The APF Exhibition is the UK’s largest forestry, woodland, arboriculture, fencing and biomass show. Exhibition secretary Ian Millward offers a glimpse into how preparations are coming along for APF 2021.

HAPPY New Year to everyone, although I am not sure ‘happy’ is a word many people are using at the moment. Every silver lining has a cloud, it appears. Optimistic talk about vaccines in early December was quickly followed by a third, tough lockdown for pretty much all of us in the UK. It appears only the Scilly Isles are exempt and even the pubs there are open! Brexit seems a distant memory as it is overshadowed by COVID.

As I write this in mid January, the general situation looks dire, with a tragic record number of both deaths and infections and hospitals stretched to capacity. If all that wasn’t bad enough, we now have a virulent South African strain of the virus followed by a possibly even more infectious South American strain. The scientists think the current vaccines will deal with these, but it is uncharted and untested waters and no one really knows.

The government is working hard to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible and is setting up 24-hour centres to achieve this. Old buggers like me (i.e. over 50) are promised a vaccine by the end of March and everyone should have had one by the autumn.

Meanwhile, until the vaccines start to kick in, lockdown continues with threats of even more restrictions. Talk of lifting lockdown by Easter has stopped, unsurprising given the current levels of infection.

READ MORE: Bringing you the #APFthatneverwas​

Where, then, does that leave us and APF 2021? Other shows like Glastonbury, scheduled to take place in June, are requesting government guidance or guarantees by the end of January as to whether they can take place. We would all love some guarantees, but with the current state of affairs I think we all appreciate the government is unable to give any.

You cannot put on a large show with five minutes’ notice, given the scale of logistics involved, and so we continue our planning process. We talked recently with our local Safety Advisory Group about this. Each local district has its own SAG group. This is a collection of a wide variety of organisations including HSE, Environmental Health, police, fire, ambulance, highways, local authority etc, who come together with event organisers to discuss their plans, comment and make recommendations on the running of large events.

The APF committee, with our safety officer, Gordon Adam, has produced a very comprehensive event management plan detailing exactly how we plan to run and manage the event, covering such things as traffic management and first-aid cover, as well as how we would deal with various situations, from flooding and fire to lost children and even terrorism.

We meet with the SAG group to discuss this and get their comments and suggestions. This is a highly useful exercise. For one, it proves to the SAG that we are a competent bunch who know what we are talking about and are capable of staging a large event. It picks their brains and gives us useful help to improve our EMP, if required, and it gives us access to the right people to talk to.

Our recent conversation with SAG was regarding their thoughts about running events this year. As ever, they were very helpful, but advised they can offer assistance and advice on everything except COVID! This is not really surprising, as they are at the mercy of government regulations just as we are and anything they say may be rendered obsolete a few days later by new regulations.

So, we remain in a state of limbo, wanting and hoping to go ahead, but waiting for confirmation that we will be allowed to. Not good if you are planning a big event and need to book services and equipment and pay deposits!

As I have said before, the APF is run as a showcase for the industry. It is an incredible market place and meeting point for everyone in the trees and timber industries. It is run by a committee of people who work within the industries we serve. We all want to put on a fantastic event for everyone involved, both exhibitors and visitors. Any profits made will ultimately get put back into the industry. Confor is our sole shareholder and they, alongside us, have been committed to this since we first set up as an independent company when the Association of Professional Foresters merged with the Timber Growers Association form Confor. We are fortunate that, due to our past management, we have a good ‘rainy day fund’ and are financially secure and can weather whatever COVID throws at us. All exhibitor site fees currently received are safe and secure, whatever happens.

As this is an industry event that we all want to be successful, we would like to pick your brains about APF 2021. Very shortly, we will be sending out a brief survey to currently booked exhibitors, past exhibitors who have not yet booked, and visitors. This will be sent out directly via email to each exhibitor and posted as a link on our website and via our social media. It will be simple and take no more than five minutes to complete. Please take the time to respond. We want to work with you to help our planning for the event and your feedback will be invaluable.

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Thanks – and stay safe.