Wednesday 17 April 2024 will go down as a significant date in the 91 year history of the Marden Fruit Show Society. The National Fruit Show has always mirrored the fortunes of the industry it was created to support, and just as the industry goes through challenges and changes, so too does the fruit show’s format and the team behind it.

Despite multiple illnesses and changes in the delivery team, an outstanding event was delivered for the 90th anniversary last November, a show that also marked the last event for a number of key people for the show society.

The new office holders will be led by Nigel Bardsley, who I am delighted to say has replaced yours truly as chair of the society. With wife Annette as his vice-chair (as well as taking on the responsibility of running the eponymous hard fruit competition) this gives the society an unbeatable, well networked, expert couple to take the society forward to its centenary.

Chris Morris remains as honorary treasurer, while Andrew Tinsley has been replaced as chair of trustees by Claire Seymour, with Robert Mitchell elected vice-chair of Trustees. Colin Bird, now retired, has resigned from both the general committee and as a trustee and has been replaced as a trustee by Chris Morris.

Sam Smith stood down as the educational programme leader at the show last year, with Mandy Hounsell taking the helm. The general committee has also seen significant changes, following the retirement of committee members Brian and Norma Tompsett, John Guest, Colin Bird, Andrew Tinsley and Rebecca Cassidy. The committee has been boosted by the appointment of Jon Hatch and James Goldsworthy.

Alongside the restructuring of the general committee and trustees, the society has had to make some difficult decisions on staffing. A change in the management structure has seen the sad departure of chief executive Sally Flanagan and of Rachel Heather, who looked after the exhibitors.

The change in approach reflects the cost of delivering the 90th anniversary show, which reduced the society’s reserves. In future there will be a new style show, focussed on delivering the organisation’s core objectives.

With growers and industry leaders at the helm, the show is in a strong position. This year’s show will see a smaller format, but with the hard fruit competition remaining at its heart. It will deliver a one-day show, a packed exhibition space, a significant industry figure to open it and a great celebration of the winners at the end of the day. For now, there will be no dinner and no conference space.

I expect to see great things from the team, which has such expertise and love for this industry and a focus on delivering a beneficial show for an industry that needs it. The core purpose of the event is to bring the industry together. The show was created by growers for growers and that will be at the heart of everything as the event moves forward.

I’ll be there in the background if needed. I’ll also (hopefully) be one of the judges of the competition. My daughter Aurelia would never forgive me if she didn’t get to go to the show, having never missed one in the 15 years I’ve been in the chair.

Show President Catherine Paice opened the annual meeting with a well-positioned speech about fortitude, expertise and knowledge, reminding us all that the society has a pivotal role in the industry.