Cornwall Design Fair

One of the Duchy’s largest design fairs, attracting over 4,000 people and hosted by seventh generation owners of Trereife House

Events are an important revenue stream for Trereife House, a Queen Anne manor house set in rolling grounds just outside Penzance. Open Air Business talks to owner Tim Le Grice about the Cornwall Design Fair, which is now solely organised in-house.

Describe your event and how many people it attracts
The Cornwall Design Fair was started by Hidden Art, a not-for profit organisation that promotes and supports designers and makers, but is no longer involved and we have taken on organising the event ourselves.

The first Cornwall Design Fair took place in 2006 at Godolphin House, a National Trust property near Helston. It came to us in 2009 when it needed more room to grow, and our in-house event organiser at the time spotted an opportunity. The event now has over 90 exhibitors including designer-makers of ceramics, glass, jewellery, fashion accessories, furniture, lighting, prints and textiles. We also put on family entertainment and special design-led activities for children, as well as workshops and demonstrations.

How do events fit into your main business?
We have been running public events at Trereife since 2005. It is a good diversification option but we have noticed that in the last two years there has been more competition. Farmers market-type events are proliferating everywhere, and of course you don’t have to pay to go to those. With the Cornwall Design Fair we are trying to be a bit different, and to attract families by putting on entrainment for children. We also try not to charge too much for entry as the idea, for exhibitors at least, is that people should be spending their money with them. It is a fine balance. Of course, entry to the fair is also entry to Trereife House, and we have cream teas in the courtyard and guided tours of the house and gardens.

This year we are in the middle of extensive renovations of the house so we are taking a break from the spring and summer events. We will be back with a Christmas Fair, and the design fair will be back next year.

How have you planned the layout of the event?
We have four marquees in the grounds and a curated design exhibition inside the house, which is a unique opportunity for designers to showcase their work against the backdrop of the interior.

Food and drink is served from the on-site cafe and we have a variety of other catering concessions too. We have porta loos we hire in but find people prefer to queue up for the public toilets we have on-site by the cafe.

How did you source your marquees?
Truro Marquees supplies the marquees for the event. We went to a few firms to get quotes initially but liked what Truro Marquees had to offer. They are expensive structures to hire and we have considered buying them but there is the storage to think about.

What entertainment do you offer?
I think it is important to cater for children at an event like this so we have a bouncy castle, story tellers and a roundabout that has been attending for some years now and is very popular. We also have a band set up outside of the entrance area.

As far as the exhibits themselves go, we are careful to make sure there is a good mix. We have an application process so we can make sure of the quality of exhibits and prevent having too much of one type of product.

What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We are set up for power and water in an area where there had been two tennis courts, and distribute from here. We charge stall holders extra to have access to this. There is also Wi-Fi on site, pulled through from the Wi-Fi at the cafe.

How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We have a very simple system, just a small tent at the top of the drive that people pass through to get to the fair. We are cash only for admissions.

What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We try and keep the look and feel of the event as natural as possible, so people can enjoy the grounds in which it is situated and the backdrop of the house. Consequently we don’t put down paths. To date we have had little damage to the grass; the most damage comes from children pulling up flowers.

We have an area where two old tennis courts were that has a good, solid base and this is perfect for exhibitors. In the marquees we use matting but try to avoid leaving it down too long to protect the grass underneath.

As far as cars and parking goes, we do have a dedicated car park but, as we don’t use it much, it is leased to a company that manages the parking for people visiting the Isles of Scilly. We use a field in front of the house for the design fair visitors and have a tractor ready if the weather is bad to help people if they get stuck. We have disabled parking nearer the house. The whole set up gives the event a nice, enclosed feel.

How do you publicise the events?
Mainly using signage. We have some rather large signs that we put out on the big roads near Truro up to a month before the event, and they have been very effective. However, they aren’t strictly ‘legal.’ The local authority hadn’t minded on a limited basis – after all we are encouraging people and money into the area – but recently they have cracked down on the number of signs going up in the area.

What challenges have you faced?
The biggest challenge has to be competition from other events in the area. We need to keep one step ahead. Originally the Cornwall Design Fair was seen to be a bit different but now we are having to prove we are different.

What are your plans for next year?
The design fair will continue much as it already is, although we will continue to think up ways to make it appealing to families. As for events in general at Trereife, we are planning on reducing costs by using more of the buildings at the back of the house rather than having to hire in multiple marquees. The plan is for smaller, more intimate events.

What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We offer self catering holidays on the estate, and bed and breakfast in the main house and converted courtyard block. We regularly host country fairs, concerts, functions and other events and provide a unique setting and facilities for unforgettable weddings and other important occasions.

The estate also boasts home produce, a well known horse breeding stable and many other country family holiday pursuits suitable for all ages, as well as a treasure trove of history to explore.

What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
When running an event, don’t assume the public will know what’s going on throughout the day. Make information widely available and invest in a public address system if necessary.

If running an event is something you are doing above and beyond another activity, such as weddings or accommodation, then make sure you have the team in place to handle the organisation. It can be a strain on the system otherwise.

Trereife, Penzance, Cornwall TR20 8T
01736 362750

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