The APF Exhibition is the UK’s largest forestry, woodland, arboriculture, fencing and biomass show. As such, it requires a lot of planning. In this new series, exhibition secretary Ian Millward will offer readers a glimpse behind the scenes to learn how the show is organised and how preparations are coming along for APF 2020.

APF 2020 will take place at Ragley Estate on the 24–26 September, back on the same site as in 2018.

This is the first instalment of what will be a regular update on what goes into running this major international exhibition. I hope it will both enlighten and amuse, while dispelling any myths about us organising it on the back of a fag packet with a week to go! In this first entry, I would like to detail the background of the event and our organisational structure.

Way back when we started at Longleat in 1976, there were fewer than 50 exhibitors and an unknown number of visitors (we didn’t count them in those days) In 2018, we had 320 exhibitors and just over 20,000 visitors.

Forestry Journal:

Despite the size of the event we do not employ any full-time staff. We utilise a lean organisational structure in line with our not-for-profit ethos. The exhibition is organised by a committee of nine people: show director Chris Inglis, chief co-ordinator Mark Steele, safety officer Gordon Adam, assistant safety officer Eric Boyd, assistant chief co-ordinators Jemma Bargery and Mat Box, assistant exhibition secretary Susie Drew, Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, representing our parent company’s interests and myself in the role of exhibition secretary. We hold around eight meetings during the two-year show cycle. The core team is supplemented by a group of enthusiastic people drawn from our industry who are taken on as temporary staff to help us to set up, run and take down the exhibition.

One of the strengths of the team is that we all have jobs in the forest and arboricultural industries. This means we have a sound understanding of the needs of our exhibitors and visitors. We buy equipment and services for our own businesses, so the exhibitors in many instances are not only our customers but we are theirs. We work in the industry and are not professional event organisers, which makes a huge difference. The absence of full-time staff and permanent premises ensures we keep overheads low. No fancy glass and steel office for us; we run the event from my home office! For me, commuting to work involves climbing a flight of stairs and no traffic jams (unless my dog is blocking the way).

Forestry Journal:

Another strength of our team is that all have come up through the ranks, working as temporary staff at the demo for a number of years before joining the committee, so they have a sound understanding of how it all fits together. We have a planned succession whereby any committee member who plans to retire has an assistant to learn the role for one or more events before taking over. This makes for a smooth transition. I started helping out at the demo way back in 1984 and was invited to take over as secretary 10 years later, when our first secretary, Tony Phillips, retired. We have committee members and temporary staff who were not born when the first APF was held, many of whom have followed in their fathers’ footsteps to work with us.

We all bring a wide range of experience to the table. We don’t immediately agree on everything, but we always work it out and I cannot remember the committee ever having had to vote on anything. To work successfully as a team, you have to trust your teammates and accept that compromise is better than conflict. We each have our clearly defined roles and responsibilities and, from experience, we know that each team member will deliver, with only the occasional reminder.

Forestry Journal:

Planning for the event starts over 18 months ahead, before we have even put everything to bed for the last exhibition. Our first meeting for the 2020 event was in February, when we discussed and set the budget. It is an easy mistake to simply roll from one event to the next, using the same contractors and suppliers. As I am sure all contractors will agree, when you know there is no competition for a job, your pencil is never quite as sharp.

We invite tenders for all our bought-in services and for 2020 we really looked at our costs and income. Any business needs to be sustainable and we would do no one any favours if we went bust. We have managed to keep costs down and therefore keep the cost of our exhibitor stands and visitor ticket prices low. Although having to increase the cost a little for 2020, an exhibitor booking a 40m x 40m demo site with us pays just £2.19 a square metre, while most other equivalent industry shows charge over £22 a square metre. The APF demo was originally set up to provide a service to APF trade members, an event run for the industry by the industry, and we still follow that ethos to this day. Any surplus we make, above a retained rainy-day reserve, we look to put back into the wider industry. Our focus, as organisers of the event, is to provide a service to the industry, rather than maximise profit. There are many examples of shows that have fallen by the wayside after losing touch with their core audience.

Forestry Journal: Ian in his office with golden retriever Remi.Ian in his office with golden retriever Remi.

After our February budget meeting, we had further meetings in April and June to fine-tune the site layout, costs and a myriad of other things, from first aid to catering (our standard agenda runs to about 31 headings). Then we were confronted by a major challenge. Due to circumstances entirely beyond our control, we were forced to redesign our demonstration circuit and other parts of our planned layout. As ever, the team rose to the challenge. We fitted in an extra meeting in August and redesigned and remapped the show layout. Fortunately, our mapping guru Jemma was able to do this quickly for us, which enabled Mark to recalculate the amounts of temporary tracking and fencing we need.

Another consideration for 2020, which we’ve not had to deal with before, is that another show, Muck & Grass, will be using much of our site for an event in May. We are hoping this will not impact on us and are working closely with both the organisers and Ragley Estate to ensure we can live happily side by side.

Next month, I will detail how we begin the exhibitor booking process and how our first site meetings with exhibitors went. Over 40 per cent of APF 2018 exhibitors have already booked for 2020. A list of exhibitors booked can be found on our website at