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By: Paul Oliver
Mention the words Sandown, May, or Elmbridge Model Club to any seasoned UK modeller and their response will be the Sandown Model Symposium. This event has been running now for a considerable number of years, and if my memory serves me correctly the use of Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher, Surrey, England since 1977. Or at least that was the first time I went to Sandown. I know that there were a number of symposiums at other venues prior to there being established at the racecourse.
The Elmbridge Model Club has for a number of years organised the show themselves, but as with each passing year the show's success and popularity has grown so the burden on the club has increased, to the point that several years ago they have sought help from other parties. This has largely led to working in partnership with Highbury Leisure (formerly Nexus Publications) who publish a number of modelling and craft magazines, and 2004 was no exception.
I have attended Sandown either as a visiting member of the public, or as an exhibitor in model flying, model cars, and model boats during those years since 1977 and have seen much in that time. Now for the past couple of years I have heard comments from others around that Sandown is not what it used to be, etc. Would this year be the same? I thought that this report on this year's show might give an unbiased insight into the show from both sides of the fence, by someone who has also been involved in organising model shows, and allow the reader to decide for themselves. However, please remember that this report is my own personal opinion and that the observations and comments are the personal views of the writer only. Also, as this show is widely reported within the modelling press I have elected not to include pictures.
Okay, having got the background out of the way let me outline my involvement at this year's event. I was involved in exhibiting model boats at this year's show, while being a member of the public as far as model cars and model flying was concerned. I will start by saying that I was apprehensive about this year's show as far as model boating was concerned. I had heard prior to the show that the model boaters would not have the use of the Pavilion that they have had in the past. With the changeable weather conditions that we have in this country, particularly at this time of year, I have to say that myself, and members of the model boat club I belong to planned for this contingency by bringing along our own protection from the weather for our models.
Our concerns and perhaps lack of faith in the organisers was unfounded. When we arrived on the Saturday morning we found that the reason for the lack of Pavilion was that there was no longer one at the racecourse! Instead a marquee had been erected to house the models on display. On the plus side it's location was closer to the boat pool, making it easier for the skippers to get from the static display to the boat pool (and reducing the risk of accidental damage making their way through the crowds in the process). Booking in and frequency controls are well established and have to be for a show of this size involving different forms of modelling, participating at the same time in several locations on the site.
We were made to feel very welcome by the show's organisers responsible for this area, and the lengths that they went to accommodate the exhibitors. This included laying on power sources for charging of battery packs, and the organisers checking at various times that we were satisfied during the two days of the show. This latter aspect in particular I thought was nice. It is all too easy as an organiser to plan an event and on the day forget to confirm that all is okay, or look for feedback. In this area Elmbridge were to be congratulated.
As far as the sailing was concerned, personally I was sailing both a scale electric powered model, and demonstrating the Club 500 fast electric model boat. I could not help but notice that aside from the novelty boat model spot, which always arouses interest from not only the public, but fellow modellers alike. The demonstration of Club 500 racing really did arouse interest to the point that on the Saturday those participants were asked if they would like to have four spots, which sadly we were unable to due to lack of spare cells and/or charging equipment. However, this situation was remedied on Sunday when four highly entertaining sessions were run, to the aplomb of sizeable crowds. Mind you the sight of up to eight models on the water of Sandown's boating pool is bound to liven up things for the spectators and skippers alike! The sight of upturned boats, boats that leapt out of the pool, either by themselves or with some assistance from other boats, or collisions enthralled the crowds, as did the robustness of the models, as more often than not the boats would return to the fray after an incident. If you like stockcar racing, then you would love this, 'cos it was stockcar racing on water!
Well I did get a chance to look round the show as a normal spectator. What were my personal impressions? Well I thought that the number of trade stands 'appeared' to be down to those on what I would term the 'golden era'. This was not necessarily down on the last couple of years, and to be honest there was still enough stands for everyone. One should realise that in this day with the ever rising costs associated with having a trade stand at a big venue, and the competitiveness of trading, the associated margins for traders mean there is a very fine line between attending an event or not. That said though, the benefits may not necessarily be felt over the weekend, but later in the year as a result of having a face at a major show.
