South missing out on millions

    Competitor's in action in the Clubman's class race during the Burt Munro Challenge 2021. Photo: Shane Todd

    Southland’s economy is set to miss out on millions of dollars after the cancellation of two of its major annual events, while a third is holding off on a decision amid uncertainty about vaccination requirements.

    It was announced on Monday Southern Field Days was to be cut from next year’s calendar, the news coming less than a week after the cancellation of the Burt Munro Challenge.

    Both would have been held in February and typically bring thousands of people to the region.

    While held a little later in May, the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival Committee has decided to hold off on any decision on the 2022 event until at least December, if not January.

    Committee member Kylie Fowler shared her “exasperation” with the Southland Express about trying to plan an event when there was so much uncertainty.

    Anyone aged 16 or over will be able to download digital vaccination certificates for use in New Zealand and overseas through My Covid Record from the end of November.

    However, Ms Fowler said there was concern around vaccine passports and how the use of these would work at large events if they were mandatory, as well as being able to keep the 700 volunteers who might not be vaccinated or not want to be around people who have travelled from other regions.

    Of the some 3500 visitors, most came from outside Southland.

    “Wait and see is all we can do.”

    Great South’s tourism general manager Bobbi Brown has been a dairy farmer for 20 years and understood how gutted the rural community must be about the cancellation of Field Days.

    The previous Field Days had more than 40,000 people attending, and Ms Brown explained it was a major social event as well as retail opportunity.

    It was a shame economically, but she also stressed how important the social aspect was.

    “It’s sad it’s off the radar but the second thing is around the fact it’s important right now people can socialise, especially for the rural sector when everyone has come out of calving and lambing.

    “It’s a shame economically but also a shame for the well-being of our rural sector.”

    For those attending, it was an opportunity to have everything you might need in one place, while contractors, retailers and shops used it to sell their products.

    “They’re going to have to be creative to find a new vehicle to sell their stuff.”

    The Southern Field Days committee, for the first time in 40 years, cancelled the 2022 event as it felt it posed too much of a risk to the community and would be hard to comply under government regulations if there was a change in circumstance.

    “We wanted to make this decision early to allow our community, exhibitors, volunteer groups and local businesses who are a huge part of our event to be able to plan ahead for other opportunities,” the committee said in a statement.

    Ms Brown thought the committee had been brave in its approach.

    “Uncertainty is really hard to work with.”

    To lose two of the biggest events was huge, she said. She estimated the loss was in the millions.

    However, she also had no doubt both events would be back.

    “We’re almost there. We’ve just got to stick it out to the end, get vaccinated. That’s the big message here.”

    She encouraged people to stay strong: “We are going to get through this. It will be like a bad memory at some point.”

    Event organiser-secretary Jude McNab said organisers were now working through the ramifications of the “unprecedented situation”.

    Cancelling the event had been the toughest decision the voluntary committee had had to make.

    While not cancelled, The Kepler Challenge Mountain Run Trust has made the decision to reschedule the December 4 run to January 15.

    This is the first time the trust has had to reschedule the event which, for the past 33 years, had been held on the first Saturday in December.

    Organising committee chairman Steve Norris said it was difficult, but in the end a relatively easy decision to make.

    “The trust was keen to give the approximately 20% of the field from Auckland the opportunity to participate, as they’ve been doing the hard yards in lockdown.”

    Some southern events were still clear to go ahead, however.

    This included the annual Shakespeare in the Park production, scheduled for February 2022.

    Auditions were to be held on November 14 for the February production, A Plague on Both Your Houses, which would highlight the 17th century’s challenging health and medical scene, as seen through Shakespeare’s texts and characters.

    Shakespeare in the Park Charitable Trust chair Hannah Kennedy said the show would pay homage to the medical professionals who have always worked hard to sustain humanity’s well-being.

    The trust, which has been presenting productions since 2001, is trying to be positive in the face of a pandemic that had caused huge disruptions, cancellations, postponement and financial difficulties for many events, she said.