An Exhibition Manager’s Life

by Ken Wilkinson

Perhaps as an aside I should mention that I have been involved in Model Railways from the earliest that I can recall – due to a Family history stretching back into the days of Steam. My Paternal Grandfather was Stratford based Driver for many years. I was the first generation of my Family to not enter into a working life on the railway network. So I supposed being into model railways, and Railway Preservation makes sense.

In 1980 I joined the Chelmsford & District MRC, which at that time met in a dark and somewhat cold church in an outlying village of Chelmsford. Holding an Exhibition had not been a part of Club life, but after several moves, the membership grew to a good number and thoughts turned to holding one. A small one was arranged within Chelmsford, 6 months apart from an existing one held by a non-model railway group. Around this time, the Essex Branch of the Deltic Preservation Society (DPS) was increasing in numbers and also met in Chelmsford (various public houses then a Church meeting room). They were looking to increase their profile and raise funds to purchase a Deltic locomotive and spares.

Being a Member of both groups, it seemed natural to join forces as many enjoyed the full scale and modelling aspects of each organisation. It soon became clear that someone needed to arrange and manage the event. I am not really certain how it happened, but let us say I was unopposed in being given the role. Our first joint exhibition in Chelmsford was held in October 1983, simple to remember as our first-born arrived a few days before the Exhibition – no pressure from the Day Job, being a new dad and running an exhibition. I had dived into the deep end, with no experience of organising any such public event previously. But all went to plan, even if there was some burning of midnight oil to get everything into place. I was lucky in that I had built connections with some other clubs who had held exhibitions previously and their help was greatly appreciated – where do I get Insurance cover from is an example.

We then enjoyed many years of a joint annual exhibition, gradually  increasing in size and moving venue to allow more layouts and traders to be brought along to show-case our hobby. There have been a few headaches  over the years, but nothing which could not be resolved. From layouts and traders not turning up on the day to one layout which arrived in an extended form. The club thought that we could easily take the extra 15 FEET of frontage, even by going around and suggesting how we could move others to make the space. As an exhibition manager, I plan the show layout in advance with the dimensions I have been given, using the space as efficiently as possible. Changing it to accommodate an extra 15 feet is just not possible. The outcome was that they found that it would work in the original format.

On another occasion, I got a call the night before set-up saying that the storm earlier that evening had removed part of the venue roof. When I got through to the caretaker he was amused to inform me that yes there had been some damage, but not to worry as it was two slates off the roof over the headmaster’s office, which would not impact on our hire. Our show quickly became established on the exhibition circuit, and eventually became the only one within Chelmsford. Over the years, both groups prospered from the arrangement, but it did eventually evolve to become arranged solely by the Chelmsford & District MRC.

By now, the DPS was the proud owner of not one but two Deltic locomotives as BR dispensed with their Fleet. Subsequently the Society became the owners of three Deltic locomotives with a running shed and engineering base at Barrow Hill Roundhouse site.

Things will always change and I left the Chelmsford club, becoming a member of Mid Essex MRC, many members of whom I had known as good friends over the years. Even though I said that I would never ever organise another exhibition I became their exhibition manager, so have re-joined the community of exhibition managers. Over the years I have met a great many individuals and groups and some have become firm friends and we have a good level of banter.

You cannot take the modelling world too seriously, you have to be able to laugh, even when you are the butt of the joke.

All material Copyright the Double O Gauge Association 2022
This article first appeared in The Journal  Volume 26 Issue No 4  Winter 2021