Royal Welsh 2020: The show that was cancelled in days, but could take years to rebuild

When we reflect on the events of the past five months, and assess how much our lives have changed (at least for now), it seems incredible that at the start of March rural Wales was waking up to the sounds of spring after a long wet winter, and looking forward to the Royal Welsh Show this summer.

But in no time at all Wales was gripped in the middle of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and on the day we went into lockdown on the 23rd of the month, the Show was cancelled.

Officials had taken advice from Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government, which suggested that the ban on big events, and social distancing, would remain for some time.

Coronavirus seemed to arrive and accelerate very quickly. But the experts didn't think it would leave and slow down very quickly. And things certainly wouldn't be back to normal by the end of July.

Officials took the decision not to go ahead with the event because of coronavirus Credit: ITV Wales

They were right, but it felt so poignant.

Last year was the 100th Royal Welsh Show. We at ITV Cymru Wales organised everyone who was on the Showground on the eve of the event, to gather in the main ring and form a giant '100', which our camera operator Mark Doleman filmed from a drone above the site in Llanelwedd. It really was a spectacle to behold.

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society itself organised a musical celebration to mark the centenary of shows, and the singing from Wales' very own Shan Cothi and Lloyd Macey, echoed around the grandstand. But the society was formed in 1904. So why was the 100th Show so long in coming?

Well there were no Shows in and around the two World Wars, or the foot & mouth crisis of 2001, and last year's Show remembered those sad and disruptive years. But not in a million years did we think that we would not have a Show again in 2020.

People gathered to mark the 100th event Credit: ITV Wales

So what of the impact? Well the Show must go on! The Royal Welsh this morning launches a virtual version online. In a rapidly growing digital world, organisers say it's a way of keeping rural communities in touch and allowing important discussions about the future of Welsh agriculture to take place.

For the Mid Wales economy, it's serious business. The area is set to lose £40 million pounds. The Show keeps many pubs and guest houses going for the year. After the foot & mouth outbreak, there were firms in Builth Wells that closed and never reopened when the Show was cancelled then. It's a worrying thought that we could see a repeat of this in a rural town which does not have a glut of employment opportunities.

The Show often attracts visitors that fall in love with the area, and return for holidays when it's over. Those visitors won't be coming for the Royal Welsh this year. The society itself says that it could take four or five years before it recovers from the loss of income in 2020.

It's a busy hub in the heart of Wales - popular with conferences, used as a wedding venue, a regular spot for antiques events and livestock sales. But these all rely on the movement and gathering of people. So none of them have been able to happen so far and generate any money. The events industry is likely to be the last out of lockdown, and it could still be a tough few months ahead for the Royal Welsh. But the society says it's determined to come back bigger and better than ever.

Some people have even chosen to get married at the event Credit: ITV Wales

I think what people from rural communities right across Wales will feel most is the lack of social offering the Royal Welsh gives. It's the farmers' holiday. So many of them take advantage of fine weather windows in June and July to get in their harvest and shear their sheep. That allows them to make their annual pilgrimage to Llanelwedd, and talk shop over a pint with friends that they may not have seen for the last twelve months. It's important for their mental health, in an industry which can see people working alone and spending lots of time in isolation. But with 'show season' crossed out of the calendar, there won't now be that chance to meet and catch up.

The Show often attracts visitors that fall in love with the area, and return for holidays when it's over. Credit: ITV Wales

And what of smaller agricultural shows? Will they manage to weather the storm and reschedule in 2021? Many were cancelled or scaled down because of equine flu in 2019. They really did not need coronavirus in 2020. Horse breeders and show enthusiasts in particular may well adapt the way they operate if they're to survive going forward, and there are concerns that we will never see some local shows again.

We at ITV Cymru Wales are always proud to deliver comprehensive coverage of the week's highlights Credit: ITV Wales

The Royal Welsh will undoubtedly pull through. We at ITV Cymru Wales are always proud to deliver comprehensive coverage of the week's highlights in our news programme Wales At Six, and our current affairs programme, Coast & Country.

As I'm writing this, it's already feeling very strange that I'm not packing my suitcase with a diverse range of attire for all eventualities that the Welsh summer climate throws at us! Well my wellies are staying in the porch this year that's for sure!

But there's a 'hiraeth' for Llanelwedd, because in a world which is constantly changing, Europe's largest Show has that warmth of familiarity you can't help but cherish. It doesn't alter much. It's never dramatically different. But it's only in a summer without it, that you realise just how much you'll miss it.

Roll on Royal Welsh Show 2021!

Credit: ITV Wales