I do love Victorian ironwork. Whether it is the soaring arches of St Pancras Station, the Palm House at Kew or – the Grand Hall at Olympia. And, in terms of ‘grand’, you cannot get much grander than The Grand Hall at Olympia.
The roof, 115 feet high and constructed from 85 tons of glass and 75 tons of zinc held together by a 1200 ton iron frame, is supported on amazingly slender columns with a ball and socket bearings at the top and bottom of each to absorb stress. It was the largest such roof in England when it was built in 1880s, and covered nearly one acre of stadium which could seat 9,000 people! Amazingly, its glass was only finally replaced in 1991 when sealed solar reflective panels were installed.
The Grand Hall opened in 1886 with ‘a spectacular performance by the Paris Hippodrome Circus, culminating in a thrilling Roman chariot race’, followed, in 1891-2, by ‘Venice in London’. ‘A network of canals, complete with gondolas, streets of houses, shops and cafes occupied part of the space. The remainder was filled with seating in front of a lake and huge stage on which a grand ballet was performed twice daily by 1,000 dancers.’
Since then it has hosted Wild West Shows, the Motor Show, the Royal Tournament, the Ideal Home Show, the International Horse Show (I can remember being there every summer in my horse-obsessed teens…) and every sort and description of trade show. And now it has hosted the Allergy and FreeFrom Show! Given that, with the exception of the brash new Excel out in the far reaches of Docklands, the Grand Hall is the biggest exhibition space in London, that says something serious about the growth of ‘freefrom’ over the last few years.
It was a brave punt as far as the show organisers were concerned as successful though last year’s show had been in the National Hall, the Grand Hall is almost 40% larger. But, such is the demand for the Grand Hall that, as an exhibition organiser, if you get a sniff of a chance of some dates, you grab them as the chance may not come again. So, they did. Then, by combining the super successful Allergy + FreeFrom Show (sponsored this year by Udi’s) with the new V-Delicious vegetarian show they launched last year, adding a dedicated ‘Love Natural, Love Organic’ strand to catch exhibitors, especially skincare ones, who were more interested in ‘natural’ than ‘freefrom’, and finally throwing in the Back Pain Show that they had been running for years, they got enough exhibitors and enough visitors to amply fill the hall for all three days. Well done to the Allergy Show team!
We were there supporting all three of our awards – especially the FreeFrom Skincare Awards for which the winners were announced on the Friday afternoon with Janey Lee Grace presenting the certificates. (Here she is presenting the trophy for Best FreeFrom Skincare product 2014 to Sarah Alculumbre of Tropic Skincare for their cleanser which swept the board with our testers.)
Alex has blogged about our winners and will also be covering them in the Skinsmatter newsletter this weekend but if you just want the details of who won what, then you can find all of those on the FreeFrom Skincare Awards site here.
All I will say is that the standard of the products, from both large and small producers, was amazingly high – so much better than last year – which will be very encouraging for all of those people who suffer from sensitive or problem skin and struggle to find ‘natural’ products that they can use and which actually benefit their skin.
Cressida has covered the amazing range of freefrom foods on offer on FreeFrom FoodsMatter and in this weekend’s FreeFrom Matters newsletter – and an amazing range it was too. From one-woman/man producers with a stand so small that they could scarcely stand up in it to the massive Udi’s or Sainsbury’s stands straddling whole aisles.
And extremely satisfactory to see how many of them were displaying those round yellow or paprika logos! When we went to Brussels for the FreeFrom Expo we had done smaller versions of the roundels that we use on our own stand and offered them to exhibitors who had also been involved in the awards – and they had been so popular that we decided to offer them out again at the Allergy Show. A rave success – and tremendous for all of our awards as almost everywhere you turned you saw either a yellow (FreeFrom Food Awards), peacock (FreeFrom Skincare Awards) or paprika (FreeFromEating Out Awards) roundel!
But, much though we would like to think that the show was all about the Freefrom Awards, it was about much much more. At least two cookery theatres were doing ongoing demos, Allergy Adventures ran a wonderful children’s play area and the whole of Olympia was surrounded with theatres with full programmes of presentations relevant to each of the show’s four component parts. Mini theatres for Love Natural, Love Organic, and V Delicious; an excellent big theatre which housed dedicated health care professional presentations – and the FreeFrom Skincare Awards presentations; and yet another theatre in the middle of the hall in which there were medical-type presentations but aimed at the lay visitor rather than the health professional. (Here I am doing one of these, enlarging on some of the many reasons why, in my view, allergy and intolerance has mushroomed over the last 30 years!)
So, all ways round, a very successful show – even if it did clash with the Wimbledon finals!! And that is not just my perception. News just in from the show’s organisers suggest that overall attendance was up a massive 36% on last year and may well top 30,000! So, on to Liverpool in October and…. Berlin in January!!
(Images courtesy of photographer and Coeliac diarist, Sue Cane.)