East of England Arena’s Lee Sharp: My first six months

Listen to this article

Lee Sharp, managing director of the East of England Arena and Events Centre, reflects on his first six months in his role…

You’ve been in post for six months as managing director of East of England Arena, what would you say have been the most significant developments in that time?

When I joined the venue last year, we were weathering a pandemic and it wasn’t the most normal of circumstances, but I made some promises at the start that I think I can say I’ve kept. I promised we’d invest in the venue, invest in our people, and increase profitability.

Since Asset Earning Power Group (AEPG) entered into a land promotion agreement with The East of England Agricultural Society to enhance the venue and develop the site last year, we’ve invested more than a quarter of a million pounds in the venue.

We’re aligning our culture and ethos to a clear set of values, and we’re steadily bringing all our operations in-house, wherever possible, to make sure our values are extended to every aspect of the venue. Whether it’s customer-facing services or facilities maintenance, bringing these functions in-house makes the venue more efficient, resilient and flexible.

What investments have you made since 2021?

Our first major investment was in expertise; we recruited a head of safety and security with  counter-terrorism experience, and an experienced new sales team to join the existing venue team. Since November 2021, we’ve seen a 40 per cent increase in our headcount, and we’re committed to more than £175,000 in additional annual salaries. We recently recruited an event bar manager, invested £50,000 in renovating our new onsite bar, and have already realised £150,000 in new revenue from that project alone.

We’ve also spent more than £175,000 on new machinery and vehicles. With a site as large as ours, small increases in efficiency add up to significant savings, and we’ve been careful to select the machines most suited to regular maintenance in our own workshop. We’ve chosen the highest quality vehicles from a local supplier, including a new Kubota M5112 tractor, two new utility vehicles – one diesel and one electric – and a Manitou MT 933 telehandler, in addition to a zero-turn mower deck, a 6m triple gang mower, a 12-metre scissor lift, and a 3-metre dropside trailer. These investments and changes are guided by our ambition to take responsibility for the whole venue experience from the ground up.

What has changed at the venue since you became managing director?

The biggest change has perhaps been the influx of new people. We haven’t quite doubled the headcount, but we’re not far off – and I wanted to start by bringing everyone together, the existing teams and the new appointments, to build a new culture and ethos. I wanted every employee to have some input into the decision-making process, to have a stake in how the business is run, and to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in our collective achievements.

We began at ground level and, with the help of a talented facilitator, brought everyone’s ideas into a declaration of our mission, vision and values. We’re still on this journey, with three sessions behind us, but we now have a monthly working group discussing, and feeding back on the decisions ahead of us. We rotate the whole workforce through the working group on a quarterly basis, so everyone gets a say.

We’ve all committed to being “healthily obsessed” with delivering the best venue experience for our customers, visitors, and each other. We have decided on four pillars to hold up every decision – how it affects our people, our profitability, our operation, and our customers. There’s no end-point to this exercise; it’s simply the embodiment of continuous improvement.

What does the future hold for the East of England Arena and Events Centre?

We will be looking for more hybrid indoor/outdoor events, which I believe have a very bright future,  and also developing more facilities for exhibitions, corporate events, meetings and conferences. We’ll be building the skills and experience for our people through structured career development, funded learning, and CPD.

I want to develop the team, the venue, and the site to a level of excellence that can serve as a pattern or blueprint for similar showgrounds around the UK. By perfecting our operation here, with the benefit of our tremendous local knowledge and experience, we can demonstrate the heights to which former showgrounds can rise.

We’re justifiably excited for the future of the arena and are focused on building on the enormous progress that the site has made since its days as an agricultural showground. I believe this site, and many others like it, have untapped business potential and represent an opportunity to create jobs and careers around thriving, redeveloped venues. That’s what we want to do.