The Great Dorset Steam Fair Directors have announced that the event will not take place next year.
The Directors have described this as a “very difficult decision” which they reached after ” a long and detailed process” which left them unable to make the announcement until now.
The Steam Fair has been running since 1969, and became one of the largest heritage railway events in the world and one of the largest festivals of any type in the UK. But after being cancelled for the first time in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions, it has since faced mounting financial pressure during the post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, and was again cancelled this year.
The Great Dorset Steam Fair is a complex event that requires months of careful and detailed planning, involving various bodies, including statutory authorities, emergency services and site contractors. It is held outdoors on a working farm, and the organisers have to spend a lot of money on providing the necessary and statutory site infrastructure and services over a six-hundred-acre showground.
Costs rose rapidly after the pandemic, reaching £4.2 million in 2022, £700k more than the £3.5 million spent on the last pre-pandemic Fair event in 2019. This rise led to the cancellation of this year's event, and the financial challenge has since intensified with a further overall increase of around 12% . With extra regulatory and compliance requirements, this could increase to 15% or more, taking 2024's operating costs to between £4.7million and £4.9million. This steep rise mirrors that from 2019 to 2022.
To meet the extra financial demands, turnover in 2024 would have to rise significantly, and the organisers calculated that they would have to raise ticket and camping prices by 70% to 75%. Although this would similar to what some other major festivals charge, the Directors considered that in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, many people would not be prepared to pay the inflated price.
Great Dorset Steam Fair Managing Director, Martin Oliver, says: “The GDSF is a World-renowned event and is enormously popular but, sadly, the harsh reality is that there is little we can do financially to make running the 2024 event financially viable. Post Pandemic, operating costs increased disproportionately (when compared to our income) and would increase substantially again in 2024. The country is still gripped in the cost-of-living crisis and we do not believe that we can risk imposing a significant increase in ticket and camping prices without drastically reducing attendance at the event. So, a perfect storm situation exists. As an organisation we have looked at every option possible financially to try and find a way forward, this has also included putting the Event up for sale over the past few months (through a specialist broker).
“Whilst there has been interest in the sale of the Event and discussions are ongoing, we are yet to finalise a deal that would enable the 2024 event to run. With this in mind, we are very aware of the timing for all involved, for visitors (who wish to book tickets, camping and hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc) to section leaders, staff, contractors and exhibitors who need to reserve the dates to ensure their availability/book time off work etc and for the management team to organise the event.
“This is not the news that everyone who enjoys the GDSF was hoping for and no one is more disappointed with this outcome than us as organisers. It is a desperately sad situation that we are unable to continue but, unfortunately (despite our best endeavours), the current position is that the 2024 show will not be running. Nevertheless, the Event remains for sale and we remain hopeful that there may be a Great Dorset Steam Fair in 2025 and the present management team will do all we can to assist in making this happen.
“My sincere thanks to everyone for your loyal and past support, it is very much appreciated.”
Any parties wishing to enquire in relation to the sale of the Event should contact [email protected] marked for the attention of Martin Oliver.