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[Guest Blog] Beyond friendly faces and enthusiasm: how events can offer a mental health boost

Harrogate Convention Centre

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Author: Karl Hansell, Head of Marketing and Communications, BIGGA

Two men wearing delegate badges standing together at an event stand at Harrogate Convention Centre
BTME is a wonderful opportunity for the BIGGA community to reunite.

With just a few days to go until the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) takes place in the Harrogate Convention Centre, all indicators suggest that we can look forward to an extremely successful event. This is welcome news as BTME plays a key role in underpinning BIGGA’s activities throughout the rest of the year.

Stand sales are 25% up on previous years and our education programme is virtually sold out, which gives us confidence that BTME will be as vibrant as January 2023’s was.

Trade shows - a welcome mental health boost post-COVID

But it has also led us to ask why, after several years of ‘average’ events prior to the COVID pandemic, there has been a sizeable upturn in interest? Our team undoubtedly must take some of the credit and our promotion of the event is clearly connecting to our audience, but we’ve also come to believe that BTME itself provides something that professionals in our industry can’t find elsewhere. In addition to advancing their professional ambitions, attendees to BTME also seemingly gain a personal boost that was previously taken for granted.

A group of men posing in front of a large screen at Harrogate Convention Centre
The BIGGA Celebration recognises the achievements of BIGGA members throughout the year.

In their daily lives, greenkeepers, sales representatives and others associated with the industry can lead fairly-isolated lives – whether working hard at their golf course, driving from one client to another or working at their desk, replying to emails. Yet trade shows bring together thousands of friendly faces, most possessing a shared enthusiasm for the industry, and attendees often report that they leave feeling re-energised and inspired for the year ahead – a mental health boost if ever there was one. The enforced isolation caused by the pandemic has led us to realise just how much human beings value shaking hands and having face-to-face conversations, which is what trade shows are all about.

A group of people participating in the early bird run event in Harrogate, happily posing in front of a banner.
The Early Bird Run is a popular feature of BTME.

Mental and physical wellbeing initiatives at BTME

The mental and physical wellbeing of members has always been high on the BIGGA agenda and the association has been an industry leader in providing support, particularly as we have a membership demographic that is susceptible to suffering mental health problems yet particularly unwilling to seek help and support. We have a longstanding relationship with Andy’s Man Club and representatives attend BTME each year alongside our other wellbeing partners, while events such as the Syngenta 5k Early Bird Run bring awareness of the benefits physical exercise can bring.

A group of men posing for a photo
Andy's Man Club joins us at BTME each year.

Progress and challenges

We still have some way to go and specific wellbeing training sessions that were hosted in recent years saw underwhelming numbers attend. But where mental health and wellbeing awareness can be integrated into the schedule in an informal setting, our efforts are warmly received.

Likewise, our campaign to train a network of Mental Health First Aiders has proved extremely popular as our members are aware there is a need for support and are keen to gain the knowledge to help others. The success of this initiative informs us that mental health remains an important topic – members may not ask for help themselves, but they can spot it in others and want to be able to lend a hand.

A group of people standing in front of a brick building
BIGGA is training a nationwide network of mental health first aiders.

Explicit promotion of wellbeing campaigns will inevitably come in for criticism from some quarters – although this number is undoubtedly reducing – but whether you are energised by an early morning run, by attending our awards evening and celebrating the successes of others, by speaking to our wellbeing partners or by joining other delegates in Harrogate’s many hospitality venues, BTME provides a massive boost at an otherwise difficult time of year for the greenkeeping industry, when the days are short and the weather poor.

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The next BTME will take place on 21-25 January 2024 and is expected to attract over 200 exhibitors and 5,000 delegates from across the world.

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