Not only does Jayne Southall stand at the helm of some of the biggest events on the Lincolnshire calendar, but she has also overseen some of the county’s most important developments in agriculture since the recession. As the Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society and chair of a business group determined to raise the area’s national status, there’s no stopping her climb for success.
Jayne’s career journey began at the age of 16 when she left school in Wolverhampton armed with GCSEs and a winning job application addressed to the shipping department of a local timber company.
“Lots of my friends in those days would spend their summers grape picking in France and then go on to do their A Levels, but I just went straight into work because I wanted to go and achieve and earn money,” Jayne said. “My dad is still working and he is 77, so I suppose his ethic has worn off on me.”
At the firm W E Jones (later Mallinson Denny), which imported timber from across the world, Jayne dealt with documentation, currency and haulage. She progressed to another company, Dennymot, and after eight years she decided to gain some experience in investment.
“I started off in the investment department at the Birmingham Midshires building society and then I went to section head, and then supervisor within about two years,” Jayne explained. “In those days though you couldn’t go any higher because the managers were only men.
“I went back into the timber trade temporarily with a company called Orwell Timber after I got married. I wanted to have children and the industry was a lot more flexible.”
In 2006 Jayne took on the role of finance manager at the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society, a charity which operates through its trading arm the Lincolnshire Showground in Lincoln. After five years in the position, her drive took her further into the thick of the operation.
“When we had a Chief Exec leave I was asked to stand in until they replaced me with someone else. Then another left and I was asked to stand in again. So I said ‘If I’m good enough to stand in then I’m good enough for the job.” Jayne Southall was appointed as the LAS CEO in December 2011.
The evolution of the Lincolnshire Showground
In total, there are 20 members of staff based at the showground. As well as maintaining the 200 acres, the team host around 400 events each year. Some 300,000 visitors attend events at the Showground every year. Annual turnover at the Lincolnshire Showground has also increased from £1.1 million to £2 million.
Through Jayne’s eight-year presence at the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society, the 200-acre showground site has been transformed by its trademark multi-functional events venue the Epic Centre, admired for its annual Lincolnshire Show and closely watched for its pioneering new projects.
“The Epic Centre was built in 2008, and then the recession hit. It was hard and we might not have built it if we could have predicted it, but we just had to keep our costs down and keep motivated. Now, we get lots of events here and the venue has completely turned around,” Jayne said.
“With the Lincolnshire Show, we are always looking at changing the event and keeping it vibrant. As soon as we close the show down for one year we begin preparing again for the next one. I have got a good team and I cannot do what I do without them behind me.”
Taking the Showground further
The Showground and developers Gusto Group received the green light for their state-of-the-art eco-friendly homes, called The Edge in February 2014. The 2-4 bedroom homes will generate their own electricity and heat as well as reusing rainwater, and it is estimated they will cost the homeowner around £1 per day to run. The houses will cost between £325,000 and £389,000.
West Lindsey District Council also approved a planning application that will see Bishop Burton College relocate from its Riseholme campus to a site adjacent to the showground. The £23 million project is expected to be ready for students by 2015.
“The biggest part I have played with those projects was at the beginning when we had the meetings with West Lindsey to get planning permission. We have regular meetings now; because we’ve got the building on an active site, we need to make sure there are no issues with any of the events that are happening,” Jayne said.
“The houses are obviously eco-friendly, and that’s something we are all about. With the agricultural college, it’s great for the LAS to have a state-of-the-art college on the grounds. The relationship between us will just improve and there’ll be lots of ways that we can give back through education.”
Putting Lincoln on the map
Jayne believes that while events and attractions in Lincoln continue to grow, the area has more to give when it comes to tourism, business, employment and education. In an effort to become a sizable player in UKs top cities, LAS became part of a group called Meet Lincoln – to which Jayne is also the chair.
“We have Visit Lincoln and we have Meet Lincoln, which is made up of local businesses,” explained Jayne. “It was set up around 18 months ago with the aim of letting people know that Lincoln is here. We have attended events like the Meeting Show in London and Venue Expo in Manchester, so that the rest of the country can hear about the great things we have going on here.
“If people see Lincoln as a place to come for a holiday, to come to be educated, to come to work, to bring their business and also to bring events here, it benefits everybody. The biggest thing that we find with theses events is people don’t even know where Lincolnshire is.”
“With the Magna Carta celebrations next year and the refurbishment of Lincoln Castle, it’s quite an exciting time for the area. It’s an opportunity for people to get to know where Lincoln is and to think of it as a place to visit. We just need to make sure we grab it,” Jayne said.
“The trouble with agriculture is…”
While developments in agricultural education are spinning a web of opportunities across Lincolnshire, Jayne is keen to ensure that gaps in the industry are closed for good.
“The trouble with agriculture is lots of teachers don’t see it as a career,” she said. “But it’s not all about going up and down a field in a tractor. With all sorts of innovative technology now, there is a huge demand for engineers. There are so many avenues for young people to explore, it’s just showing them that opportunity and that it’s not boring.
“We have an event here in October called Construction Week where we get about 500 school children over three days come and learn how to be a plumber, how to be a bricklayer, and we even put them through mock court and solicitors. We have then added to that and put an agricultural aspect to it so they can see what all the opportunities are out there.
“We do a lot for agriculture and what we try to do is get people to know, including farmers and workers in the industry, what is available for them and what funding they can get help with. We have just received some funding because we now have provisions for education and development.”
Jayne’s experiences in gender limitations now appear old fashioned. She sees an open platform ahead for women in the agriculture industry: “The showground is two-thirds female, but I don’t think that is unusual. A few years ago you would have had more males in the management roles but not anymore.
“There is a gap in the agriculture industry for women, but everyone is aware of it. People are starting to open their minds to careers in agriculture and it’s not just a male industry.”
With a batch of development plans in progress, it’s an exciting time at Lincolnshire Showground. “We haven’t currently got anything else in the pipeline, but if it was purely up to me I’d like a hotel,” Jayne said.
“A hotel would really compliment us because we do lose some events. Although we’ve got really good relationships with hotels in Lincoln, if you’ve got a conference here and people want to get ready for dinner they don’t want to travel.We can put transport on and we do have an event coming up where we have sourced accommodation for the week, but often people want to be in the same building so they can freshen up.
“We had the Mint Festival this year for the first time. It would be good if we could arrange for more events like that in the future. We do have a lot of enquiries. It would be good because it would make people more aware that we are here. It’s such as great centre and a great setting.”
“I hope to see myself here for years to come. For the business, the future is all about getting more events here. I have always wanted to achieve and I suppose I’ve proved I can.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 2 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.