There were still bargains to be had at the show - and yes I also spent money, and got a few good deals. While on the subject of the trade area, I would say that over the years the trade area has always been thronging with people, so even if the number of stands were reduced interest in the area is still intense. The old saying "It's the early bird that catches the worm" definitely applies, although the traders always try to hold good stock levels at the show.
I always like to look at all elements of the show, and I have to say that I felt that the model stockcar racing was a little bit obscured. Over the years I have seen it, originally on the apron in front of the grandstand, then moved to the side of the grandstand, where there was still good visibility to the public. However, the current location does seem to put it out on the fringe where there is not so much visibility, albeit that now all of the cars are together in the same area of the racecourse.
I look at the flight line to see what's happening, and then I either see what time the slots are for those aircraft of interest to me, or eat my packed lunch while watching the aircraft. As a definite electric power enthusiast, I have been amused to see the proliferation of electric powered aircraft over recent years. It is interesting to note that instead of the near continuous drone of 2 and 4 stroke engines from the flight line that one had of days gone by, that the sounds now include those of electric flight and gas turbines. The choices available to model flyers is now even greater than before. It is down to individual interests, and budgets to determine what we buy.
The show seemed to be busy on both days with spectators aplenty. I am always amazed at the queues at the gates a good twenty minutes before the start on both days every year. This year the weather also was particularly kind with sun both days and not too much of a breeze, although it did turn cooler for a while on the Saturday afternoon. The weather also made it easier for both the exhibitors, particularly for the display pilots where the local environment can make flying a real challenge.
To me the show is not quite what it used to be, but then nothing stays the same forever, and if there were no change we would be bored instead. Even in our hobbies we must remember that it is a business for the traders, and that what we take for granted as fun is other peoples livelihoods, to which there are always other factors also influencing their businesses, much as they influence business in general. There are some good deals, and those of us modellers who are near to middle aged or older will readily recall for example, how much items such as servos used to cost say twenty years ago, to the price nowadays. What a bargain they are today.
I think one of the hardest jobs out is to be an organiser of a highly successful show. Every year the pressure on you increases as the public's expectations increase. You cannot be successful year on year. There are always going to be some years not as great as others. 2004 was not an exceptional year, but it was still pretty good to me, maybe a little better this year than last. That said though, the organisation was as already mentioned, pretty good. It is a thankless task as no matter what you do you will never please everyone.
I think that the only criticism I would have, would be the cost of entry. I have heard over the past few years now people comment on the price, and the fact that they may not return the next year. This is a very emotive area. On the one hand you have the show organisers needing to meet the cost of organising the event (and make some profit). The cost of such a venue as Sandown is not cheap, yet it does have all the facilities that you may not have at other venues at that cost. On the other hand however, if you are charging what some people perceive as a high price you have to offer something to entice entry. This may well be the role of the traders in offering substantial reductions on normal prices (which has tended to be one of the attractions of Sandown), and also in the variety and number of traders present. However, the cost to the traders is also hard to determine, as I have already touched upon. At the same time the number of visitors themselves have a bearing on prices. We must also not forget the fact that for many visitors they may well be bringing their families with them, which means that aside from the cost of entry, there needs to be things to entertain them too. Personally, without knowledge of all of the facts I can only base my own opinion on what I see around me. To this end the price may be a tad high. There are other shows where the price for entry is less, but the facilities available are not as good. I think that it would not take much to tip public opinion one way or the other.
Finally, I would like to voice my thanks (as an exhibitor and spectator) to the organisers for what is certainly one of, if not the most significant show of the modeller's year, for all their hard work. Your concern for satisfying your exhibitor's needs was exemplary, and also fills us with pride in participating in such an event, and a willingness to offer our services in the future, along with the additional good public relations that we continue after and before each year's show. Long may the Sandown Model Symposium continue.
By: Paul Oliver