than 1,000 youngsters attended.
The stage was set for Spring Fling 2002. The event kept growing as 1,700 hog roast sandwiches were served by Peter & Sue Lilwall’s team. Another veteran “Flinger,” Ken Leggett helped more than 1,000 visitors to enjoy tractor and trailer rides and Steve Harris, of Norfolk County Council, led 280 youngsters on a guided woodland walk.
Over the following years, hundreds of volunteers from farming, food and environmental bodies, charities and scientists have helped at the Fling, which combined fun and a learning experience for all visitors and especially the children. It even encouraged one 10-year visitor in 2004, who had never eaten a green vegetable in his entire life, to taste a Birds Eye pea. And it left his mother in tears but when he returned the next year, he said that he only ate Birds Eye peas. And hog roast organiser Mr Lilwall was taken aback one year when one visitor, clutching the vegetarian option, insisted on some pork crackling!
At the first event in 2000, then RNAA president, Gillian, now Lady Shephard, said: “The Spring Fling has made an impressive start.” And, she was so right as more than 5,000 youngsters and parents now flock to the showground. As it has become part of Norfolk’s showground calendar, it has spawned other similar events across the country too.