Gary Parsons looks at Little Gransden's annual Children in Need Families Day, which continues to battle against an increasing Health & Safety burden... Pictures by the author and Damien Burke
You'd think an event designed to raise money for worthy causes such as the BBC's 'Children in Need' would enjoy unrestrained help and support from all quarters, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Little Gransden's annual day at the end of August, this year held on a hot and sunny 26th. Every year is a battle against officialdom, red tape and increasing expenditure to meet ever more stringent Health & Safety demands.
Of course, airshows have to be safe, but increasing insurance costs and ever-more-burdensome Health & Safety considerations cut into the viability of such events, to the point where the benefits are outweighed by the pain and trouble - although Little Gransden's airshow is one day in August, it's the culmination of twelve months of hard work, planning and consultations with local authorities. Responsible for administering the Risk Assessment for the locality is South Cambridgeshire District Council, as the Licensing Authority for the airfield.
Dave Poile MBE, co-founder and organiser of the airshow, finds it incredibly frustrating. "Our risk assessment is done by a professional company from Alconbury, RSP Safety Services, who do not charge us for their services. We spent three hours going through the proforma this year, but South Cambs District Council's Health and Safety committee threw it straight out saying they didn't like it. RSP then spoke to council on our behalf, and I understand that there was a lot of differing opinions. For example, they required no vehicle movements on the airshow site between 11 o'clock and the end of the flying display - those were the rules we had to work with this year." Getting the necessary Risk Assessments approved was not the only thorn from local authorities - "We had to pay to get the AA to put signs up as per instructions from Cambridgeshire Highways, as you are not allowed by law to put your own signs up on the highway", Dave added. Many of the costs are covered by sponsors like RSP, without whom the show wouldn't happen.
During the airshow itself, council employees were policing the car park area - "Four people appeared with clipboards" said Dave - "I got a rollicking because a few vehicles were moving on site whilst the public were there. Okay, maybe it was wrong, but the way they spoke to me, I wonder if what I do is worth doing."
Well, despite the officialdom and suffocating H&S, worth doing it certainly is. The event's popularity grows every year, resulting in the new overflow car park being called into action at midday. No doubt the glorious weather was a factor in the thronging crowd, but an intimate airshow experience allied to one or two special items would have ensured a healthy crowd, come what may. Although the airfield has no real infrastructure save the lengthy grass runway, it is to the credit of Dave and his team that effectively a farm is turned into an airshow venue with all the facilities a sizeable crowd would want.
Top of the
bill, and outdoing the likes of Waddington and RIAT, was a display from
a CP-140 Aurora from 405 Maritime Patrol Squadron, 14 Wing, Canadian Armed
Forces. 405 (RCAF) Squadron was a Pathfinder unit (Wellington, Halifax,
Lancaster) based at nearby Gransden Lodge (now an all-grass gliding site)
from late 1943 to the end of the war, losing over eight hundred airmen
during the war. A reunion of past airman took place as first the Battle
of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster performed a display, followed by
the CP-140. A real coup for Little Gransden, showing the status this small
event has in the aviation world.