Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland still going strong – Alan Laidlaw

The bustling Royal Highland Show at Ingliston is the premier showcase for the Scottish farming industry
The bustling Royal Highland Show at Ingliston is the premier showcase for the Scottish farming industry
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Not many modern organisations can trace their ­heritage back over two centuries. Even less can say they have remained true to their founders’ ­values and beliefs.

Almost 235 years ago to the day (9 February 1784), around a table or two at a tavern on the High Street in Edinburgh, a group of 50 farmers and landowners met to discuss what they could do to revitalise Scotland’s rural and Highland communities. It was at this first meeting that they unanimously agreed to form a ­society that would drive forward change. They called it The Highland Society of Edinburgh.

At the heart of the Highland ­Society’s petition for a Royal Charter in 1784 was its purpose to ‘unite the exertions of the proprietors of the land’, to develop, grow and promote the rural economy of Scotland.

What started as just 100 members has turned into a community of more than 16,000 and our membership remains our strength. They represent our grassroots, with a huge range of farming and rural businesses, in terms of size, structure and success.

The industry has evolved significantly over the last two centuries and so too has the Royal Highland ­Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS).

While our focus has remained true to our charitable objectives, we have been at the forefront of creating a resilient sector – from uniting consumers with ­producers through to our flagship Royal Highland Show, to developing a food-literate Scotland in partnership with our education ­charity, The Royal Highland Education Trust, to supporting our grassroots members, as demonstrated by our recent Doug Avery tour that ­tackled the thorny subject of rural mental health.

Without doubt there are many ­technological, political and environmental challenges facing the industry but RHASS remains a constant and in these unsettling times it is important to have a trusted organisation that members believe in.

The charitable objects of today’s Society focus on education, innovation, community and investment, and a determination to see our industry thrive.

As a charity, the organisation must be sustainable and wise decisions made by RHASS directors over the decades have resulted in an estate next to Edinburgh airport that, through careful management and ongoing investment, continues to generate funds that enable the ­Society to carry more ambitious projects to support the sector for ­generations to come.

What was once a society to protect the Highlands soon became one that would give all regions in Scotland a voice. More than 50 elected directors span the length and breadth of the country, providing a vital link to our members and the challenges they face. This ensures that all farming sectors throughout Scotland are represented within RHASS.

Over the last decade RHASS has made substantial investment at the Royal Highland Centre and we have bigger ambitions still.

Work has just begun on the next phase of developments. Our new £5 million members area will connect and support rural Scotland to engage and empower the industry as a whole. Most importantly, it will become a place to inspire the next generation to lead our industry, to rise to its challenges and grasp its opportunities.

For almost 200 years, the Royal Highland Show has been the flagship of the RHASS mission – to ­promote the highest standards in agriculture, forestry and food, to steward the countryside and to protect its rural communities.

Every June, more than 180,000 ­people flock to the outskirts of ­Edinburgh to see the country’s best. We showcase our industry to a 60 per cent urban audience, and we ­celebrate our producers, farmers and innovators through prestigious competitions.

In 1856, RHASS obtained a supplementary Royal Charter empowering it to promote the education of young agriculturalists by directing them to a suitable course of study. RHASS continues to promote education in a broader sense, recognising the enthusiasm of the next generation by providing numerous grants and scholarships every year.

Our support of the Royal Highland Education Trust has spanned its entire 20-year history and the ­Society is an enthusiastic supporter of the work the organisation does to ­develop the next generation of farmers through the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs. The dynamic and progressive membership organisation established in 1764 is still very much alive today, with RHASS’ unwavering commitment to building on generations of investment, innovation and influence for the benefit of our rural industry.

If you believe that you or your organisation would benefit from a connection with RHASS – a brand with a rich heritage and a bright future – then get involved.

We would welcome your approach.

Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS). For more information see www.rhass.org.uk