Great Dorset Steam Fair

Great Dorset Steam Fair 2024 cancelled and goes up for sale

The organising team behind the Great Dorset Steam Fair (GDSF) – the heritage event – has revealed that the fair will not run in 2024.

As one of the largest events/festivals of any type in the UK, the Great Dorset Steam Fair is no small undertaking, is very complex and requires months of careful and detailed planning with all stakeholders, including the statutory authorities, the emergency services and site contractors. As a major outdoor event held on a working farm, the fair faces “eye watering operating costs” to provide the necessary site infrastructure/services over the 600-acre showground.

Consultation with key contractors in recent weeks for the 2024 event has confirmed that the underlying problem of spiralling costs remains.

Costs following COVID rocketed in 2022 to £4.2 million (up by £700k from £3.5 million on the last event held in 2019) and in 2023, the event was cancelled. At the time, the organisers said that the move was necessary to safeguard and preserve the future of the fair.

Regrettably, the soaring costs of 2022 have been compounded by a further overall increase of around 12 per cent and with additional regulatory and compliance requirements, this could well increase to around 15 per cent or more, meaning operating costs for 2024 would rise to between £4.7 million and £4.9 million.

In a statement, the organising team said that in order to bridge the financial gap caused by yet another vast increase in operating costs, turnover in 2024 would need to increase significantly. However, after again closely analysing all income streams, it would be necessary to raise ticket and camping prices by 70 per cent to 75 per cent.  Whilst this would be in line with what some other major festivals charge, the GDSF directors are conscious that, in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, the overwhelming likelihood is that the majority of our visitors would find this to be unacceptable or unaffordable.

Martin Oliver, managing director of Great Dorset Steam Fair, said: “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 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.”