"WE HAVE a mountain to climb."

So said Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland chief executive Alan Laidlaw this week, as the society admitted that it would need outside financial help if its flagship event, the Royal Highland Show, was to go ahead in anything like its usual pomp next year. The sums are stark.The Highland Show is a very successful event, but it has grown to a scale that costs £3 or £4 million to stage, and alongside these year-to-year running costs, its organisers have been spending hard to upgrade the Ingliston Showground, with all-new infrastructure below ground, and most recently, an eye-catching modern replacement for the old MacRobert Members Pavilion.

But what was doubtless a sensible strategy of ploughing in investment while the going was good has hit rough ground with the Covid-19 pandemic as, like every other entertainment venue in the land, there's been not a shred of income across the peak season. RHASS estimates that the lockdown has so far cost it around £6 million in lost income, at a time when it has borrowings of around £10 million, and not a lot in reserve.

In an effort to address that situation, the RHASS directors have now launched a fundraising campaign – the first in the society’s history – calling on its members and business supporters to 'Save Your Show'.

However, that dramatic title may have been chosen more for snappiness than fiscal accuracy, and Mr Laidlaw conceded that the campaign was not the last line of defence between the Highland and bankruptcy – simply an effort to shore up its war chest for the challenging years ahead.

"I am not wanting to set hares running that there is a panic– there is no panic. This is just an uphill struggle," said Mr Laidlaw.

"Our members are very clearly behind us in this, and we want to give them an opportunity to show that support."

As things stand, 2021's Royal Highland Show is going ahead, with preparatory work already underway, but exactly what form it takes depends on both the progress of the pandemic and the society's ability to deal with the extra costs that may be involved.

"We are planning for a 'normal' show next year, but maybe with reduced numbers – there are six or seven different scenarios, and we hope by January to clarify which route we are going to follow," said Mr Laidlaw. "If we can get more resources, it'll be easier!"

He stressed that there was no expectation that the society's 15,000 members would find that £6million between them, and that RHASS was trying everything to both raise and save cash.

“We are actively pursuing revenue-generating activities alongside support offered by the Scottish and UK Governments. However, the reality is stark and we need to be realistic as to what we can achieve without external financial support from our members and the wider industry.

"We've benefitted significantly from the government's furlough scheme, and things like energy savings, and the salary cuts that senior staff took pretty early in the year. We have 44 permanent staff, and we are in consultation about staffing levels at the moment – we'd rather not make cuts there, but its an events-based team in a time of no events, so it is a challenge," he said.

"We are just hoping for a real communal, all shoulders to the stone, effort to help us get up this mountain. As an organisation we have been pretty self sufficient for a long time – we are asking in good faith, and we do not ask often."